15 National Parks With Amazing Running Trails

Give yourself an active holiday with a visit to one of these spectacular locations. 

September 9, 2015
running trails

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF NPS

 

There's nothing like running for exercise that connects you directly to nature. And there's nothing like the National Parks for providing stunning vistas and well-cared-for trails. While Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park in 1872, the National Park Service, which administers all of the United States’ 58 parks, turns 100 on August 25, 2016. We’re celebrating the birthday a year early by highlighting these 15 great parks and how exploring them by running offers great rewards of discovery, history, beauty, and awe.

grand canyon national park
Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Northern Arizona

Elevation: Minimum: 1,200 feet at the Lake Mead Boundary; Maximum: South Rim averages 7,000 feet, North Rim averages 8,000 feet

Miles of trails: About 280

Gear you need: Hydration packs with a large-volume reservoir

Types of trails: Sandy, dusty trails that meander along the rim and descend miles into the canyon floor and back up.

Best route/don’t miss: The ultrarunner’s classic route: Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (or “R2R2R”), is more than 40 miles round trip (with 11,000 feet of climbing and descending) from the South Kaibab to the North Kaibab and back.

Wildlife: Mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bears, elk, rattlesnakes, scorpions, osprey, herons, California condor

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Recent popularity of running the R2R2R route (a narrow trail with limited bathroom facilities) has had park rangers on edge, so run with your best trail etiquette to conserve future running in the Grand Canyon.

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Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Location: Northwestern Colorado

Elevation: Minimum: 7,630 feet at Big Thompson River; Maximum: 14,259 feet at the summit of Longs Peak

Miles of trails: 355

Gear you need: Rain shell. Weather can change quickly and drastically in the mountains at this elevation.

Types of trails: Singletrack mountain trails, many with views of snowcapped, Rocky Mountain peaks. Some trails are above the tree line.

Best route/don’t miss: For a scenic, enjoyable, 3.6-mile loop, run to Emerald Lake from the Bear Lake Trailhead. (Go early and/or on a weekday, as this is a popular trailhead among hikers.)

Wildlife: The park is known for its large herds of elk, as well as mule deer, bighorn sheep, 270 bird species, and abundant butterflies.

Cost: $20 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Higher elevations often have snow, even in the summer months. Be prepared with traction devices.

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park

Location: Mount Desert Island, Maine

Elevation: Minimum: 0 feet at the coast of the Atlantic Ocean; Maximum: 1,530 feet at the summit of Cadillac Mountain

Miles of trails: 125

Gear you need: A rain shell. The Maine coast ranks second in precipitation to the Pacific Northwest. Also, bug spray. Biting black flies and mosquitos love it here.

Types of trails: Coastal, rocky.

Best route/don’t miss: 3.3-mile Carriage Road around Witch Hole Pond, ideal during peak leaf season, around mid-October.

Wildlife: Birds, like spring warblers, sea ducks, and peregrine falcons are common. Moose and bear reside in the area, but aren’t commonly seen.

Cost: $25 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Park Loop Road closes December 1 and reopens April 15 (affecting trail access). Two short sections of the road remain open year-round.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NPS/CAITLIN CECI

 

Location: Southwestern Utah

Elevation: Minimum: 3,666 feet at Coal Pits Wash; Maximum: 8,726 feet at Horse Ranch Mountain

Miles of trails: About 16 miles of runnable trail

Gear you need: Shoes that work well both on pavement and trails

Types of trails: Mostly paved paths, because of efforts to slow erosion. Some sandy, rocky, and dirt trails.

Best route/don’t miss: Angels Landing, an 8.7-mile, round-trip route that’s mostly paved and climbs 1,500 feet. Not for the faint of heart (regarding effort, or fear of heights). Starts at the Grotto Trailhead. Also, to run up the famous Narrows slot canyon, start at the Temple of Sinawava and run the paved Riverside walk to the canyon.

Wildlife: Mule deer, turkey, mountain lions, fox, porcupine, owl, peregrine falcon, California condor

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Front country trails are crowded with tourists, and mostly paved. Consider venturing into backcountry trails in the southwest desert area, including the Dalton Wash, Chinle Trail, and Coal Pits Wash. Run these rolling dirt trails in the spring, fall, and winter.

 
 
Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park

Location: Northwestern Wyoming

Elevation: Maximum: 13,770 feet at the summit of Grand Teton; Minimum: 6,320 feet on the valley floor

Miles of trails: 242

Gear you need: Layers for warmth and protection as weather can change quickly.

Types of trails: Gradual to rugged mountain trails

Best route/don’t miss: Run the 7.1-mile loop around stunning Jenny Lake.

Wildlife: Moose, black and grizzly bears, coyote, bison, and more

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Spring can be buggy, so bring bug spray…and bear spray.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Location: Northern California

Elevation: Maximum: 13,114 feet at the summit of Mount Lyell; Minimum: 1,800 feet at the El Portal Administrative Site

Miles available: Over 750

Gear you need: A hydration system and a phone with a camera

Types of trails: Everything from historic, flat carriage roads on the valley floor to rugged, granite, rocky singletrack mountain trails past rivers, waterfalls, and alpine lakes.

Best route/don’t miss: 7.2-mile half loop or 11.5-mile full loop on the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail, a mostly level gravel/dirt path along the scenic valley floor; or run the 14- or 16-mile rugged trail run to the base of Half Dome, then scale the wire cables. (Be ready for crowds and an adrenaline rush.) A permit is required to scale the cables. Distributed by lottery through recreation.gov.

Wildlife: Mule deer, black bear, red fox, owl, woodpecker, grey fox, bobcat and more

Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: There is one drinking fountain at the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center and another near the Lower Yosemite Falls restrooms.

Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park

Location: Michigan (it’s an island on Lake Superior)

Elevation: Minimum: 601 feet at Lake Superior; Maximum: 1,394 at Mount Desor summit

Miles available: 165

Gear you need: Stable trail running shoes—ones with a protective toe bumper—will help with the rocky, rooty nature of the trails here.

Types of trails: Rocky or rooty trails, some that are gently rolling, some with bigger elevation changes. Some trails run along the coastline, some venture to the interior of the island.

Best route/don’t miss: Scoville Point Trail. This roughly 4-mile loop starts and ends near the ferry point at this ferry- and seaplane-only access park, making it logistically simple. The trail runs along the Lake Superior shoreline interface, and lichen-colored rocks and through boreal forest and balsam fir trees.

Wildlife: Gulls, ravens, eagle, osprey, squirrel, toads

Cost: $4 per person, per day (kids under 11 are free)

Insider tip: When you finish your run, scamper down to Tobin Harbor where the water’s warmer than at Rock Harbor for a jump in the lake.

 
 
Cuyahoga Valley
Cuyahoga Valley National Park

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NPS/BILL ZIMMER

 

Location: Ohio

Elevation: Maximum: 1,164 feet at the Glaciated Allegheny Plateau' Minimum: 590 feet at the Cuyahoga River

Miles available: 104

Gear you need: Consider long socks and bug spray, as ticks and mosquitos are in abundance.    

Types of trails: Crushed limestone on the towpath, multiuse (horses included) rocky, dirt, or hiking trails

Best route/don’t miss: Ohio and Erie Towpath Trail

Wildlife: Deer, heron, bald eagle, river otter, beaver

Cost: No entrance fee

Insider tip: Park your car at one of the seven boarding stations along the Towpath and wave your arms at the Scenic Railroad conductor to pick you up. Ride the train one way, and run back.

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NPS/COOKIE BALLOU

 

Location: West Texas

Elevation: Maximum: 7,832 feet at the summit of Emory Peak; Minimum: 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande

Miles available: Over 150

Gear you need: Sunscreen, hat, or visor. Trail running shoes if running in the Chisos Basin Complex.

Types of trails: Barren terrain on desert runs, roads with shoulders in the low country, well-maintained mountain trails up high.

Best route/don’t miss: 3.5-mile Boot Canyon Trail leads from the Pinnacles Pass to the South Rim, passing through the lushest environment in the Chisos Mountains. Or try the less steep Laguna Meadows Trail in the Chisos Basin Complex.

Wildlife: Morning or evening, coyotes, deer, javelina, fox, occasional bear, mountain lion, porcupine, elk, and more

Cost: $25 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Since summer temps linger in the 90s on the Chihuahuan Desert trails—and higher along the Rio Grande River Hikes—but hover in the 80s on the mountain trails of the Chisos Basin, head high between June through October.

Kenai Fjords
Kenai Fjords National Park

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NPS/FIONA RITTER

 

Location: Southern Alaska

Elevation: Maximum: 6,612 feet at Mount Truuli; Minimum: 0 feet at the Gulf of Alaska

Miles available: Roughly 10

Gear you need: Due to katabatic winds—or downslope winds from high elevations to valleys below—bring a wind shell and dress in layers.

Types of trails: From the flat, paved, crushed gravel Edge of the Glacier Trail (busy with pedestrians), to the steep, mountainous climb of the Harding Ice Field Trail

Best route/don’t miss: Harding Ice Field Trail, a roughly 8.5-mile round trip that climbs 3,500 feet over four miles, offering views of the glacier along the way and the ice field at the turnaround point.

Wildlife: Marmot, brown bear and black bear, mountain goats, ptarmigan, spruce grouse, violet-green swallow, and more.

Cost: No fee

Insider tip: To keep all bear sightings positive, run with someone and chat or sing (or make extra noise if by yourself), especially around blind corners, making sure to not surprise a bear. And, before running, check in with the ranger station on current trail conditions.

 
 
North Cascades
North Cascades National Park

Location: Northwest Washington State

Elevation: Minimum: 605 feet at Goodell Creek; Maximum: 9,206 feet at Goode Mountain

Miles available: About 400

Gear you need: Rain shell, since the area is notorious for its rainfall.

Types of trails: Rugged, soft trails down low; rugged, rockier trails at higher elevations

Best route/don’t miss: Run the 3.7-miles (one-way) from the trailhead to the Cascade Pass. All the climbing rewards you with stellar mountain views. Consider continuing on another 2.2 miles to the Sahale Glacier.  

Wildlife: Bears, mountain lions, deer, elk, moose, and more

Cost: No fee

Insider tip: Trails can be busy on summer weekends, especially in dry weather; being courteous to other trail users goes a long way.

Shenandoah
Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

Elevation: Minimum: 561 feet near the north end; Maximum: 4,0501 feet at the summit of Hawksbill Mountain

Miles of trails: More than 500

Gear you need: Sunglasses. Gnats and no-see-ums love the Shenandoah trails, and wearing sunglasses can keep them out of your eyes. Also, a hat, headband, or visor can help keep sweat out of your eyes in this humid region.

Types of trails: Rocky, rooty in places, and well-marked. White blazes denote the Appalachian Trail. Blue denotes other foot trails. Yellow denotes horse trails.

Best route/don’t miss: Hawksbill. This 2.9-mile loop gets you running on a portion of the Appalachian Trail (101 miles of it runs through the park), then connects to the Salamander Trail to summit Hawksbill for stunning views. Complete the loop on the Lower Hawksbill trail. For a running tour of waterfalls, run downhill to the White Oak Canyon Falls, returning to your car with a climb.

Wildlife: White-tailed deer, salamanders, squirrels, chipmunks, black bear, raccoons, rabbits, and more

Cost: $20 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: On particularly humid days, run the trails that head up from the Skyline Drive instead of down, as higher elevations see cooler temps.

Sequoia + Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Location: North/Central California

Elevation: Minimum: 1,360 feet at Kewea River; Maximum: 14,494 feet at the summit of Mount Whitney

Miles available: More than 800

Gear you need: Water can be scarce, so bring plenty with you on long runs.

Types of trails: Since Sequoia and Kings Canyon are actually two massive parks adjacent to each other, a myriad of running experiences—from high alpine to river valley—is available here, including a trail up the rocky summit of Mount Whitney. Most trails gain elevation quickly after a mile or two, rising above the tree line after three to five miles.

Best route/don’t miss: The High Sierra Trail out of Crescent Meadow offers a scenic, gradual climbing out-and-back trail. It starts in the famous Giant Sequoias of the area, and traverses canyon walls. Make a big day out of running to Bearpaw Meadow at 11 miles, or an ultrarunning epic running to Hamilton Lake at 15 miles (and running back).

Wildlife: Mule deer, gray foxes, bobcats, skunks, black bears, gophers, mice, marmots, pikas, jackrabbits, mountain lions, woodpeckers, quails, California newts, mountain kingsnakes

Cost: $20 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Giant Forest Trails and others can be crowded in the summer months, and much less so in the fall.

 
 
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

Location: Southern Florida

Elevation: Minimum: 0 feet, at the Atlantic coast; Maximum: 20 feet, at an unnamed mound

Miles available: 40 miles of unpaved trails and 53 miles of paved roads recommended for running

Gear you need: If you dare to go in the wet season, don’t forget a bug jacket or bug pants and bug spray. Any time of year, bring a hydration system lots of water, and sunscreen to help abate the sun, heat, and humidity.

Types of trails: Everything from wooden boardwalks through marshland to forested trails to paved roads.

Best route/don’t miss: Shark Valley Tram Road: a 15-mile paved loop that starts and finishes at the park’s visitor’s center, with a lookout tower halfway through. Four ponds alongside the road make for good alligator sightings while you run. Also, the Long Pine Key Nature Trail (7 miles, one-way) puts you in one of the more rare parts of the Everglades; it’s the largest contiguous pine rockland habitat in all of North America.    

Wildlife: Alligators, frogs, toads, egret, spoonbill, heron, woodstork, rabbit, raccoons, grey foxes, otters, deer

Cost: $10 per vehicle, valid for seven days  

Insider tip: Avoid wet season, where mosquitos run rampant. Plan to run here in the dry season, between December and April.

hawaii volcano
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE BOYLE

 

Location: Hawai’i, Hawaii

Elevation: Minimum: 0 feet at the Pacific Ocean; Maximum: 13,679 feet at the summit of Mauna Loa

Miles available: 150 miles of maintained trail

Gear you need: The elevation and rainforest climate here is cool and wet, unlike the beach areas of Hawaii, so dress for 65 to 70-degree weather and bring a lightweight rain shell. Also, wear trail running shoes with good traction. And bring plenty of water.

Types of trails: Everything from sharp lava rock and dust, to rooty, slick trails. Many trails run through two or more climate environments.

Best route/don’t miss: Crater Rim Trail (paved partially) offers a 11-mile round trip, paved for a mile/mile and a half and passing by steaming volcanic action at 4,000 feet of elevation. Or try the Halema’uma’u Trail, a 1.8-mile round-trip trail that drops 425 feet in elevation to the rainforest floor and back up.

Wildlife: The park is home to 250 endangered Hawaiian geese called nene. Run early to watch them fly over the summit a little after dawn. Rainforest trails are home to Hawaiian honeycreepers and other colorful birds, as well as bats and the largest dragonfly in the U.S. Sea turtles like the coastline here.

Cost: $15 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Insider tip: Since the area has active erupting volcanoes, air quality can go from good to bad quickly—with sulfur dioxide and Pele’s Hair particles (flowing lava dried by air into sharp, airborne particles)—especially in winter months when the wind occasionally comes in from the south. Pay attention to signage in the park, and visit HawaiiSO2network.com for air quality updates.

This article originally published on Runner's World.