There's an old adage among trail runners that the length of a mile measured in the woods isn't really a mile at all. And that's one of the reasons no two trail races, even if they claim to be the same length, are even remotely alike. Some are flat and fast, others relentlessly hilly with sections so steep that even the best runners succumb to power hiking. Some are run on craggy singletrack in remote mountain regions, while others can be found on the meandering trails of a city park right around the corner from your home. With more than 1,400 trail races scheduled in the U.S. this year, the options are plentiful, if not downright overwhelming. Here's a carefully considered sampler of some of the very best, big and small, nearby and far away. Don't be intimidated to compete, everything you need to know is in our Trail Racing 101 Guide.
More: 6 Tips to Start Trail Running
Best Urban Adventure
James River Scramble
May 19, Richmond, Virginia
This is no ordinary urban 10K, even if it does start and finish in the heart of Virginia's capital, one of the largest cities in the Mid-Atlantic. Aside from running on dirt trails on parts of two islands in the James River, this race also sends runners maneuvering through ravines, climbing over floodwalls, scaling steep staircases, rock-hopping across dry creek beds, and passing under railroad tracks through a concrete culvert. It's a whirlwind adventure that combines the spirit of trail racing with the ruggedness of both the natural and the manmade surroundings.
Best Doggy Race
Dirty Dog 15K Trail Run
May 19, Charleston, West Virginia
Dogs are optional but welcome to run in this singletrack adventure along ridgelines in the Kanawha State Forest. If you do decide to bring a pup, see how yours will measure up in our list of Best Dog Breeds for Running
More: Train Your Dog for Long-Distance Trail Running in 20 Steps
Best Marathon You've Never Heard Of
The Sehgahunda Trail Marathon & Relay
May 26, Mt. Morris, New York
Set on a northern extension of the Finger Lakes Trail along the eastern rim of the Letchworth Gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the East, this race meanders along wooded singletrack routes riddled with an endless string of rolling gullies. Grueling is putting it lightly. This is a marathon, but it runs like a much longer, ultra-distance race. Roots, rocks, fallen trees, and stream crossings are among the many obstacles set on lands once inhabited by the Seneca Indians.
More: 9 Marathon Strategies for Success
Best Barefoot Event
Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival
May 26-27, New Gloucester, Maine
Barefoot running may be the trend of the moment, but this is one of only a handful of U.S. trail races that has a separate barefoot division. In addition to races for shod runners from 5K to 50 miles, the festival, held at a working farm, includes a barefoot 5K on a rolling course of smooth grass and dirt sprinkled with pine needles.
More: 6 Barefoot Running Tips for Beginners
Best Seaside Race
June 23, Stinson Beach, California
This hilly, 13.7-mile race doubles the course of the historic Dipsea over the rolling foothills near the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco. And in the tradition of the quirky Dipsea, it uses a handicapping format, so slower runners get a big head start and the faster runners begin at the back of the pack. The Pacific Ocean views are enticing, but the hills are relentless.