Tahoe Rim Trail
Incline Village, Nevada
Completed in 2001, the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail passes through two states, three national forests, and three wilderness areas as it circumnavigates Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. The trail is broken into eight segments ranging from roughly 12 to 33 miles, with one of the best runs being the 15.3-mile section from Big Meadow to Echo Summit on the southeastern side of the loop. It's the most secluded section of the trail and offers only occasional views of the lake as it veers through wildflower meadows, fragrant conifer stands, and shimmering groves of aspen. Near its 9,000-foot high point, the trail merges with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and curves around the granite-lined shores of Showers Lake.
Finger Lakes Trail System
Hector, New York
Including the main Finger Lakes Trail as well as dozens of spur and loop trails, this system across south-central New York offers more than 950 miles of options. Arguably the best terrain for runners can be found in the 16,000-acre Finger Lakes National Forest, nestled between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. It has more than 30 miles of interconnecting trails that traverse gorges, ravines, pastures, woodlands, and the site of the revered Finger Lake Fifties trail races every July.
Alafia River State Park
Set on the site of a former phosphate strip mining operation, Alafia River State Park offers some of Florida's most diverse trail topography. The rolling, multiple-loop trails weave around swamps, ponds, hills, and rock formations on beginner and intermediate single-track trails that include almost a dozen creek crossings adjacent to the South Prong of the Alafia River. The park is rich with red maples, swamp tupelo, and water hickory trees that provide welcome shade on many sections of the trail.
The Long Trail
Touted as the oldest long-distance trail in the United States, the Long Trail was built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930. The 273-mile route runs the length of Vermont, from the Massachusetts state line to the Canadian border, crossing the state's highest peaks and densest forests as it follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains. Runner beware: Just about any run on the Long Trail will require steep uphills and abrupt downhills. A few hearty souls have run the entire trail in under a week (Jonathan Basham, a 32-year-old Pennsylvania carpenter, did it in four-and-a-half days in 2009), but most of the better sections for running are in the milder southern portion of the trail, including the first 10 miles from the Massachusetts border to Congdon Shelter near Bennington.
El Moro Canyon Loop
Laguna Beach, California
Escaping the gridlock of Los Angeles and its environs can be a challenge, and that's exactly why Crystal Cove State Park, home to this trail, is such a cherished refuge. The El Moro Canyon Loop is an 8.5-mile route that snakes through canyons and along ridgetops of the San Joaquin Hills, which rise 1,000 feet from the Pacific coastline.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Running in Palo Duro Canyon State Park is like dashing across a Georgia O'Keeffe painting. Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro—120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800 feet deep—is the second-largest canyon in the U.S. The state park encompasses just a small portion of the northernmost part of the canyon, but the 11-mile Givens, Spicer & Lowry Trail gives a sampling of its awe-inspiring grandeur (as do the trail races held in the park every October). That would include deep canyons painted in a palette of southwestern colors, gnarled red rock buttes and spires, bubbling coldwater creeks, and dusty meadows teeming with prickly pear cactus and aromatic juniper and mesquite trees.
Denver to Durango, Colorado
Short of spending a summer on a dude ranch, there's no better way to experience the Rocky Mountains than by running a few sections of the Colorado Trail. It starts on the fringe of Denver and winds 483 miles in a southwesterly direction to Durango through eight mountain ranges, seven national forests, and six wilderness areas. The trail climbs and descends frequently, and much of it, including the high point of 13,334 feet at Coney Summit in the San Juan Mountains, is above tree line. Historic mining towns, old railroad tunnels, a world-class ski resort, and endless fields of wildflowers are among the memorable attractions on the 28-segment trail. If you only have time for a fraction of the trail, consider the 35 miles (or parts of those 35 miles) between Leadville's Turquoise Lake and the tiny mountain settlement of Twin Lakes. Officially sections 10 and 11 of the trail, these pass below Colorado's two highest peaks, the impressive 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert and 14,428-foot Mt. Massive.