Eleven miles never felt so short as it does on the Kalalau Trail. With so much natural beauty to distract and inspire, counting miles seems unnecessary. In fact, you might slow your pace as you make the trip from Ha'ena State Park and traverse through five lush valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach. If you reach the beach and didn't intend to run the 11 miles back to the park (22 miles round-trip), memories of the white sand beaches, sea cliffs, waterfalls, guava trees and ancient ruins will last longer than your sore legs.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Consider running rim-to-rim as a once-(maybe twice)-in-a-lifetime experience that's every bit as epic as you might expect. The change in elevation—10,550 feet total—will give your legs and lungs a beating if the 20- to 23-mile distances on either the South Kaibab or the Angel Bright trails don't. Train, train, train, and plan to make your trek either during early spring or late fall for generally cooler temperatures. Prepare for any weather, protect yourself from the sun, and bring plenty of fluids and fuel.
Muir Woods National Monument, California
Made famous by the Dipsea, the oldest and most persnickety trail race in America, the Dipsea Trail snakes in and out of the Muir Woods National Monument. As the saying goes, beauty is pain, and this awesomely breathtaking 7.1-mile span of singletrack punishes those brave enough to tackle it. With a vertical ascent of more than 2,200 feet and three sets of stairs that total over 600 steps, the rocky, root-strewn trek from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach keeps you on your toes.
Behold Boulder at its finest from the Mesa Trail, the main artery along the foothills of the city. This well maintained trail runs just over 6 miles along the Flatirons and foothills of Boulder; it connects Chautauqua Park with Eldorado Canyon Road, and offers diverse terrain, multiple trail connections and four-season availability. Expect moderate climbs and descents, although there is no real elevation change from the trail's northern to southern points.
Rock Creek Park
Washington, D.C. metro area
This wooded beauty offers 20 miles of dirt trails around our nation's capital. The tree-lined paths provide natural sun protection during the region's hot, humid summers. Pick among singletrack, roomy equestrian trails—watch your step, though—or the paved multipurpose path that runs parallel to the park's stream.
photo by Christopher Allen
Wildwood Trail and Leif Erickson Drive
Forest Park, Portland
Running under a canopy of hemlocks and firs through densely wooded canyons feels like you're part of a fairytale. But in fact, you're in the city of Portland in Forest Park, the largest urban forest in the United States. The Wildwood Trail meanders for 30 miles from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington Park to the end of the trail at Newberry Road. Create your own loops or out-and-backs by combining portions of the Wildwood Trail with Leif Erickson Drive, a gravel and dirt road closed to motorized vehicles.
Eagle Lake Loop
Acadia National Park, Maine
John Rockefeller, Jr., advanced the design of 45 miles of carriage roads that circle Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. These roads serve as the summer, spring and autumn playground for runners, cyclists and equestrians. The mostly flat crushed gravel trail around Eagle Lake, the park's largest freshwater lake, provides a picturesque place for a 6-mile tempo run. If you want to run longer and desire a change of scenery, the park offers more than 120 miles of trails and paths. Come during the temperate summer, or during the fall when the trees are ablaze with a fiery burst of changing leaves.
Point Mugu State Park
Start at Scenic Trail, shuffle through Big Sycamore Creek (which is usually dry), and climb 450 feet to the top of the trail, where you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the cerulean Pacific. This junction offers several additional destinations, some of which afford more gorgeous peeks at the crashing surf below. The rocky bluffs, sand dunes, rocky hills and grassy valleys peppered with sycamore, oak and walnut trees provide a rugged contrast to the pristine coastline.
Kincaid Park offers the easiest way to get deep in the woods right in town. This 1,400-acre forest sits atop an old glacial moraine, and offers 43 miles of trails as well as Anchorage's largest moose population. If you want to test yourself, try the 6-mile Lekisch Loop, the hilliest competition-certified 10K in the country. If you want something less intense, the Mize 3-mile loop provides views of the Cook Inlet watershed and a flower garden.
Moses Cone Memorial Park
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses Cone Memorial Park offers more than 20 miles of well-maintained carriage trails. Elevations vary from 3,100 to 4,500 feet. Depart from Flat Top Manor, run through the tunnel beneath the Parkway, and make the steady 2-mile climb through deciduous forests and verdant fields to the top of the mountain to behold the unspoiled beauty of the High Country.