25 Best Trail Running Destinations in the U.S.

Dale Ball Trails

Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Dale Ball Trails include 30 miles of looped single-track routes lined with juniper, pinion pine, and mountain cedar trees in the rolling foothills outside the New Age-y artists' enclave of Santa Fe. The terrain ranges from easy to difficult, with a mixture of hard rock and soft dirt surfaces. The trails were funded by an anonymous donor and a private foundation, and are named after a longtime Santa Fe resident who spearheaded the movement to build them.

Shut-In Trail

Asheville, North Carolina
This 18-mile trail was built by industrialist George Vanderbilt in the late 1890s as a means to link his hunting lodge below the summit of Mt. Pisgah with his famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Now it's a hearty test for the passionate population of off-road runners in Asheville, with 3,000 feet of climbing on rock-strewn technical single-track to a parking area just below Mt. Pisgah's 5,700-foot peak. The trail was named for the tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel through which it passes in the summer months, giving a runner a rather "shut-in" feeling.

Cumberland Trail

Chattanooga, Tennessee
When completed, the Cumberland Trail will traverse a series of high ridges and deep gorges across the eastern third of Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau. To date, about 175 miles have been finished in 10 sections, with some of the best running found on the 10.2-mile Mullens Cove Loop Trail just outside of Chattanooga. This mostly single-track section is cut out of the bluffs of Prentice Cooper State Forest and includes rocky terrain, several creek crossings, and magnificent vistas of the river and the city below.

John Muir Wilderness

Bishop, California
The tiny Sierra settlement of Bishop is a trail running haven nestled high in the Sierra Nevada that offers remote access to the 212-mile John Muir Trail, which runs from Yosemite National Park to the 14,505-foot summit of Mt. Whitney (it's possible to run from the edge of Bishop to the top of the Sierras in the heart of the John Muir Wilderness without ever touching asphalt). Foremost among those runs is a section above the tree line to the saddle on Piute Pass, and an effort here is rewarded with a bounty of wildflower fireworks and dozens of tranquil high-alpine lakes.

Potawatomi Trail

Pinckney, Michigan
This 17.5-mile mostly single-track loop in the Pinckney State Recreation Area, 20 minutes northwest of Ann Arbor, twists and turns around kettle lakes and bogs and undulates between lush forested lowlands and along the high crests of glacial-formed ridges. Known locally as the "Poto," the hard-packed dirt trail has plenty of technical terrain features, including several creek crossings, steep climbs and descents, and many sections with gnarly roots. Not surprisingly, the Potawatomi plays host to some of the best trail races in the Midwest, ranging from 5 miles to a full marathon.

One for the Trophy Case

Across the Grand Canyon, by Foot
"You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it, you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths." So said John Wesley Powell after a maiden three-month rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon in 1869. More than 140 years later, Powell's words hold true: It takes considerable time and effort to appreciate the magnitude and beauty of the Grand Canyon. And there's no better way than as a trail runner. Running across the hole in America's backyard might be the single-most satisfying achievement in domestic trail running.

While plenty of trails and races are longer and harder than the 21-mile route across the big ditch, there's a certain thrill (and especially, satisfaction) in having crossed this national treasure by foot—whether you run it from rim to rim and catch a ride back to your starting point, or cross it twice via the grueling 42-mile round-trip. Word to the wise: Running across the Grand Canyon is tough. Even if you have a good aerobic base and experience running distances longer than a marathon, it's not the mileage that will hurt; it's the change in elevation. Constant refueling and rehydrating are key, and occasional walking breaks critical. Lastly, save some pack space for a camera. The full appreciation of what you endured takes weeks to sink in, but the magnitude of the experience should last a lifetime. Especially if you have pictures.

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