As we sorted through the many 5K races offered in the U.S. each year, we kept this in mind. We wanted to showcase an assortment of races that offer competitive fields, fast courses, scenic settings, charitable support, unique experiences and of course, top-notch swag. In compiling the list we considered public race data from Running USA, other expert lists, our own experiences and most importantly, input from you, the runners who have participated in these races first hand. Based on those standards, these are 10 of the best 5K races in all of the U.S.
This fun fall run offers racers the chance to cross the iconic finish line of the New York City Marathon without having to actually run 26.2 miles. Each year this 5K takes place on the Saturday before the marathon, which means participants get to experience the buzzing energy and excitement that never fails to electrify New York City during marathon weekend.
With just under 25,000 participants, the Chicago Hot Chocolate Run (offered in both 15K and 5K distances) was the largest 5K of 2013, according to Running USA. The chocolate fueled race is offered in various cities across the U.S. throughout the year, but it originated in Chicago where the course begins and finishes in Millennium Park. In addition to a chocolatey post-race party, this fun 5K is also known for its swag-filled goodie bag, which includes a cozy, full-zip hoodie.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers foundation honors the memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life after strapping on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. To support the foundation’s cause, which aims to support first responders and service members across the U.S., each year in September participants are invited to take part in 5K run and walk fundraising events in various cities around the country.
This springtime 5K starts and finishes on the Santa Anita Park race track with the stunningly scenic San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop. And in addition to taking place on what’s widely considered one of the most beautiful race tracks in the world, the event offers runners the chance to take off from a real life horse race starting gate.
Philadelphia’s scenic Fairmount Park serves as the setting for this inspirational 5K which raises funds and awareness for childhood cancer through the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. The annual race takes place the weekend before Philadelphia’s Marathon and Half-Marathon events and also provides the opportunity for childhood cancer heroes and their families to take part in a mini version of the race.
A slew of summer races centered around local craft beer festivals: what more could a beer-loving runner ask for? Events take place along the east coast and are making their way across the country to cities like Boulder and Austin, too. Participants are invited to run or walk the 5K course starting at 12 p.m. and can down their first beer at the post-race festival not long after crossing the finish line.
This flat-coursed 5K not only offers runners the chance to race along an iconic route, but also the opportunity to support My Friend’s Place: a local charity that provides drop-in care for homeless youth in Hollywood, Calif. The 3.1-mile race takes participants down Hollywood Boulevard and past famous landmarks like the TCL Chinese Theater, El Capitan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Capitol Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not—just to name a few. Also, participants are encouraged to dress as their favorite Hollywood stars. From rock and roll legends to Superman, each year the course is populated with a variety of festive characters.
Participants in this USATF-NJ sanctioned 5K are presented with the chance to run through North America’s largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival— the QuickChek NJ Festival of Ballooning . A flat grass and street course tours runners past the launch field as hundreds of balloons take off and decorate the surrounding sky. The finish line lands participants in the heart of the festival and perhaps most fittingly of all, the first place male and female finishers are awarded with a free hot air balloon ride.
Behind only the NYC Marathon Festival, the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Festival was the largest running festival of the year and it includes just about every race distance you can think of, including, of course, a 5K. The wildly popular, family-friendly event starts and finishes in Epcot touring runners through the likes of the park’s Future World and the international World Showcase. Perhaps the most fun part of all, though, is the chance to see and interact with your favorite Disney characters along the way.
Part of the Mammoth Half Marathon event, the Mammoth Lakes 5K is unique in that it takes place in one of the most sought after high-altitude training destinations in the U.S. The area is known for its breathtaking mountain scenery and 5K participants don’t need to worry too much about the altitude since the downtown Mammoth Lakes course is designed with runners of all levels and abilities in mind. Plus, 5K finishers are awarded with race medals, a race t-shirt and a swag bag filled with fun goodies and gear.