The following trail races feature everything from rugged mountain trails and rolling ridge lines to lush forests and clear coastal views. And those are only a few of the highlights that make them worthy of being added to your racing bucket list. Whether you’re in search of a relaxed course that allows for the enjoyment of all that Mother Nature has to offer or you’re after a relentlessly rugged challenge, these must-run races represent some of the most highly rated trail events across the United States.
Except for a half-mile start on forest roads, this 10.2-mile race is run entirely on singletrack, following Mullens Cove Loop in Prentice-Cooper State Forest just outside of Chattanooga. Runners are greeted with stunning views of the Tennessee River Gorge and a rich forest landscape, plus the challenge of “rock garden’s” rugged, technical terrain at Short Creek. Proceeds from the race benefit the Tennessee River Gorge Trust for trail maintenance through Southeastern Conservation Corps.
No doubt, Colorado is essentially a trail running mecca, so it only makes sense that an annual race series held at Vail Mountain has become a somewhat iconic event. This surely scenic race series—which includes everything from the Boneyard Boogie 11k Trail Run and the Vail Half Marathon to the Berry Picker 5k and the Annual Vail Hill Climb—has been touring runners up Rocky Mountain roads and in and around Vail for 18 years and was named the “Best Race Series” by Colorado Runner Magazine in 2005 and 2008.
It just so happens that many of the best trail races in the United States take place on the same trails that have been dubbed “America’s best running trails” by our panel of trail running experts, and the Dipsea Trail Race is no exception. According to the race’s website, it was first run in 1905, making it America’s oldest trail race. The 7.4-mile course eventually offers breathtaking views of California’s coast, but runners must work hard for the scenic reward as the course starts out with steep trail and stair climbs.
Each year this 13.1-mile race is scheduled so that runners can race amidst the vibrant fall colors of Aspen’s foliage. Widely regarded as one of the most scenic races in the country, the Golden Leaf course takes runners from Snowmass Village, up Dawdler ski run and along the singletrack Government Trail, which outlines the mountainsides between Snowmass and Buttermilk.
“Nothing beats the red rocks and canyons of Moab,” says husband and wife running coaches and co-founders of Revolution Running, Ewen and Heather North. “For an ultra trail race, this is very doable because it’s not at high altitude. There's a lot of up and down without extreme long climbs which makes it fun and enjoyable to run. There are sections on jeep roads where you can actually get going fairly fast then over the second half you're running on slick rock which presents its own challenge.” They say the race is worthy of running, not only for its unbeatable scenery, but also because it’s low-key and well-organized. “They also have a 33k so people can choose a shorter distance if they don’t want to run the full 55k,” they added.
Runners can choose to race 15k, 50k or 50 or 100 miles on Badger Mountain in Tri-Cities Wash., but no matter the distance, this popular long-distance trail event offers sprawling views of Candy and Rattlesnake Mountains and the Columbia and Yakima Rivers. Not to mention, the course also tours runners through the heart of Washington’s wine country and race proceeds go to Friends of Badger Mountain, Washington Trails Association and Team in Training.
Expect to give Fido (and yourself, too) a good scrub if you bring him along to this popular but muddy trail race in the Kanawha State Forest. The 15k route includes a mix of singletrack mountain trails and rugged dirt roads with two long climbs and a few rolling ridge lines. Dogs are optional, but with rocks, roots and wet stuff along the way, all participants should expect to get a little dirty.
According to Runner’s World, this 6.6-mile challenge is one of the most competitive trail races in the country. The course finishes at the summit of North Peak via the mountain’s black diamond trail, and, according to the race’s website, has an average grade of about 14 percent with some sections at more than 40 percent.
Yes, the draw of this 5k run/walk trail race includes the chance to trot through the Leelanau Peninsula’s charming vineyards, but runners also come for the self-guided wine tour that follows. After the race participants are invited to taste wine and food from 23 wineries along the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail.
Outside Online listed this incredible trail race as part of their “trail running bucket list,” and for good reason: the 13.1-mile course starts at Oahu’s grand Kualoa Ranch and features some of the most diverse and scenic terrain in the world including lush jungles, steep mountainsides and vibrant pastures. Plus, anyone can enter, just because it’s been dubbed the “World Championship” doesn’t mean you need to qualify. The race is simply the last stop of the XTERRA Trail Run Series.