Spring is here, flowers are blooming, and it’s time to rouse your trail running shoes from deep hibernation and launch them out into the wild. No matter your taste in terrain—whether you want rocky canyons and desert wildlife, or a misty evergreen wonderland not unlike the forest moon of Endor—there’s a scenic trail for you. Here are four rugged mini-adventures that are ready to run today:
Superior Trail, Northern Minnesota
The 277-mile Superior Trail traces the ridge above Lake Superior through seven state parks from Duluth, Minn., to the Canadian border, and comes with impressive credentials to justify its apt name—in 2000, Backpacker Magazine chose it as one of “the most scenic trails in the nation” with the "Best Signage" and "Best Trail/Camp/Shelter conditions." Sections are easy to access from Duluth for quick technical runs and rolling singletrack, and this is a particularly good spring to run them now that early warm weather has melted the snow and dried out the tricky segments. The trail is never flat, but still very runnable with a high point of 1,829 feet and low of 602 feet. Look for lady's-slipper orchids, nodding trillium, heal-all and touch-me-nots in bloom.
Forest Park, Portland, OR
In both scenery and scope, disappearing into Forest Park feels a little like plunging into Middle-earth from Lord of the Rings. At times, the park, which stretches on for more than eight miles and is the largest urban forest reserve in the U.S., feels shady and lush to the extent of otherworldliness—particularly so close to the bustle of the city. Gravel roads leading in are accessible minutes from downtown Portland, and they connect to a network of more than 70 miles of dirt trails and rolling singletrack. The main artery—the 30.2-mile Wildwood Trail—slopes up and down through the park like a lazy rollercoaster, with numerous secondary trails and loops spurring outward. Yes, it will probably be raining. But that’s just one reason the Douglas fir-packed reserve stays bright green year-round, and the trilliums and ferns glow so brilliantly in the spring.
Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV
If you tend to stick to the kinds of Vegas happenings that need not stay in Vegas, running the Red Rock Canyon trail is one to add to your list. Alternately, the trail starts just 17 miles from the hard-partying antics of the strip, so it’s a great way to get some quiet time during an otherwise wild bender. The Grand Circle Loop offers 11.7 miles of rocky singletrack through the high desert and the opportunity to pass Mojave yucca and Joshua trees while hunting for roadrunners and Gila monsters. Plus springtime weather in the canyon tends to be cool with clear skies—ideal for getting some fresh air between conventions or trade shows.
Benton MacKaye Trail from Springer Mountain, GA
The 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail is popular with long distance thru-hikers and ultrarunners alike and features great sections for running in all 14 states it crosses. Intersecting the AT at several points, The Benton MacKaye Trail runs for 300 miles through remote backcountry and gives runners plenty of access points from Georgia, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains. Spring is a great season for running on the moderately challenging trail, which weaves through rolling hills, waterfalls and more different tree species than you can count. Keep an eye out for the bright colors of flame azalea, rhododendron and mountain laurel.