We trail runners fancy ourselves a wild and dirty bunch. But sometimes, even the most rugged are forced to clean up and fall in line. When it all gets to be too much, escape the confines of asphalt and skyscrapers, pull on your grimiest trail shoes and run to a one of these trails—where your inner dirtbaggery can shine through in spite of the big city.
1. Tony Knowles Coastal Trail: Anchorage, AK
Race the midnight sun along Alaska’s Cook Inlet, where leathery locals ski, run and bike year-round. Birch trees and brush give the trail a secluded feel before it opens into 180-degree views of the bay. Only a tease of the city’s running possibilities, Tony Knowles collides with Kincaid Park and its infinite single- and double-track paths giving you ample opportunity to link up new routes. And if the chatty Beluga whales in the bay start to mess with your rhythm, head inland to explore the nearly 500,000 acres of Chugach State Park’s endless trails.
Total Mileage: 11 miles, one way
Terrain: Paved trail
Access: Westchester Lagoon South, Kincaid Park
2. Mesa Trail: Boulder, CO
It’s no shock that one of the best trail systems is located in the adventure capital of the west, a town so burly you can’t throw a quinoa muffin without hitting 10 ultrarunners. Sprint past coyotes and black bears and avoid the prickly pear while enjoying sprawling views of the 7,000-foot Flatirons and plentiful wildflowers. Mesa is part of Boulder’s sprawling network of 144 miles of trails, which extend to Bear Peak, Shadow Canyon and South Boulder.
Total mileage: 7 miles, one way
Terrain: Dirt singletrack
Access: South Mesa, Chautauqua Meadows, Enchanted Mesa, Shanahan Ridge and the National Center for Atmospheric Research
3. Barton Creek Greenbelt: Austin, TX
Trade the ringing in your ears from last night’s jam sesh for the soothing rush of Barton Creek in Zilker Park. This trail courses through the heart of town and ends at the “Hill of Life,” a half-mile climb (200-foot elevation gain) that’ll test your legs—and help burn off that pound of oh-so-juicy brisket you put away at Franklin Barbecue. Cool your jets at Sculpture Falls, a well-known oasis from the heinous humidity.
Total mileage: 8 miles, one way
Terrain: Dirt singletrack
Access: Loop 360, Zilker Park
4. Rock Creek Park Trail: Washington, DC
Avoid hoards of sticky-fingered middle schoolers meandering the monuments by heading to DC’s Rock Creek Park, a 1,754-acre haven for runners and cyclists of all levels. Twice the size of Central Park, the area contains a shocking number of dirt and paved trail circuits, the most popular of which (Rock Creek Park Trail) circles the National Zoo and pops up into Maryland. During peak cherry blossom season, detour through Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks Park for wafts of blossomy goodness.
Total mileage: 20+ miles
Terrain: Mix of dirt singletrack, sidewalks and roads
Access: 23rd and P St. NW, Piney Branch Parkway, countless trail entrances
5. City Creek Canyon: Salt Lake City, UT
The name says it all: a city-accessible trail along a trickling creek in an aspen-filled ravine. This steady climb just east of the state capitol leads to some of the most remote views in the Wasatch Range, with side trails leading to old mining areas and cottonwood forests. The shady trail provides cool relief and fresh air from the infamous Salt Lake smog.
Total Mileage: 12 miles, one way
Access: Memory Grove