What comes to mind when you hear the term “trail running”—type A ultra-marathoners without an ounce of fat on their bodies who get up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays to run three dozen miles before some of us have even made it to brunch? That’s part of it, sure, but trail running is the everyman’s adventure, and we’ve put together a list of trails that are waiting for you, whether your goal is a 5k or a 100k.
Walnut Creek Trail
Raleigh, North Carolina
There’s something magical about running through an urban environment without having to battle the sidewalks. More and more metropolitan areas seem to be recognizing the value of urban trails, and the Capital Area Greenway trail system in Raleigh is one of the best. The Walnut Creek Trail traverses 15 miles through the city, around Lake Johnson and past Lake Raleigh. It connects with the Rocky Branch Trail, forming a loop that goes through NC State University.
Price Lake Loop
Boone, North Carolina
It’s no secret that Boone is a haven for all things outdoors, and trail running is no exception. The Price Lake Loop may only be 2.7 miles long, but the views are unbeatable. Located inside the dense forests of Julian Price Memorial Park, the trail winds around the lake and over several wooden boardwalks crossing little creeks. It’s only about 10 miles from Boone, and once you’ve logged your miles you can sit back and enjoy the view of Grandfather Mountain.
Maintained by the Rivanna Trails Foundation, a local organization made up of volunteers and property owners, the Rivanna Trail is a 19-mile urban wilderness loop around the city of Charlottesville. With more than a dozen trailheads that make it accessible from just about anywhere in the city, the Rivanna Trail runs alongside the Rivanna River, past an old dam site, across Meadow Creek and through residential neighborhoods. The Charlottesville Area Trail Runners (CATs) hold semi-regular Tour de RT events for local runners, and completing the entire trail is a rite of passage of sorts in the ever-growing community of ultra-runners in Charlottesville.
George Washington National Forest, Virginia
Not for the faint of heart, the Massanutten Trail is a 71-mile loop that was completed in 2002, with sections that have been in use for centuries. The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club has created a bit of a cult following, and refers to the clockwise completion of the trail as “The Ring.” According to the club, fewer than 200 runners have completed the entire circuit, making up “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Tucked away in the George Washington National Forest, the mountainous trail is rocky and intense—but it doesn’t get much prettier than that, plus you get bragging rights.
Ziler Loop Trail
Morgan County, West Virginia
Located in the panhandle of West Virginia, Cacapon Resort State Park contains about 20 miles of trails. The Ziler Loop Trail, which gives you a view of the reservoir, is about 6.5 miles long, and is considered somewhere between moderate and strenuous because of the steep, rough sections. The elaborate trail system allows you to create your own route depending on the distance and difficulty you’re looking for.
Paris Mountain State Park
Greenville, South Carolina
Looking for a nice flat trail for a serene run through nature uninhibited by difficult terrain? Paris Mountain may not be the spot for you. About a 10-minute drive from Greenville, the park features several miles of trails that many runners and hikers consider challenging. Most of the trails in the system are multi-use, but for those of you who spend weekends logging miles and hours in preparation for a race, don’t worry about getting mauled by cyclists—bikes are not allowed on the trails on Saturdays.
Raven Cliff Loop
Cleveland, South Carolina
Right on the North and South Carolina line is Ceasars Head State Park, with a trail that has been hailed as the best in the state. The 6.8-mile loop features strenuous terrain and river crossings, and even the most intense trail runners will be forced to slow down and concentrate to get across Matthews Creek where the rocks tend to get slippery, especially during the colder months.
Oak Mountain State Park
About a 30-minute drive south of Birmingham, Alabama, you’ll find a state park with a trail system of more than 50 miles of trails. The Birmingham Ultra Trail Society (affectionately known as BUTS) recommends starting out with the easy three-mile loop around the lake, and then checking out either the North and South trailheads for a variety of terrain and distance options. Most of the trails in Oak Mountain State Park are technically out-and-backs, but smaller connector trails link them together so you can cobble together your own loop. For a real treat, take a dip in Peavine Falls, the 65-foot spring-led waterfall accessible by the Green Trail.
Red Top Mountain
Nestled between arms of Altatoona Lake in the northwestern region of Georgia is Red Top Mountain State Park, which features about 15 miles of trails open to hikers, bikers and runners. The Iron Hill Bike Trail is a 3.9-mile loop with plenty to look at: it snakes alongside the bank of the lake and also through an area that was once home to a historic iron mining community. There’s also the 5.5-mile Homestead Trail and the Sweetgum Lodge Loop Trail, and if you’re looking for something a little longer, check out the Red Top Rumble race’s 11.5-mile route through the park.
Sope Creek via Cochran Shoals
Cobb County, Georgia
Can’t decide whether you’re in the mood for a challenging run with rugged terrain or a smooth, relaxing jaunt on a more level trail? If you’re in the Atlanta area, you don’t have to. This 8.5-mile trail connects Cochran Shoals and Slope Creek, two popular and vastly different parks way down yonder on the Chattahoochee. The trail gets you up close and personal with marshland, river banks, thick forest, Civil War era paper mill ruins and a little pond. The trail is clearly marked with mileage signs, so it’s easy to cover whatever distance you’re going for.