The Best Places to Run in 30 of America's Biggest Cities
Most of us know by now how regular exercise can provide a significant boost in physical and mental well-being, but motivating oneself to get up and out for a jog every morning can still prove difficult. Make it a little easier by taking advantage of the most scenic and rewarding running trails in most every major American metropolitan area.
Central Park is deservedly the go-to place for most joggers in Manhattan, but this urban loop trail just under 10 miles offers more in terms of iconic sightseeing, if not communing with nature. Starting at the Hudson River at 23rd Street and heading south, you'll encounter waterfront views of the Freedom Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn and other East River bridges, without being subject to traffic lights the whole way.
Los Angeles has some beautiful natural scenery to discover, though it can be hard to find from smoggy streets lined with transplanted palms. For a glimpse of southern California's scenic foothills and the city from above, head to Griffith Park to access a 70-mile network of hiking trails, including one gradual 4.2-mile incline to the top of Mount Hollywood with views of the famous sign.
It may be the obvious choice, but Chicago's Lakefront Trail allows runners 17.6 miles of waterfront access and steel skyline vistas as it follows between Lakefront Drive and Lake Michigan from the South Shore to near Evanston. Ideal for locals as well as sightseers, this metropolitan route also passes multiple lakefront parks and landmarks such as the Shedd Aquarium and Navy Pier.
Buffalo Bayou Park is one of Houston's best and most accessible parks, with 160 acres of lush woodlands and paved trails directly west of downtown. That means runners here enjoy views of the skyline behind a foreground of wildflower blooms and pedestrian bridges, which can be taken to turn back early at several points along the main 5.2-miles loop trail.
Papago Park is a 1,500-acre urban park straddling the line between Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, with five paved and unpaved trails of up to 3 miles that pass several small lakes, crops of saguaro cacti, and other distinct desert flora. The park also contains the Phoenix Zoo, Hunt's Tomb, and the Hole-in-the-Rock geological formation, and trails can be extended through to Arizona State University and Tempe Town Lake.
A favorite for runners in the City of Brotherly Love, this 8.5-mile loop covers both sides of the Schuylkill River that runs through downtown Philly, beginning at the Museum of Art and encompassing views of Boathouse Row before doubling back via the Falls Bridge. Long-distance runners can keep going and run an additional 16 or so miles to Valley Forge National Historical Park.
San Antonio's River Walk is touristy but worth a visit, and going on foot is by far the best way to take it in. Runners should start the trail at Tito's Restaurant in Southtown to avoid the pedestrian crowds while taking the 6-mile loop past some of the city's other best hangouts and attractions, including The Alamo and La Villita Historic Arts Village.
San Diego's largest urban green space, Balboa Park, boasts downtown proximity, botanical gardens, and tourist attractions including the San Diego Zoo, but the Torrey Pines Reserve farther north offers something more rugged and scenic in its short dirt trails overlooking sandy beaches and succulent-lined sandstone cliffs. The loop trails range from a half-mile to 1.5 miles in length but can be combined for a lengthier trip.
Located between Dallas and Fort Worth, the Cedar Ridge Preserve has 13 trails to suit runners of all skill levels, with prairie wildlands to provide natural scenery and birdwatching endeavors the whole way. The hilly terrain creates lots of variation for runners and their four-legged friends on the paths, which are off-limits to bikers.
See delicate wildflowers and watch the Pacific fog roll in along the scenic northwest corner of San Francisco, where several adjoining trails take runners and selfie-snapping tourists beside shipwreck ruins, seafoam-strewn rocks, and historic attractions such as the Cliff House restaurant and former Sutro Baths. Hit the trail in the morning to appreciate the rugged scenery in solitude.
Austin's much loved public green space is full of limestone cliffs, shallow waters, and verdant foliage. The main trail runs 7 to 8 miles but can easily be segmented for shorter trips, and there are lots of worthwhile stops along the way for rock-climbing or to cool off on a hot day at Twin or Sculpture Falls.
You can find oceanfront scenery at Hanna Park or stately homes shaded with Spanish Moss in Forest Circle, but there's really only one option for runners when it comes to altitude training in Jacksonville. Take this central loop from The Landing across the St. Johns River and back, taking on a steep 6 percent grade over Acosta Bridge to reach a vantage point of downtown Jacksonville — magnificent particularly at night, when blue neon lights illuminate the bridge.
To get a relatively full view of Seattle's metropolitan skyline and Puget Sound waterfront views in a limited amount of time, there's no better way than running or biking the Elliott Bay Trail. It begins north of downtown near the Space Needle and striking Olympic Sculpture Park, then proceeds 3.4 miles alongside urban parks and bustling tourist attractions before ending between the sports stadiums and marina shipping cranes.
Popular with joggers and daily bike commuters, this trail runs a total 42 miles from Confluence Park in downtown Denver, following the titular body of water past art murals and urban landmarks like the University of Colorado and 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. Taking the trail four miles one way to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center gives a good glimpse of the metropolitan sights and people-watching Denver has to offer.
Though there are no arrows to mark the exact route, most every Charlotte runner knows the 3-mile Booty Loop that encircles the Myers Park neighborhood to take in upscale homes, tall oaks, and university buildings along the way. The neighborhood run is even better served by tacking on treks through nearby Freedom Park or Sugar Creek Greenway.
In Indianapolis, try the 9.5-mile Fall Creek Trail for long-distance training flanked with natural scenery, or the Cultural Trail for a well-rounded jaunt through the city's vibrant urban core. The 8-mile paved walking and biking trail connects six distinct cultural districts that include many urban green spaces, colorful art murals, and access to other trails in city parks.
This one's a bit of a no-brainer, but it's hard to beat this 4.5-mile loop between the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Building in terms of iconic landmarks alone, with the Washington Monument Reflecting Pool, World War II Memorial, and Smithsonian museums decorating the route beside a canopy of deciduous trees. To branch off from the crowds of tourists during a D.C. run, follow the Rock Creek Trail a mile upriver from the Lincoln Memorial to reach the 2,000-acre trail complex of Rock Creek Park.
Follow both sides of the Charles River out and back for as long as 17 miles total, or cut back over the many bridges along the way for a shorter route that will still take in beautiful views of the Boston skyline and historic Cambridge campuses.
Belle Isle is a 982-acre island in the Detroit River between downtown Detroit and Windsor, offering spectacular views of both across shimmering blue waters. The island's flat outer loop runs 6 miles and passes attractions including a nature zoo, aquarium, kayak rental outpost, and picnic areas prime for warm weather people-watching.
Percy and Edwin Warner Parks make up more than 3,000 acres of green space with 12 miles of hiking trail options, much of it also good for running, in the south of Nashville. Start at the picturesque stone steps of "The Allee" and trace a primitive or paved route through the hilly, heavily forested terrain to enjoy a natural escape or downtown skyline views from the Luke Lea Heights Scenic Overlook.
Just four miles west of downtown Memphis, Overton Park encompasses 126 acres of old growth forest preserved on the National Register of Historic places. The main road running through the grounds was closed to vehicle traffic years ago, so bikers and joggers now have more space and peace to enjoy the natural surroundings, people-watching, and adjacent attractions such as the Memphis Zoo.
This trail winds 30 miles through Portland's hilly northwest, including two of the city's finest parks — Washington Park, which has a zoo, Japanese garden, and children's museum, and Forest Park, at 5,157 acres the nation's largest urban forest. One of the best legs of the long run to start with climbs two miles from the dilapidated Witch's Castle to the historic Pittock Mansion museum, with views of the city and Mount Hood looking east.
You can get acquainted with old-school or modern Vegas by jogging through downtown or the Strip, respectively, but Red Rock Canyon offers a more bucolic running experience just 17 miles away, with 30 miles of trails laced through 185,000 acres of preserved Mojave Desert. Depending on your experience level, try taking the White Rock Loop (6 miles) or Grand Circle Loop (11 miles) near dawn or dusk to see canyons glowing in the sunlight.
Baltimore's signature waterfront run starts at the city's Inner Harbor and follows a wide brick promenade alongside hotels and museums, sailboats and seafood restaurants, before diverting through either the stately homes and hilly views of Federal Hill, or to the verdant perimeter of Fort McHenry, birthplace of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Albuquerque's "premiere multi-use trail," this running and bike path follows the Rio Grande 16 miles between the north and south ends of the metropolitan area. You can stop at attractions such as the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque BioPark, and the Rio Grande Nature Center to learn more about the cottonwood forests and other natural surroundings along the river.
At more than 120 miles, this trail is undoubtedly the longest and most diverse of Milwaukee's extensive trail system, which winds and loops] through urban avenues and rural riverside plains within the metropolitan area. The best place to start for newcomers to the trail is at the Milwaukee Art Museum in downtown, from which you can reach Veterans and Lake Park along Lake Michigan before heading inland to follow the Milwaukee River Greenway.
Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed Cherokee, where locals and tourists can enjoy Appalachian woodlands and outdoor recreation opportunities such as horseback riding and archery right beside downtown Louisville. Runners can take the 2.4-mile scenic loop past the Daniel Boone Monument and through rolling hills, and if they wish, extend their run to the adjoining, also Olmsted-designed, Seneca Park.
Start this run at Mill Creek Park for views of the Country Club Plaza, an architectural complex modeled after Seville that features domed buildings and ornate outdoor sculpture. Then descend to cross Brush Creek and reach the Trolley Trail, a popular crushed limestone path extending more than 10 miles along a former streetcar path through neighborhoods and urban parkland.
Morningside Nature Preserve gives runners a small natural oasis within Atlanta's sprawling concrete, while the Silver Comet Trail links the metropolitan area to the vast hill country beyond its borders. This paved path runs along more than 60 miles of abandoned railroad line all the way to the Alabama state line, and the path's official site can help you plan a route.
Baylands Park begins a series of parks from San Jose to Palo Alto where paved and unpaved trails run alternately through and above tidal marshlands of the San Francisco Bay. You can go at least 15 miles one way from Baylands Park north to the Dumbarton Bridge, passing tech company HQs and unparalleled bird-watching areas along the way.
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