This article could never be complete, as there are so many trail running treasures to be found on this planet that the additions would never end. Also, people tend to enjoy different landscapes, trails, weather and so on, hence the beauty of trail running. So, just a disclaimer, I’ve made a list of towns that are known for their trail running and some of the places I have personally ran in and enjoyed the most.
You are welcome to disagree; in fact, I would love hear about your top picks – lets share our life experience, fellow runners.
A Few Words About Trail Running Holidays
I find the concept of a trail running holiday – wonderful. Multiple sessions a day, recovery naps, long running missions, and just allowing yourself to get really tired without having to worry about work the next day. All the cities/towns in the list are places I would love to go just for running.
Here are my usual considerations, when planning my ideal trail running holidays:
- I want the town I’m going to stay in to be small. I do not want to spend hours commuting from one side to the other. I find it really relaxing to live in a place, where everything is within a walking distance; makes the entire experience effortless.
- I look for many different distance and elevation gain options to be available in near proximity from the town I’m staying in. I want to be able to combine long runs with steep climbs.
- I look for locations that would inspire me creatively in some way, for cultures and cities that would be interesting to explore without the running.
- Warm but not too hot temperatures. There’s the best time for each destination, and you should definitely check temperature ranges, before hitting the road.
Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
I am starting with Squamish, as I have a deep sentiment for the place. It’s the rock climbing capital of Canada with its famous granite star – the Chief, as well as one of the best places for trail running on the planet.
You can find steep climbs and scrambles, rolling forest trails, and endless rugged mountains paths. Squamish has a wonderful outdoors community and endless opportunities - something that I really enjoyed, when living in Squamish.
It is a small outdoors enthusiasts’ town with tons of mountain running, climbing, mountain biking, skiing in winter, mountaineering and even water sports like kite-surfing and wind-surfing, and all the big city conveniences you might want. It also has a list of famous and very exciting trail running races like Squamish50 and Coast Mountain Series with my favourite – Sky Pilot.
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Some of the most inspiring trail running and mountain people in general that I’ve ever met reside in Canmore. The town together with the entire Bow valley has endless running, climbing opportunities in summer and tons of skiing, ski mountaineering, ice-climbing in winter. Basically – you name it, and Canmore will have something to show off.
Needless to say, Canmore has a very strong outdoors community, and that amazing small town feel, where all you need is there, and you can reach it on foot. Some examples of Canmore events are Grizzly mountain events, including their trail ultra-marathon. And yep, there are grizzly bears around in Canmore, but isn’t that, what Canadian wilderness is all about?
Italian town Limone is the host of some of the most famous steep skyraces – Limone Extreme, and it is one of the most scenic running towns in the world. It’s a small Italian town with all its Italian perks (read – excellent food and wine) cosily located between Lake Garda and towering mountains. The running is steep, technical, but incredibly beautiful – mountain running at its finest.
Boulder, Colorado, USA
Strong mountain trail running culture and deep mountain spirit makes the city one of the most inspiring places to run in. In addition to its amazing vibe, Boulder has a lot of good trail running options and allows you to get the most of your training and leisure runs.
It is located at 5,400 feet above the sea level and you can easily get to up 8000 or 12000 feet, which is perfect for all those long climb junkies and for people looking to train at elevation. Boulder is also known for its low humidity and mild temperatures that make it easy on your body to run fast and push hard.
Some of the best trails around the area include the 7-mile Mesa Trail nearby the Flatirons, the route up 8,150-foot Green Mountain and a rolling routes north from Wonderland Lake, among many more.
Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand is a paradise, and everyone knows about. So you can think of Queenstown and its smaller and much cosier neighbour Wanaka, as the paradise of New Zealand. New Zealand has a massive network of trails and huts for hikers, maintained by the Department of Conservation. Most of the popular routes are so well maintained that they make perfect comfortable but very fun and scenic running ground.
You can either stay in Queenstown or Wanaka and access runs from there or even stay in one of the backcountry huts. There is an incredible access of trails of various lengths and diverse terrains in the area. One of my favourite trails of my life include the East and West Matukituki trails (if you want a steep climb, go up the French ridge hut in the West Matukituki valley.
Mountaineers stay in this hut to climb one of the most famous New Zealand peaks – Mt Aspiring ) and Motatapu track between Wanaka and the historic New Zealand Gold Mining town Arrowtown - a 34km trail through rolling tussock hills (you can take a shorter variations too).
One tip – wear waterproof running shoes and gaiters, as there is a lot of creek crossing in New Zealand hiking/running; or probably don’t even bother – you will get wet anyway.
I think the most exciting thing about trail running in New Zealand, is that because there are so many backcountry huts (around 2000 throughout the country) and so many trails, if you find a way to make food drops, you can actually make this into multiday running experience.
Logan, Utah, USA
Image google this location, and be completely stunned. Logan looks like an elf-town, and who would not want to spend a few days running in an elf town? There are hundreds of running trails available around those beautiful rolling hills, and incredible colours throughout the seasons. Check out the Logan Peak race.
If you haven’t heard of Costa Blanca Mountains, you have some serious trail running knowledge gaps to fill. Puig Campana mountain at the centre of the range was the site of a Skyrunning Vertical Kilometre race a few years ago, where you climb a kilometre in elevation over 3.5-4km of distance.
The running is plentiful and magnificent – tens of kilometres of rolling single-trails, limestone scrambles, beautiful forests, and lots of heat. You should avoid going there in summer, as it does get extremely hot, but spring and autumn, Costa Blanca should be on your list of prime trail running dates
Abdet is a small town north from Alicante with the best access to all the trails, but Alicante is a very sweet town with beautiful beaches and amazing street culture.
Chamonix deserves an article of its own! There is just so much to do there! Imagine a super cosy little tourist town enveloped my tall mountain walls with Mont Blanc overlooking all of them. Any direction you look, there is a peak, any way you go, and there is a trail. Depending on what you’re into, you can find luscious grass fields or steep rocky trails and scrambles.
You surely have heard of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc - the 170km race with 10k of vertical? Well that’s that Chamonix is all about – home of some of the biggest challenges and a cosy little tourist spot. Chamonix has become the major trail running destination in the world, as trail running has grown in popularity, but what the valley has originally become famous for, is its rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Some of the most classic climbs are situated in the area.
Check out this very good site providing a lot of information about local trail running, and other outdoors activities, as well as cultural events.
For a rainy day, if you’re into dry-tooling, a local knowledge tip – check out Le Zoo dry-tooling area located outside Chamonix valley.
Located at the foothills of Pyrenees, Girona is known for its amazing architecture and copious Michelin star restaurants. There are numerous little towns in Pyrenees with great access to amazing trail running, but I chose to pick Girona due to its cultural significance – tons of museums and medieval architecture, really worth exploring. Hence, don’t forget those road running shoes either, and do some city exploring on quick running feet.
The Pyrenees themselves are purely magic for running, places like the Barousse Valley (French Pyrenees), Montseny, Benasque valley with the highest peak of Pyrenees – Aneto (3,404m) and many more. If you enjoy the coast, you can also enjoy numerous trails of Costa Brava.
If you’ll find yourself around Barcelona, be sure to go up the San Jeroni peak of Montserrat, which offers 1km elevation gain over 7k, and A LOT of steep stairs to build up that fitness.
It is tough to beat the highly scenic northern Norwegian wilderness, its mountain ridges, fiords, grass valleys and endless skies. Of course a Tromso runner is a special type of runner; you should be ready to fight all the elements, negotiate rough technical trails, and you should better have some serious mountain knowledge.
Tromso hosts a really epic Tromso extreme skyrace “soul skyrunning between the sea and the sky”, where participants have to navigate technical mountain terrain (yes, I mean rock climbing), steep climbs and difficult trails. Do not allow this to intimidate you. You can always choose your own challenge in any terrain you’re in. Allow yourself to get carried away by the wild winds and maybe you will surprise yourself in a very rewarding way.
La Palma Island, Canary Islands
If you lack running inspiration, you should check out trail running in La Palma. This paradise-like island offers some of the most spectacular trail running.
La Palma is where the famous Transvulcania race takes place, where you cross the entire island with the total of 75km distance and over 4k of vertical ascent and descent. Due to this major race, La Palma carries the spirit of greatness and running spirit, and would be a gift to anyone subscribed to the mountain running philosophy.
Last year I went to Oahu Island, Hawaii for the Paul Mitchell Xterra world trail running championships. Oahu or the Main Island is known for its luscious subtropical forests and famous surf beaches like the Banzai Pipeline. I had my race there, and yes the running was incredible, and I had a superb experience. However, I would like to tell you about a completely different type of scenery and different island – the Big Island.
The Big Island is the youngest of all the islands, and still has a lot of volcanic activity, so in some designated place you can actually see the lava glow at night, and the consolidated lava fields steaming.
Three major volcanoes to know about, when on the big island is Mauna Kea (4205m )– the highest peak and the site of the Mauna Kea observatories, Mauna Loa (4169m) and the Kilauea volcano – one of the most active volcanoes on Earth; all of them you ran on!
Imagine yourself starting your run in a subtropical forest crossing tens of kilometers of lava fields, and descending in a beach with water crashing into steep cliff shores and palms. Oh and snacking on fresh local bananas you bought in a local market … pretty good, aye?
One tip, DO rent a car, there is barely any public transport on the island.
I have spent a lot of time running in most of these locations, and can honestly recommend all of them as one of the best things that could happen in your running life. I am aware that there are tons and tons of other remarkable running towns out there, and I would really like to hear about them, so please let me know about them!
Have lots of good running, fellow trail maniacs!