If you had your choice, would you rather do a training run with a view of traffic, or crashing waves, sandstone cliffs, wildflowers and wildflowers? Unfortunately, most days, if you’re not living in the Pacific Northwest or the sweeping expanses of Southwest Utah, you don’t have much choice. Tar roads it is. But if you’ve got some OOO days due to you, these are the six North American trails worth running once in your life--or maybe a few times in a single week. As you’re working up a sweat and gaining mileage, you’ll also be whizzing by seriously stunning scenery.
6 Best Trail Runs in the U.S. for Scenery, Greenery + More
1. Four Pass Loop in Aspen, Colorado
A classic Colorado backcountry trail, the roughly 28-mile Four Pass Loop trail takes you up four 12,000-foot-plus mountain passes within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. As you navigate these tough trails (gaining around 3,000 feet in elevation total), your rewards come frequently: Jaw-dropping views of the Elk Range peaks, trees, abundant wildflowers, river crossings, and clear alpine lakes. From Trail Rider Pass, you’ll glimpse the deep blue waters of Snowmass Lake before you descend on a series of switchbacks through alpine meadows — making for one strenuous, yet beautiful section of trail. This trail is slated to open in August. Check the weather conditions before you head out.
2. Cascade Pass Trail in Marblemount, Washington
The Cascade Pass Trail in Washington’s North Cascades National Park offers plenty of awe-inspiring scenery in a 6.5 mile out-and-back trail. The first 2.7 miles feature more than 30 leg-strengthening switchbacks that gradually ascend. See if you can spot Johannesburg Mountain and Cascade Peak through the dense forest. Once you hit 2.7 miles, look forward to meadow views and subalpine flowers like yellow glacier lilies and mountain heather — short, evergreen plants with pink blossoms. When you reach Cascade Peak at 3.7 miles and 5,392 feet in elevation, take in expansive vistas of Stehekin River Valley, glaciers, Magic Mountain, Pelton Peak, Glory and McGregor Mountains, and blue skies as far as the eye can see before you return the way you came. Expect a total elevation gain of more than 1,700 feet and crowds in the summer.
3. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Loop in Ontonagon, Michigan
The Midwest isn’t known for large swaths of untouched wilderness, making the Porcupine (or the “Porkies”) Mountains State Park a treasure. This 21.3-mile loop trail will take you through rocky ridges and wooded riverways, and by lakes and the shores of Great Lake Superior. Your journey kicks off at the Lake of the Clouds scenic overlook, which comes complete with a big lake and dense forest views. The trail descends into the Big Carp River Valley before climbing steeply to Mirror Lake — the park’s highest point at 1,532 feet above sea level — a trail highlight. After you’ve finished up the North Mirror Lake Trail, you’ll be on the Little Carp River Trail, featuring rapids, waterfalls, and old-growth forest, all of which makes for spectacular hiking.
Related: Ultimate Spartan Trail Running Guide
4. Poison Spider Mesa Loop Trail in Moab, Utah
For otherworldly desert scenery, consider lacing up your trail running shoes and hitting the 13.5-mile-long Poison Spider Mesa Loop trail. The trail kicks off with rocky, loose switchbacks. Once you’ve tackled those, you’ll reach a flat mesa where you can look forward to a scenic view, featuring Moab’s famous sandstone, the La Sal Mountains, and the Colorado River. At the trail’s end, you’ll find yourself at the Poison Spider Mesa, drinking it in. Be mindful of mountain bikers and ATVs.
5. Virgin Falls Trail in Sparta, Tennessee
If you choose to run the tough Virgin Falls Trail in Sparta, Tennessee, anticipate deep gorges, diverse vegetation, waterfalls (of course!) and streams, making for a kick-ass forest trail run. The nine-mile out-and-back trail starts by meandering down to the Big Branch of Big Laurel Creek and through an oak-hickory and chestnut-oak hardwood forest. As you descend into the gorge, you’ll pass maples, oaks, tulips, buckeyes, yellow birch, and sycamore. Trek on, and you can also expect to spot boulder fields, caves, and waterfalls until you reach Virgin Falls — where water drops 110 feet — at the trail’s end.
6. Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur, California
For a classic beachside trial run, consider the 8.7-mile big loop trek—consisting of the Ridge Trail, Panorama Trail and Bluffs Trail—in Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur, California. Big Sur’s natural beauty is on full display here: you’ll race by a redwood grove, a pristine shore and scenic views of rugged coastline and crashing waves as you gain roughly 1,200 feet of elevation. The coastal Panorama Trail offers killer beach views. Race up a series of switchbacks up a calf-abominating sandy hill—all while taking in Point Sur and its lighthouse.