5 Favorite Trail Runs Inside National Parks


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Love national parks but despise the crowds? Try trail running, where you can escape the overflowing viewpoints and visitors’ centers to go deep into some of America’s most spectacular landscapes.

Sweat poured down my face as I charged through the throng of hikers heading up toward Angels Landing in Zion National Park. I could feel the heat reflecting off the bright red sandstone. After a quad-busting ascent, I topped out, panting. After catching my breath, I looked up—along with everyone else. Angels Landing, one of Zion’s most popular vistas, was crowded. 

Unwilling to elbow my way to the overlook, I took off down the winding, sandy path of the less-traveled West Rim Trail. Within minutes, my partner and I were completely alone, cruising above the canyons of Zion. The solitude in the sweeping sandstone landscape dotted with scrub was a different world from the bustling Angels Landing. We didn’t see another person for hours. 

This run typifies why trail running in national parks can be so rewarding. It allows you to see parts of these parks that you couldn’t see from a car, at a speed that allows you to cover more ground than hiking. But which trails in national parks are most suitable for running? I decided to ask runner friends from around the country for their favorite trail at their local national parks.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Courtney Schwartz, a trail runner and running club founding member from Victor, Idaho, recommends the Paintbrush Canyon Cascade Canyon Loop. The 20-mile circuit encompasses some of the best singletrack in Grand Teton National Park, with scenic views of waterfalls, jagged granite peaks and wildlife and flowers. To make it shorter, go out and back your preferred distance. The trail tops out at just over 10,000 feet, and carrying bear spray is encouraged. There’s even a spot for a dip. “Lake Solitude absolutely lives up to its name,” said Schwartz. “It’s a great place to cool off and go for a mid-run swim and offers a stunning view of the Grand Teton, Mount Owen and Teewinot.”

Yosemite National Park, California

The Valley Loop Trail in Yosemite is a favorite of Ally McLemore, a sports massage therapist and avid trail runner from Fresno, California. The 17-mile loop offers sweeping views of the valley and its notable waterfalls and granite domes. McLemore says the climbing is gradual and rewarding, which makes for a fun, runnable route. Lush vegetation means route finding can be tough, so be sure to preload a map. The trail tends to flood in the spring, but early summer brings stunning wildflowers and warmer temperatures. There’s a shorter, seven-mile abbreviated loop option as well. Plan to end your run at Curry Village’s Pizza Patio to treat yourself to a celebratory pie and a brew.

Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.

In a congested city like Washington, D.C., it may be surprising to learn you don’t have to drive (or run) far to find a world-class trail. “Whether I’m on a recovery run or trying to get in some technical climbing, Rock Creek Loop has it all,” said Taylor Maltz, a competitive trail runner and Washington, D.C., local. The loop offers nine miles of smooth singletrack in one of the country’s best urban national parks, square in the middle of our nation’s capital. The myriad connector trails make it easy to access by foot from various corners of the city.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Though it shares a trail with the more popular Longs Peak, the run to Chasm Lake offers as many views as a trip up Longs but with less mileage and technical scrambling. But don’t think it’s easy. The eight-mile out-and-back still has 3,000 feet of ascent and tops out at just above 11,000 feet. “It gets you up high with amazing views of Longs,” said Allison Harrington, an ultramarathoner and adventure photographer who lives in Golden, Colorado. “This run is amazing for seeing fall colors.”  

Olympic National Park, Washington

The High Divide Loop in Olympic National Park has minimal crowds, diverse flora and fauna, ridge-running and alpine lake views. At just over 17 miles, the loop is an approachable alpine run for those looking to dip their toes into longer distances. “There’s a lot of side adventure to add if you want to climb Bogachiel Peak or drop into the lakes basin for bonus miles and vert,” said Calvin Kuo, a 50K afficionado from Olympia, Washington. Trail runners can jumpstart the post-run recovery process with a dip in nearby Sol Duc hot springs.

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