High-altitude training isn’t just for the pros anymore.
Professional runners, including Nick Symmonds and Desiree Linden, have trained at altitude for years. Altitude training forces your body to adapt to performing in an environment with less oxygen, which can help you run faster and make hills feel easier once you return to sea level. But while many pros still log mile-high miles before big races, non-pros can also reap the same benefits from the training technique. (The views aren’t too shabby, either.)
Scattered throughout the U.S., you’ll find a dizzying array of sky-high passes and teetering singletrack—all ready to challenge you to the utmost. We’ve gathered a handful of the most beautiful and demanding high-elevation runs in the country. They’re bucket-list ready.
1. Turquoise Lake Trail: Leadville, Colorado
The 6.4-mile portion of the infamous Leadville 100, Turquoise Lake Trail, borders the picturesque water for which it’s named. The entirety of the path hovers between 9,936 and 9,879 feet. With no steep climbs, this is an ideal run for acclimating to higher altitudes.
2. Bridger Ridge: Gallatin National Forest, Montana
Peaking at just over 9,600 feet, Bridger Ridge is a rugged 19.5-mile trail. The terrain is rocky, rough, and mostly wide open. This technical one is best for experienced trail runners who want to see sweeping views of Montana and earn some serious bragging rights.
3. Pawnee Pass Trail: Nederland, Colorado
Pawnee Pass Trail is what a high altitude run should be: challenging and beautiful. You’ll weave through wooded paths speckled with lakes and creeks—almost all 11,000 feet above sea level. A section of switchbacks and a climb to 12,500 feet make Pawnee Pass a short but difficult run. As you make your way along the trail, you’ll experience three mountainous life zones, including montaine, sub-alpine, and alpine. Weather can be tricky near the peak of Pawnee Pass, so plan and pack accordingly and be willing to turn back.
4. Angel’s Landing: Zion National Park, Utah
Angel’s Landing peaks at just a little over 5,700 feet, and as its name suggests is a perch with heavenly views, perhaps the best in the park. Despite its lower altitude, Angel’s Landing will force you to work for vista; countless switchbacks, little shade, and cliffs so sheer there’s a chain to pull yourself along make this run a challenge. Target dry, cool days. Because of the big drop-offs, it’s unsafe in rain or high winds.
5. Imogene Pass: Telluride-Ouray, Colorado
As the highest mountain pass in the San Juan Mountains, Imogene Pass is high-elevation training at its best. The pass, which reaches 13,185 feet, connects Telluride and Ouray, Colorado. The trail takes you past ghost towns and through an array of wildflowers that typically bloom in late August.
6. Zion Traverse: Zion National Park, Utah
Liked Angels Landing and want more Zion? See the whole park, literally, on this traverse. With an elevation that tops 7,000 feet and a distance that spans nearly 50 miles, the Zion Traverse is on most ultrarunners’ must-run list. You’ll see everything Zion National Park is known for: sharp peaks, winding rivers, and famously beautiful canyon walls.
7. Four Pass Loop: Aspen, Colorado
At 27.1 miles, covering four 12,000-foot passes, Colorado’s Four Pass Loop is not for beginners. Mountain views aside, Four Pass Loop sports crystal clear creeks and lakes and wildflower-filled meadows. This is a long, difficult run with several burn-inducing climbs, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find better scenery.
8. Dawson Saddle to Mount Baden-Powell: Wrightwood, California
This trail, located outside of Los Angeles, is pure eye candy. It’s immersed in natural beauty—so much so that it might distract you from the repeated, steep inclines you’ll encounter as you work your way up to over 9,000 feet. Overlooking stunning canyons, most of the nine miles are lined with airy pine groves, including the 1,500-year-old Wally Waldron tree, one of the oldest in the San Gabriel Mountains.