If you love running and you love US National Parks, you're bound to to want to marry the two. Sure, you can bring your best trail running shoes on your next family vacation and go trail running in a National Park some morning, but if you want to don a bib and compete, why not check out some of the races that take place at US National Parks?
Because National Parks protect some of the absolute most breathtaking scenery in the country, they make ideal locations for marathons and shorter running races. There are lots of races that take place near to National Parks, while a handful actually get you inside park boundaries. We’ve rounded up five of the best National Park marathons and half marathons where you can race in some of the most stunning scenery on the planet – just take care not to trip up while you’re goggling at the views.
Death Valley marathon, half marathon and 10k
Marathons that take place at high altitude usually grab the headlines, but this event is the only one where you can run an entire 26.2 below sea level. Now in its 25th year, the Death Valley course begins and ends at Furnace Creek Ranch and takes you on a relatively flat race through one of the world’s most iconic desert landscapes. The event takes place each year in February, so you won’t need to worry about baking in extreme heat, though you should still be prepared for extreme desert conditions.
Grand Canyon trail half marathon and 5k
The Grand Canyon is a bucket list item for any self-respecting adventurer and while some people see the rim as a photo op, others view it as a world-class running route with the best views on the planet. The Grand Canyon Trail actually takes place away from the crowds over in Kaibab National Forest, on the Coconino Plateau just south of the busy South Rim. The event is usually held in November, when summer’s heat has faded.
Glacier half marathon
Glacier National Park covers a whopping 1,500 square miles of largely untouched wilderness, including 700 lakes and hundreds of waterfalls, and if the thought or running a race here at elevation seems daunting, don’t worry – you’ll only be climbing for the first five miles. This summertime race takes place in June, when the snow has melted, and follows the eastern border of the park delivering unbelievable views of mountains, prairies and lakes before finishing at historic Glacier Park Lodge.
Acadia National Park half marathon and 10k
If coastal paths are more your cup of tea, head east to New England’s only National Park, Acadia. This stunning race takes place on scenic Park Loop road on Mount Desert Island and takes you past Sand Beach, the popular carved inlet known as Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff, one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands on the continent. You’ll take in spectacular views of the nearby mountains as well as the sea. Since winters here can be a little harsh, this race is one of the few National Park races that takes place in the summer months, and it’s all paved, so pack your best road running shoes.
Canyonlands half marathon and 5-mile
This race goes all the way back to 1976, and while it actually runs parallel to Arches National Park, the scenery all around Moab consists of the fantastic red rock formations that make Canyonlands famous. At a moderate elevation of 4,000 feet, run along a paved road in the shade of a rugged red rock canyon carved by the Colorado River. Ths race takes place in March before things really heat up in the desert and ends with a party in Moab.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.