Here at Advnture, we’ve given over a lot of column space to the incredible hikes at America’s National Parks, from the desert landscape of Joshua Tree to the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. While we love to slow down and soak up the scenery of these iconic landscapes, we understand that you might want to take them in at a faster pace and that’s why we’ve compiled this list of the best National Parks for trail running. These parks give you unforgettable opportunities to combine your favorite outdoor activity with some of the most beautiful spaces on the planet, so get your best trail running shoes ready and find out what makes these parks so great for fast-paced adventures.
1. Redwood, California
Fancy running through nature’s giants in remote northern California? Redwood National Park protects almost half of all remaining old-growth coastal redwoods, an evergreen tree that reaches up to 379 ft in height and 29ft in diameter, and plenty of quiet trails among their hulking trunks. The trails here are generally on flat terrain and rated easy or moderate, making them ideal for long trail runs through temperate rainforests, ancient fern-lined canyons, past waterfalls and even along rugged coastline. The 15.7-mile Redwood Creek Trail is a beautiful run along a creek surrounded by old-growth redwoods that ends at the Tall Trees Grove Trail if you want to see the world’s tallest tree on your travels.
2. Olympic, Washington
Home to the Great Olympic Adventure Trail Run, few if any of America’s National Parks offer as diverse a landscape as Washington's Olympic National Park. Olympic protects a vast wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula and boasts three distinct ecosystems. For runners, this means you can choose between lush moss and ferns in temperate old-growth rainforests, soft forest floors through the shaded pine forests on the eastern side, and even beach and coastal running on its 70 miles of rocky shoreline. The first 13 miles of the Hoh River trail, one of the best hikes in Olympic, provide a gorgeous canopied trail where you can bound through abundant giant ferns and moss.
Good to know: The western portion of the park receives some 12 feet of rain on average each year. Most of the rain falls from late fall to early spring so between May and September is the best time to explore this trail. Otherwise, you can get your best waterproof running jacket on, or head to the drier, eastern portion of the park.
3. Acadia, Maine
Acadia National Park protects areas of coastal Maine, including 19 of its outlying islands and the highest rocky headlands of the Atlantic Coastline. The majority of the most popular spots are on Mount Desert Island which at 108 square miles is the largest off the coast of Maine. Here you can choose between coastal walks, woodland strolls or grinding up some of the east coast’s highest peaks. The 4.5-mile Ocean Path follows the coast from Sand Beach to Otter Head and back, delivering some dramatic coastline with jagged rock formations.
Good to know: Acadia receives 48 inches of rainfall each year, so bring your wet weather gear.
4. Yosemite, California
Yosemite’s landscape is so unbelievably breathtaking it’s frankly hard to leave it off any list of National Parks. The iconic, glacier carved valley creates some of the longest and most stunning waterfalls you will ever see cascading over the edge of steep granite cliffs. Its 1200 acres are also home to pine trees, tranquil lakes, colorful wildflower meadows and sun-dappled giant sequoia groves. The 11.5-mile Valley Floor Trail is flat and delivers all the best sites of landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome, while the 5-mile Mirror Lake Loop takes you along Tenaya Creek and around the lake and on a still day, it offers near-perfect reflections of the surrounding cliffs.
Good to know: Yosemite gets crowded in the summer months, but if you can get here in the spring before things really get going, you can enjoy more pleasant temperatures for running and the best waterfall action due to spring runoff.
5. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Just picture yourself running along the rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise and you’ll understand why this world-famous landmark is on the list. In fact, the Rim to Rim route is an ultrarunner’s classic, leaving from the North Rim, descending to the canyon floor then climbing up the Bright Angel Trail to the North Rim over 24 grueling miles. However, you don’t need to be an ultrarunner to enjoy the trails here – you can easily run out along the 13-mile South Rim trail, one of the best hikes in Grand Canyon National Park, for as long as you like – though it is mostly paved, you’ll still be getting some of the best views in the world.
Good to know: The trails around the Grand Canyon are at quite high elevation and summer temperatures in this desert landscape are blistering. Stick to spring and fall and carry a hydration pack.
6. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Most people go here for the mammoth-sized caves, and while you should certainly slow down and check out the world’s longest known cave system, there’s plenty of above ground adventure to be had here too. Mammoth Cave’s backcountry trail system offers nearly 40 square miles of forest ridges, rugged valleys, and scenic river vistas meaning lots of rolling hills through ancient, wild forest. Big Hollow North and South Loops trail offers 11 miles of moderate forest running, though you’ll be sharing with mountain bikers so leave your headphones at home.
7. Canyonlands, Utah
For a totally different trail running experience, look no further Canyonlands National Park. South of Moab, Canyonlands is a geological mecca for rugged desert adventure. Running here takes you through 337,598 acres of red rock canyons, mesas, arches, spires, buttes and fins. Canyonlands is divided into four sections by the Colorado and the Green River and while ultrarunners have been taking on the 100-mile White Rim Road in Island in the Sky district for years, the Needles District offers fantastic slickrock trails such as the 10.4-mile Druid Arch trail that takes you via Elephant Canyon to a stunning rock arch that looks a bit like Stonehenge in the desert.
Good to know: You’ll be in the desert, so bring plenty of water in a large hydration pack, and know that many trails are marked by cairns so pay attention to avoid getting lost.
8. Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Sandwiched between the urban centers of Cleveland and Akron, you might be surprised to discover the natural oasis provided by Cuyahoga, which protects dense forest, rolling hills and scenic waterfalls. There are 125 miles of trails here that have become a mecca for trail runners in the area. In fact, the Burning River Endurance Run passes right through the park. Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail delivers 19.5 miles of flat, crushed limestone trail and is accessible from 10 different trailheads throughout the park.
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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.