America's Best Urban Running Trails
Living in Manhattan, Daniel Rootenberg looks forward to that special time of day or night when he can leave the office and de-stress with a good sweat. He has no use for that stuffy square box they call the neighborhood gym and could care less about the latest state-of-the-art elliptical machine. All he needs are his two legs and a good route to jog—which, in his home city, means the pathways skirting the East and Hudson rivers, or through the urban oasis of Central Park.
Little surprise, then, that when this vice president of finance at Shutterstock travels, he packs his running shoes. Rootenberg typically asks his hotel concierge for a route and a map, noting his preference for varied terrain and safety (as much as he enjoys exploring the streets of a new city, he doesn’t want to jog through crime-ridden or congested areas). Often, he says, he’s able to take in some of a city’s noteworthy sights while on his run.
“On my last trip to Chapel Hill, the concierge mixed historic buildings with less populated sidewalks,” he says. “It was perfect.”
More and more business travelers, it seems, can be found taking to the streets in the cities where they take their meetings. Not only is it liberating for these travelers to run after hours stuck in airport terminals and conference rooms; sometimes, jogging is the only chance they have to see some of the city they’re visiting. Taking a run also gives them an opportunity to share a common activity with local residents—and experience a camaraderie they’d never find on a lonely treadmill inside a hotel fitness center.
While running is perhaps the most accessible of workouts—all that’s needed are shoes and a route—the gentrification of many cities in the past two decades has made urban jogging even easier. New developments have created running trails that offer a slice of tranquility in otherwise highly energized hubs. In San Antonio, for example, the popular waterfront River Walk has extended both north and south of the city in recent years, giving joggers an additional 15 miles to explore. Similarly, both the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland, Ore., and the Hudson River Park in New York City have unveiled paved trails that offer both riverside and city-skyline views.
So, whether your next business trip brings you to the Financial District in Boston or the massive San Diego Convention Center on the harbor, make sure to throw your running shoes into your suitcase. And check out our list of great urban running trails for more inspiration.
Lakefront Trail, Chicago
Chicago is a city with an awesome and towering skyline—and this 18.5-mile path along the shore of Lake Michigan gives you ample opportunities to appreciate it. Start at the Navy Pier, then turn south along the paved lakeside trail. You’ll pass Buckingham Fountain, the Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears. When you turn around for the return trip, you’ll be treated to a fabulous view of the city’s skyscrapers, including the Aon Center, the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower (currently the tallest building in the United States). The trail north of the Navy Pier will lead you to Oak Street Beach, a good place to rest after your run. explorechicago.org.
Charles River Bike Path, Boston
Boston’s most cherished running route, this 17.1-mile path lines both sides of the Charles River in Boston’s Back Bay and Cambridge. A favorite four-mile stretch starts at the Esplanade (a historic park that’s home to the Boston Pops’ Fourth of July concert and fireworks extravaganza), then heads west to cross the Charles at the Mass Avenue Bridge. Turning east then brings you to the Museum of Science, and across the river once again to return to the Esplanade. In spring and fall, you’ll likely see the Harvard and MIT crew teams sculling in the river; but even in the middle of a winter snowstorm, you’ll be sure to see other joggers (since the city hosts the world-class Boston Marathon, it takes its running very seriously). bostonrunner.com
Central Park Reservoir and Outer Loop, New York City
Manhattan’s urban oasis offers two great options for runners to choose from. Those looking for a short, scenic jaunt (or a warm-up) can start at either of the park’s 86th Street entrances and run the 1.5-mile dirt track around the reservoir (the scenery here is especially lovely in early spring, when the surrounding magnolia trees are in bloom). For a more strenuous workout, there’s also a six-mile Outer Loop that leads through the entirety of the park—a highlight of which is the sight of the city skyline rising above the wide lawn of Sheep Meadow. centralparknyc.org
The Mall and Monuments Route, Washington, DC
While in summertime joggers often stick to the shaded C&O canals through the brownstones of Georgetown, in any other season it’s hard to resist the patriotic appeal of the 2.5-mile-long National Mall route. Wake up early before the morning rush-hour crowds and start at the Capitol Building. Wake up early before the crowds of the morning rush hour and start at the Capitol Building. Then hightail it down either side of the Mall past the Washington Monument and the World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials, finishing at the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial. For a cooldown, walk up the memorial’s steps to where the statue of Abraham Lincoln gazes over the Mall. nps.gov
Park Loop, Piedmont Park, Atlanta
Once a farm and Civil War encampment, centrally located Piedmont Park has been Atlanta’s finest chunk of green space for more than a century. The varied terrain includes sweeping meadows, rolling hillside and dense forests, all centered around Lake Clara Meer. Piedmont’s longest running route, the 1.7-mile Park Loop, will lead you through the multifaceted scenery, but remember that Atlanta is not flat. From the Meadow, the lowest point of the loop, to the top of Active Oval, the highest point, it’s a good quarter mile up. piedmontpark.org
Chain of Lakes, Grand Rounds, Minneapolis
No other city in America can boast that its urban trail system is a National Scenic Byway. Minneapolis’s Grand Rounds features more than 50 miles of paved trails around a dozen lakes and the mighty Mississippi River. One of the best sections of the byway is the 13.3-mile loop around the Chain of Lakes, which takes in the glorious vistas of the large bodies of water and the forested shores of tall pines and firs. A good place to start is near the band shell at Lake Harriet; the route around the lake is close to three miles, and rewards you with placid water views the entire run. For a lengthier run, you can add the loop around neighboring Lake Calhoun (another 3.25 miles). minneapolisparks.org
Scenic Loop, Cherokee Park, Louisville, Kentucky
Acclaimed landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted had enormous influence on the city of Louisville, where he helped create 18 parks and six parkways—a wealth of green space that’s greater than Baltimore’s, Boston’s and Pittsburgh’s combined. A favorite run is the 2.4-mile Scenic Loop in Cherokee Park, which winds through beech-studded woods and rolling meadows, up to hilltop vistas over forests and along the banks of meandering Beargrass Creek. louisvilleky.gov
Mission Reach, San Antonio, Texas
With the 2009 opening of the Museum Reach, San Antonio’s beloved River Walk doubled in length as it expanded north to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the emerging Pearl neighborhood. (Even more exciting is the 10.2-mile-long Mission Reach alongside the San Antonio River, expected to be finished in 2013.) Start your jog at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, a huge warehouse now housing galleries and artists’ workspaces. Crossing over one of the six pedestrian bridges, you’ll soon be eyeing the numerous green herons, egrets, families of ducks and turtles sunbathing on upturned logs. Venture here in the spring, and you’ll have the added bonus of seeing sunflowers and purple wildflowers in bloom. sanantonioriver.org
Wildwood Trail, Portland, Oregon
A smaller version of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Wildwood Trail winds 28 miles from Washington Park to Forest Park, west of downtown Portland. Runners savor the first three miles from the Washington Park Zoo to the Burnside bus stop, with some easy ups and downs through Hoyt Arboretum. If you prefer pavement to dirt, Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the Eastbank Esplanade are close to many of the lodging options downtown. The run begins in the city along the Willamette River; a good three-mile loop leads from the Steel Bridge to the Hawthorne Bridge, offering views of the Portland skyline. 40mileloop.org
Silver Strand, San Diego
San Diego’s longest continuous trail, the 15-mile (round-trip) Silver Strand is also one of the most beautiful coastal running routes in Southern California. The entire track runs parallel to the beach along San Diego Bay, from Coronado, the vibrant beach community that sits just across the bay from downtown San Diego, south to Imperial Beach. Start at the classic Hotel del Coronado, which looks like a multitiered wedding cake, and head south along Glorietta Boulevard to skirt the bay (and gaze over the stately naval ships docked there). If you need a breather along the way, Glorietta Bay Park and Silver Strand State Beach are two great places to pause and gaze over the city skyline. Looking down at the sand is equally enjoyable; you’ll spot zillions of tiny, sparkly, iridescent seashells that gave this trail its name. coronadovisitorcenter.com