You might not be able to look around the entire time you’re racing on trails, but you’ll certainly want to take a peek once in a while at any one of these 21 trail races and revel in the glory that is Mother Nature. We chose the most scenic trail races of various lengths and geographical makeup, all certain to promise both challenging terrain and inspirational, natural beauty.
Orcas Island 25K
Jan. 30, Orcas Island, Wash.
Situated off the coast of Washington among the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound, Orcas Island is accessible only by ferry or seaplane. The 15.5-mile course winds along some of the softest trails you’ll ever run, past island lakes and over Mount Constitution, through the Sound and other tree-covered islands, and, on a clear day, snow-capped Mount Baker in the distance. (rainshadowrunning.com)
Q50 Races Trails Extravaganza
Feb. 20–21, Franklinton, La.
Choose from six races (10 miles, 5 miles, half marathon, marathon or 50K) over two days at this trail running festival that takes place in Louisiana’s Bogue Chitto State Park. The park offers classic southern terrain, with cypress tupelo swamps, boardwalks, and a variety of greenery and hardwood forests. (Q50races.com)
Mount Mitchell Challenge
Feb. 27, Black Mountain, N.C.
This challenging 40-miler tops out over the highest point east of the Mississippi River, the 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell. Since it starts in the quaint town of Black Mountain at 2,360 feet that means there’s more than 4,300 feet of climbing in the first half of the race. (There’s a 26-mile Black Mountain Marathon option that turns around at 5,340 feet.) Due to its late February date, this race is for the hardy, meaning charging in potential rain, sleet and snow. (blackmountainmarathon.com)
Rock/Creek River Gorge Trail Races
March 26, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Run on the Mullens Cove Loop in Prentice-Cooper State Forest, these races (6.5 and 10.2 miles) combine smooth, buffed-out singletrack with rocky, technical sections—there’s even a “rock garden”—and stream crossings. Hemlock and rhododendron pepper the forest, and fallen leaves often line the trails in this Tennessee gem of a race. (rockcreek.com/rivergorge)
Gorge Waterfalls 50/100K
April 2/April 9, Columbia River Gorge, Ore.
Classic Oregon terrain—old-growth forests, mossy rocks and sometimes technical, rooty trail—make this a beautiful course. The 50K is a one-way route that travels along the Gorge Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and a few others at the base of the Cascades above the mighty Columbia River. (The 100K will be run a week before the 50K race.) (rainshadowrunning.com)
7 Sisters Trail Race
May 8, Amherst, Mass.
This 12-mile race travels on singletrack on a portion of the New England Scenic Trail, a 215-mile trail that runs from Connecticut to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. An out-and-back tour of lovely New England in the springtime, the trail passes by Mount Holyoke and Bare Mountain. The race donates net proceeds to preserving wildlife of Mount Holyoke Range State Park. (7sisterstrailrace.com)
Ice Age Trail 50M, 50K and Half Marathon
May 14, LaGrange, Wis.
Run in the Southern Kettle Moraine Forest amid terrain carved out by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago, the geologically unique area changes from prairies to forests to craggy rock. There’s no shortage of water either, with small bodies of water carved out by glacial movement. (iceagetrail50.com)
The Dipsea Race
June 12, Mill Valley, Calif.
This historic 7.4-mile race that first started in 1905 begins in downtown Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, and crosses over the southern flank of Mount Tamalpais before heading into Stinson Beach. The wild course passes through Muir Woods and into open vistas of the Pacific Ocean. (dipsea.org)
July 15–17, Silverton, Colo.
It’s tough to get into this 100-miler, but if you do, be prepared for not only the hardest race of your life (you’ll cross 13 passes between 12,000 to 13,000 feet in elevation, and one over 14,000 feet), but also the most stunningly beautiful. The rugged, jagged San Juan Mountains provide a massive and awe-inspiring backdrop. (hardrock100.com)
Grand Island Trail Marathon, Half Marathon and 50K
July 23, Grand Island, Mich.
Running along the Great Lakes shoreline of Grand Island in Northern Michigan is part of the allure of these scenic races. Sandstone cliffs, hardwood forests and breezes off Lake Superior add to the beauty here. The island is about a half-mile from Munsing, Mich., and reachable by ferry. (greatlakesendurance.com)
Crow Pass Crossing
July 23, Girdwood, Alaska
This challenging 22-mile race is run on the rugged Crow Pass National Historic Trail in Chugach State Park, north of Alyeska and southeast of Anchorage. It offers up a tour of the Eagle Glacier, forging across the Eagle River partway through and ends at the Eagle River Nature Center. (alaskamountainrunners.org)
Rendezvous Mountain Hill Climb
Aug. 6, Jackson, Wyo.
Held in the shadows of the Teton Range, this race climbs 4,000 feet over 6-plus miles on singletrack to the finish line, where runners ride the aerial tram back down (your quads will thank you). The route is run on a trail that resembles its namesake, Wildflower, and the colors certainly don’t disappoint. (rendezvousmountainhillclimb.com)
Ed Anacker Bridger Ridge Run
Aug. 13, Bozeman, Mont.
If running 19.6 miles along a ridge exposed to the elements and the possibility of falling sounds like a beautiful thrill, then this is your race. The Ridge Run embodies the Big Sky Country of Montana, with massive mountains and open land as far as the eye can see from a technical, challenging and stunning course. (winddrinkers.org)
Mid Mountain Marathon
Sept. 10, Park City, Utah
This trail marathon starts high—at about 8,100 feet in elevation at Deer Valley Resort—before meandering on singletrack above Park City Mountain Resort and then ending at the Canyons. It’s a one-way trail that winds through aspens and pines, and peers down at the valley below and the Wasatch mountains all around. (mountaintrails.org)
Emerald Bay Trail Run
Sept. 18, Lake Tahoe, Calif.
This 7.5-mile point-to-point race hugs the crystal-blue Lake Tahoe shoreline offering views of the surrounding mountains without a ton of climbing or descending. The route takes runners past stunning Emerald Bay, an inlet of the lake with an island that has a tiny castle in the middle. The race finishes on the lakeshore, a perfect spot for a post-race dip. (tahoetrailrunning.com)
Golden Leaf Half Marathon
Sept. 24, Aspen, Colo.
If your idea of beauty is running amid fluttering, golden aspen trees in the Colorado high country, then this is your race. The one-way course starts in Snowmass Village and climbs steeply right off the bat before meandering on singletrack toward the finish line in downtown Aspen. (goldenleafrace.com)
Sept. 25, Brownsville, Vt.
Held in late September, this 50-mile ultramarathon sends runners on a tour of stunning Vermont in the fall. While this race is held on both roads and trails, it’s a scenic route through the woods with trees showcasing fall colors, past old barns and colonial buildings. (vt50ultrarun.blogspot.com)
Aug. 21, Ithaca, N.Y.
Held in Robert H. Treman State Park, this 7-mile race showcases the beauty of upstate New York. Runners take a trail through a gorge, past a waterfall, around a historic mill, across a creek and back down a singletrack to the finish line. (rednewtracing.com)
Mountain Masochist 50M
Nov. 5, Lynchburg, Va.
This one-way 50-miler travels from Lynchburg to Montebello, Va., over the Blue Ridge Mountains during peak leaf season for a gorgeous (if not painful) run. A mix of road, fire road and technical singletrack through dense forests gives runners quite the challenge. (eco-xsports.com)
Moab Trail Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K
Nov. 5–6, Moab, Utah
These races give you a big dose of all things Moab: slick rock, massive red rock formations, arches, washes, narrow canyons, petroglyphs and all, not to mention the far-off views of the La Sal Mountains and Canyonlands National Park. Adventure runs high here—the marathon course includes a fixed rope section. (moabtrailmarathon.com)
XTERRA Trail Run World Championship
Dec. 4, Oahu, Hawaii
Anyone can enter and run this world championship race, held on a private ranch on the eastern side of Oahu where movies such as “Jurassic Park” have been filmed. Run a 21K main distance, or a 10K or 5K amid dramatic rock formations and dense, tropical foliage with views of the clear, blue ocean and verdant valleys. (xterraplanet.com)