Plan a weekend getaway or a weeklong vacation to train in one of these three great trail running towns.
Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of the state, Asheville is Appalachia at its finest. Long known as a college town with a minor league baseball team, Asheville has made a name for itself over the past 20 years as a mountain sports hub thanks to amazing whitewater kayaking, mountain biking and trail running options. In recent years, it’s also become one of the craft brewing capitals of the U.S., with 18 breweries producing more than 100 different beers.
Weather: Although Asheville can be humid during the summer months, periods of cool and dry air from the north is also common. The weather is generally mild, with average highs in the low 80s and lows in the 60s or high 50s at night.
Best Trails: An array of off-road options, ranging from open fire roads to technical singletrack routes are within 20 minutes of downtown. Pisgah National Forest contains a massive network of trails, reachable from any number of well-marked trailheads.
Other Options: Bent Creek is a popular destination for locals and features a number of marked loops with plenty of tree cover and trustworthy footing. A portion of the 500-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through Asheville and crosses over the 6,684-foot summit of Mount Mitchell.
Plus: Jus’ Running hosts a long-run “Maggot” workout at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday evening, open to all abilities. On Thursday nights, an informal group meets at the Wedge Brewery at 6:15 p.m. for a flat 8.5-mile progression run.
Eat & Drink: In addition to microbrews, Wicked Weed Brewing Co. makes zesty Bloody Marys, and its menu includes a great tomatillo-seasoned hanger steak. Tupelo Honey Café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and its menu pleases all palates with options such as Garden of Goodness Gracious Tacos, Misse’s Asheville Veggie Melt and Sunburst Mountain Trout. Asheville Brewing has amazing beers and a miniature movie theater, where movies play nightly for just $3.
This running mecca gets high marks for its trails, brewpubs, restaurants, weather, running shops and overall endurance sports vibe. Boulder is situated at 5,400 feet above sea level, but nearby trails can take you above 8,000 feet and a short drive can mean long runs between 9,000 to 12,000 feet.
Weather: Low humidity, mild temperatures (highs in the low 80s, evening lows in the 50s) and lots of sunshine make for idyllic running conditions in June and July. There’s usually a three-week period of hotter weather from late July to mid-August (highs in the mid-90s) tempered with late afternoon thunderstorms, which is why early-morning easy runs above 10,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area are preferred during that time of year.
Best Trails: There are dozens of rolling and mountainous routes to choose from in all directions, but four of the best are the 7-mile Mesa Trail below the Flatirons, the 8-mile rollercoaster Walker Ranch loop, the strenuous route up 8,150-foot Green Mountain and a short but grueling trail up Mount Sanitas. Numerous rolling dirt routes lead north from Wonderland Lake, while Heil Ranch and Hall Ranch open space parks and the Dirty Bismarck Loop from Marshall Mesa Trailhead are great places for longer runs on rolling routes with a few big climbs.
Other options: Drive 35 minutes out of town and run up to the Continental Divide on Buchanan Pass Trail along wildflower meadows and bubbling streams. Or test your mettle on the 7.5-mile, increasingly technical route up Longs Peak (14,259 feet, the state’s 15th highest peak). A long run on legendary Magnolia Road—where elite runners have trained above 8,000 feet for decades—should also be on your itinerary.
Plus: All-comers community track meets are held every other Tuesday from June through August at the University of Colorado. Join the group run at Flatirons Running on Wednesday nights followed by pizza from Under the Sun Eatery & Taphouse and beer from Avery Brewing Co.
Eat & Drink: Boulder has several great post-run breakfast spots (Snooze, Lucille’s, Tangerine and the Southside Walnut Cafe), critically acclaimed restaurants (Frasca, Oak and The Kitchen) and more than 20 brewpubs and tasting rooms (Southern Sun Pub & Brewery, Walnut Brewery, Fate Brewing Co., Upslope Brewing Co., Avery Brewing Co., Sanitas Brewing Co., Boulder Beer and Bru). (Believe it or not, the Boulder Banditos running club linked together 11 breweries during one 8-mile run last winter.) About 15 miles north of town in Longmont, Shoes & Brews is a first-of-its-kind running store with 20 beer taps from Colorado breweries.
Flagstaff has become a high-altitude hub for elite-level marathoners and trail runners, but it’s also a fun place for a running vacation. The town sits at 7,000 feet above sea level, but it has a nice mix of mellow trails and more rugged routes, as well as great open roads to run on.
Weather: Summer temps range from the mid-70s into the low 80s with typically cooler mornings, which make for a pleasant experience out on the trails. With its high elevation and mountain climate, Flagstaff has very low humidity.
Best Trails: The Flagstaff Urban Trail System comprises of about 50 miles of trails, half of which are paved and the other half made from finely crushed gravel. Located on McMillan Mesa (an ancient lava flow) just outside of town, Buffalo Park is a mostly flat, 2-mile loop featuring a smooth dirt-gravel surface that’s marked every quarter-mile. From the park, you can access the 5.5-mile Oldham Trail, which will take you up the south side of Mount Elden, offering outstanding views of Flagstaff and its surrounding areas.
Other Options: If you’re keen on getting in some quick-cadence running on the roads, venture over to Lake Mary Road southeast of town. The rolling terrain of this 25-mile stretch of open road is ideal for long runs, progression runs and tempo runs.
Plus: Be sure to meet up for the Biff’s Bagels run at 8 a.m. on Thursday mornings. A mix of local and visiting runners who range from elites to intermediates meet for a spirited 10-mile run that ventures up toward Fisher Point and back.
Eat & Drink: Satchmo’s Bar & Grill gets high marks from locals for its Cajun, creole and barbecue fare, while the upscale Tinderbox Kitchen has an eclectic menu that includes barbecue pork belly confit, creamy blue cheese grits and mustardy nectarine salad. No mountain town is complete without several good brewpubs nowadays and Lumberyard Brewing Co., Beaver Street Brewery and Mother Road Brewing will not disappoint.