Culture

Camping and Trail Running: A Perfect Pair

These two forms of outdoor recreation were made for each other. Here's how (and why) to combine them.

I camp with my two young boys and husband and have been doing so since my youngest son was 1 and my oldest was 4. At any given campsite, I’m often wrangling my boys with games of “I Spy” and cards. The card games have evolved from Go Fish to Blackjack (it’s good for math), now that they’re 12 and almost 9. The other game we play is, “Stop-making-so-much-noise-or-you’ll-upset-our-neighbor-campers.” While we’re camping, I also love to trail run.

There is nothing I love more than unplugging from the world, especially these days, and spending the entire day and night or more in the great outdoors with my family. I also love getting to run on new trails out of campgrounds we visit around Colorado. For one thing, it’s always fun to explore new routes, especially trails in mountains to alpine lakes. Secondly, it’s great to get a run in while on a family trip; it gives me a little adventure and some time to either charge up or recharge and settle in to being Mom around camp. I am the Blackjack dealer, after all.

The running-and-camping started with the first family camping trip we took. We paired up with two other families with similarly aged kids. I’m lucky in that many of my closest friends also run trails, so the two moms and I rose from our family’s tents, had camp coffee, and headed out for a run while the dads made pancakes.

Mountain running during a camping trip
Photo: Lisa Jhung

Many campgrounds have hiking trails leading directly out of them, if not nearby. This one had a trail not 50 feet from our tents, leading up toward the Continental Divide and along a river, through meadows of wildflowers and among towering pines. After about an hour’s run, we returned to our families feeling ready to make PB&Js and head out on a short family hike on the trail we’d just scouted.

For first-come, first-served (non-reservable) campsites, one strategy is to arrive early in the morning, nab a site, drop the camping gear and head out for an exploratory trail run. If you’re camping with others and have the ability to bring two vehicles, you can do this nab-and-run approach and have your company meet you later in the day.

Even if you don’t have friends who run and camp with you, or a family to entertain when you’re done with your run, running and camping is more than doable. It’s fantastic. And it’s something I look forward to doing as much as possible during the summer. Here’s how:

Make a camping reservation.

Check local state park websites or on Recreation.gov for campgrounds near you. Look at the activities available on the campground’s website, and if it says “hiking,” you’re in luck. If not, find a map online of the area you’ll be camping, and seek out the nearest—or most interesting—trail.

If you’re trying for a non-reservable campsite, go early.

Check that the campground is accepting first-come, first-served camping, as some are not during this summer of COVID-19. If they are, arrive early, grab a reservation tab at the camp welcome kiosk, and find an empty campsite. Check the reservation tabs on the posts; some empty sites will say “Reserved” with the date, with a reservation coming in later that day. If the camp host is available, ask them which sites are first-come, first-served. Once you find an empty site, write your name on the reservation tab and place it on the post, then return to the kiosk to pay for your site.

Find the trail.

As mentioned, many campgrounds have great trails leading out directly from them. Some might head to fishing ponds, or peaks, or meadows. It’s all fair game for exploring on a trail run.

Stay found.

Running a trail in a new place might sound like a recipe for getting lost. Taking measures to stay found, instead of recovering from being lost, can help abate that fear. Bring a map with you, if you’ve printed one, or screenshot one on your phone. (Note: Don’t rely on cell service in the woods.) Easier than that, run an out-and-back, trying not to make any turns. If you take turns onto new trails or spurs, pay close attention to what the junction looks like from the opposite direction—the direction you’ll be facing when you return from your run. If you’ve found a loop, and you know it’s a loop that won’t get you lost, great.

Go when you can.

If camping with family or friends, consider rising early so you don’t miss out on the fun…or annoy whoever you leave behind at the campsite.

Clean up (maybe).

When you return, consider jumping in a river, or lake, to clean off, if a dunk-able body of water is available. If not, use baby wipes or a washcloth you can dampen with water to clean off the sweat. Or don’t. You’re camping, and can shower when you get home.