Discovering Tallahassee’s Rich Running Past & Scenic Trails
Tallahassee helped spawn some of America’s running greats and is still one of the nation's best destinations for trail running.
Florida once a mandatory destination for long-distance runners, served as the backdrop for John Parker, Jr.’s Once a Runner, which captured the essence of that early-70s heyday. Parts of Florida were the proving grounds of runners such as Frank Shorter, Marty Liquori, Jeff Galloway and Jack Bacheler. And while Tallahassee has had its share of elites in those hallowed days, helping to spawn some of America’s running greats, it still promises to hold a place for unlocking future talent.
Apalachee Regional Park, Florida State University’s cross country course, is a newly-developed, state-of-the-art venue designed specifically for the sport and will host the USATF Cross Country Championship on February 2, 2019 and the NCAA Cross Country National Championship on November 2021.
The pinnacle of courses, with wide trails, soft footing, surprisingly hilly terrain—including an impressive .1 mile climb infamously known as the “Wall” and spectator-friendly features, including a Jumbotron—is open to the public, making a visit to Tallahassee to run, an inspiring destination. The turf- and oyster-shell-lined trails, including a separate warm-up loop, are meticulously rolled and maintained and the loops allow for exciting viewing for coaches and fans.
Gulf Winds Track Club is a helpful resource for runners visiting Tallahassee. The club is one of the nation’s biggest running clubs and is a “for the people, by the people” organization that supports its members and many races and community events rather than serving as a funding source for elite athletes.
Tallahassee is a crisscross of varied trails. Some are sandy, red clay or paved while others are short connectors or go on for more than a marathon in length. A valuable tool to navigate the inviting maze is Trailahassee.com, a site to guide you to and through many a happy mile of off-road running. In addition to the Apalachee Regional Park cross country course and warm-up loop, here are some highlight trails:
On the edge of town, Munson Hills are all about flowing single track. The immediate loop is up to 20 miles of sandy and red clay ribbon and it connects to another 40 miles that wind their way through pine forests, occasional meadows, powerline crossings and plenty of entertaining undulations.
This hilly loop takes you through wooded terrain on mostly red clay and circumnavigates a small lake. Be careful if you are running with a dog because crocodiles are known to turn canine companions into meals. There are many routes here, but a common run loops by the Lake Overstreet Property, Maclay Gardens and Phipps Park. Be sure to check on whether you’ll need a $2 park pass at the time.
Tom Brown Park
This area’s trails are some of Tallahassee’s more technical options, with treks through rocks, roots and hills on offer. The trails are close enough to the FSU campus that they are a go-to for the cross country team’s morning training runs.
St. Marks River
For some cruiser miles, when you want soft, flat, off-road striding, this area runs out to a historic lighthouse on raised beds above glades, swamp and waterways that are croc havens, but safe if you stay high on the built-up banks. The scenic views will draw you along, especially with the lively birdwatching opportunities.
Food and Fun
Backwoods Crossing is a true farm-to-table experience and you even get to walk by the 3.5-acre garden as you enter the barn-like restaurant. The eatery is run by brothers who serve up plenty of locally-grown and caught, Southern-style comfort foods and the atmosphere matches the quality of the tasty menu.
The Edison has an upscale feel to it, especially because of the artfully-persevered and converted brick power station. The fare is healthy and well prepared and there is a large outdoor deck overlooking Cascades Park, a concert venue, so you can time your meal to sit outside and listen in on a show.
Kool Beanz Café is Southern gourmet with eclectic funkiness, thanks to both the creative menu with lots of local fish and the fun art flare hanging from the walls. The cheese grits are long-lasting running fuel. Lucky Goat Coffee has several shops around town and the sweet Cuban coffee is well worth a try. For a more adult beverage, Proof Brewing Company was Tallahassee’s first local brewery and has seen rapid growth over the last few years. It has helped to jump start many other microbreweries in the area.
When not running, there are plenty of other outdoor activities to participate in while in town, such as stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing or kayaking the Wakulla River with T-n-T Hideaway. Chances are high of seeing a manatee and almost guaranteed that you’ll see a crocodile during this most scenic of water tours.
The mountain biking community of Tallahassee is large but tightly woven and the Tallahassee Mountain Bike Association is a well-organized resource. Head to the water for guided boat tour or fishing in the St. Marks River with St. Marks Outfitters for an eco-adventure of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.