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The summer family vacation. Whether the plan is to head to one of the top visited cities, the beach, a National Park, or tourist attraction such as Disney, one thing’s for sure: You’ll still want to get your runs in. If the kids are little, that might require an understanding spouse who will let you sneak out for an early morning jaunt. If they’re teens, it’ll be more like “Mom, sure, go out for a long one.”
The other challenge, of course, is to find a good place to run in that vacation spot, which you no doubt chose for reasons other than its access to great running routes. Here’s a guide to some of the best places to run in some of the most visited U.S. destinations in summer. We’ve included links to each location for those more detailed route descriptions.
Most Visited Cities
New York City. There’s more to running in NYC than Central Park (although the park is unsurpassed in its diverse routes and accessibility from mid-town and many of the tourist hotels). You can also find wonderful paths along the Hudson River and the East River which are likely closer if you’re staying lower on the island. Running over the Brooklyn Bridge and along the waterfront on the Brooklyn side is also a treat. Want to go long? Head north on the Hudson River Greenway to the George Washington Bridge, where you can circle down to the Palisades Park and keep going for many more miles.
Washington, D.C. Fortunately, the best running in D.C. is synonymous with some of the most visited sites. There’s nothing like a run along the National Mall, over to the Tidal Basin, and around the numerous memorials. Extend your run by circling the waterfront path around Haines Point in East Potomac Park. For shade, head over to Rock Creek Park, which you can reach from the end of the mall via the Georgetown Waterfront Park trail.
Boston. Boston is a great city to take your family on vacation, full of history and seafood for them, and, for you, the city’s most scenic running spots close by the downtown and tourist sites. The two iconic Boston runs are the Charles River Path and the Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace. There’s also excellent running along the harbor and, lesser-known, a scenic trail around the South Boston waterfront. Or, get up early and run the Freedom Trail before it gets crowded with walkers and traffic.
Chicago. Chicago’s tourist hotels are mostly downtown—which is great, as this puts you near the city’s major museums, great architecture, the Magnificent Mile…and some of the best urban running in the United States: the 18-mile Lakefront Path, Millennium Park/Grant Park, and River/Loop routes.
Resort/Theme Park Areas
Orlando/Disney. The kids might be excited, but the running options in the Disney/Universal area won’t be on any runner’s bucket list. Several of the Disney resorts have nice, if short, running trails, and there are sections of International Drive that have a running/walking path.
Disneyland California. Downtown Anaheim is no great shakes for running. But there’s good stuff in the larger Orange County area if you’re willing to drive: wonderful parks in the Anaheim Hills, just east of the city; and great beach/coastal running in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Niguel.
San Diego. If your family trip leads you to San Diego for the Zoo, LEOGOLAND, SeaWorld, or other attractions, you’ve also hit the running jackpot. San Diego has it all for runners: great beachfront running, waterfront loops around Mission Bay and Coronado, Balboa Park, and endless hill/canyon options just outside the city.
Popular Beach Spots
Millions of families head to the beach in summer, particularly along the East Coast, from Maine to Georgia. For runners, the priority is knowing whether the beach is ‘runnable”—which we define as being at least one mile in length, fairly flat, and featuring packed sand. This might require consulting a tide chart, in order to get that firm footing near low tide. If the beach itself isn’t runnable, the next best bet is to find a beach resort that features a beach-side path or boardwalk, or a coastal road (hopefully one with a good shoulder). You can find a list of best beaches for running and other good coastal running options here.
The U.S. National Parks receive more than 300 million visits annually. If heading to one of the parks with your family this summer, you’ll no doubt want to sneak in a run between that hike or scenic drive. For the typical road runner, here are some tips for running in some of the popular national parks:
- Look for multi-use paths. They might not be as spectacular as some of the hikes, but they have the best footing and are the safest bet for the road and occasional trail runner. Some of the best of these are in Acadia National Park, Grant Teton National Park, Everglades National Park, Big Bend, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon (Rim Trail, South Rim), Glacier (Lake MacDonald).
- Run the park loop roads. Some of the most spectacular drives in the National Parks offer some wonderful running, provided they’re not too hilly and have a decent shoulder. Each park is different, but some of the best ‘loop road’ running is in Acadia National Park, Badlands, Big Bend, Zion, Death Valley (Artists Drive), and Sequoia/Kings Canyon (Crescent Meadow Rd.).
- Look for some of the longer ‘nature trails’ and some of the hiking/walking trails rated ‘easy’. Generally these will be flatter and will have good footing. Moderately rated trails will provide more technical trail running.
- Run the ‘Shuttle Bus’ Routes. Several of the most popular national parks are closing central sections to vehicles and are using shuttle buses instead, especially during peak season. This is goodness for runners: Less traffic on the road, and the option to run one-way and take the shuttle bus back.
For more, see this National Park Running Guide.
Mark Lowenstein is Chief Running Officer at Great Runs, the ultimate guide to the best places to run in cities and destinations worldwide.