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)