Running in America’s national parks can be an unforgettable experience. After all, few things compare to the challenge of a rim-to-rim run in the Grand Canyon or a trail run in the red rocks of Zion National park. But a trail run in a national park can also be a frustrating experience, as the paths are often blocked with children, dogs or selfie-taking tourists.
So what’s a runner to do? The answer is simple: Get off the beaten path. These under-the-radar national parks have all the beauty of the big destinations, with none of the crowds—a trail runner’s paradise.
Conagree National Park — South Carolina
Home to one of the tallest deciduous forest canopies on earth, the trails in this park are otherworldly. One of the most relaxing runs you’ll ever do is the Kingsnake Trail, a flat, well-marked three-mile route under trees stretching more than 100 feet into the sky.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park — Texas
Located east of El Paso, this park boasts stunning desert vistas and trails that climb up the four highest peaks in Texas. Run the McKittrick Canyon Trail, a 10-mile out-and-back with 1,000 feet of elevation gain to “The Notch,” a breathtaking viewpoint of West Texas.
Isle Royale National Park — Michigan
A hundred and sixty five miles of singletrack run through this island’s 209 square miles of forest geography smack-dab in the middle of Lake Superior. No matter what trail you choose, you’ll see bald eagles, moose and osprey along the way. Not sure where to start? Try the five-mile Scoville Point Loop, which runs along the shoreline and is widely-regarded as one of the best national park trails in the United States.
North Cascades National Park — Washington
If you want to see rainforests and glaciers in the same run, head three hours northeast of Seattle, where the “American Alps” welcome runners with more than 300 miles of trail. A summertime favorite is Thornton Lakes, a heavily-wooded nine-mile route that starts out with gentle rolling hills and gets progressively steeper as it hits the ridge and view of Thornton Lake.
Lassen Volcanic National Park — California
Let the other tourists flock to Yosemite, it means more trail space for you at Lassen, California’s least-visited national park. More than 150 miles of trails are available to explore, and explore you will: the park has steaming volcanoes, hot springs and lush meadows. The three-mile Lassen Peak Trail is some of the toughest uphill you’ll ever tackle, but it’s worth it to brag about conquering an ancient volcano.
Capitol Reef National Park — Utah
Most visitors to Utah head for Zion or Arches National Parks, bypassing a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges. Capitol Reef boasts all the beauty of the bigger national parks nearby, with smaller crowds. The best way to see the park is via the Navajo Knobs trail, a 10 mile out-and-back with beautiful views of sandstone cliffs and a top-down view of the popular Castle Rock.