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The Top 8 Trail Runs in Ski Country

28th April 2016 | Tess Weaver

News Regions: Aspen Snowmass, Big Sky, Loon, Mammoth Lakes, Mt. Bachelor, Park City, Steamboat Springs

The Deschutes River Trail is a favorite of Bend trail runners. - ©XTERRA National Championship Race

Deschutes River Trail is a favorite of Bend trail runners.

Copyright: XTERRA National Championship Race

Humans weren’t made to run on asphalt or treadmills—our joints crave the cushion of natural terrain. Running on uneven terrain strengthens your stabilizing muscles, which are key to injury prevention. Mile for mile, trail running is physically tougher than running on roads. When running uphill, shorten your stride and keep your head and chest forward. Or, try speed hiking up the super steep hills and running the flats and downs. When descending, try running on the balls of your feet for more speed, control and less pounding on the joints. Don’t compromise when buying trail running shoes—it’s not a gear intensive sport, and a good shoe could save you from unnecessary aches and pains. And if you get into longer trail runs, check out the wide variety of high-tech trail running gear available today—handheld water bottles, waist packs and more.

Now here are eight trail runs in ski towns coast-to-coast. 

1. Mid Mountain Trail

Park City, Utah

A runner passes through aspen stands along the Mid Mountain Trail in Park City, Utah. - ©Mountain Trails Foundation

A runner passes through aspen stands along the Mid Mountain Trail in Park City, Utah.

Copyright: Mountain Trails Foundation

The 26-mile Mid Mountain Trail cuts through Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, bisecting the Wasatch at 8,000 feet (hence it’s commonly called the “8,000 Foot Trail"). The singletrack offers sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and overlooks into valleys and resort towns, while it cruises through aspens, fir, scrub oak and meadows. This user-friendly trail has multiple access points, whether you want to climb 1,000 feet or take a gondola. Park at Deer Valley's Silver Lake Village for quickest access to the trail, then run to Park City, descend 1,000 feet (or ride the Town Lift back down), and take the free bus back to your car. 

2. Hunter Creek Trail

Aspen, Colo.

Hunter Creek is arguably Aspen’s most-popular running, hiking and biking loop, and it’s well justified. The trail climbs up and into the idyllic Hunter Valley hidden above Aspen, offering stunning views of the Elk Mountains in every season (in winter, Hunter Creek is a popular Nordic skiing destination.) Plus, the trailhead is walking distance from downtown Aspen. Run the Hunter Creek Trail to the bridge on the northwest end of the valley, then run along the other side of the creek for 1.5 miles where you'll rejoin the trail for a lollipop run. Or, run to Smuggler Mountain Road—a fire road that descends two miles back to town, creating a 4.6-mile loop. You can also connect to other trails—like the Sunnyside Trail to Four Corners—for longer runs. The trails are shared with mountain bikers. 

3. Continental Divide Trail Run

Steamboat Springs, Colo.

To mimic the 15-mile race put on by the popular Steamboat Springs Running Series, begin at the Fish Creek Falls parking lot. Follow Fish Creek trail, turning right onto the Mountain View Trail before actually reaching Long Lake. After crossing the Mountain View Trail, runners end up at the summit of Mt. Werner (and the Steamboat Ski Area). Run to the top of the gondola and take a free ride down. You will have climbed 4,800 feet.  

4. Mount Kearsarge North Trail

North Conway, N.H.

Ten miles from the Maine border and near Mount Washington, the small town of North Conway provides quick access to the White Mountains' Presidential Range, known for its rugged trails, steep climbs and alpine meadows.

Mount Kearsarge North Trail gains 2,500 feet in three miles on your way to the summit, which awards 360-degree views of Mount Washington, Franconia Ridge and beyond. The Cranmore Hill Climb 10K on July 10 is part of the USATF New England Mountain Circuit.

5. Hyalite Lake Trail

Bozeman, Mont.

Bozeman rests at the end of a 50-mile wide valley bordered by mountain ranges, creating endless trail running possibilities. The Bridger Mountains to the north and the Gallatin Mountains to the south and southeast offer the closest access. To view 11 waterfalls in 11 round-trip miles, head to the Hyalite Lake Trail 30 minutes south of Bozeman. You’ll switchback up the north flanks of the Gallatin Mountains, climb past waterfalls and finally arrive at an alpine lake in a horseshoe-shaped basin surrounded by the craggy peaks. On your way back, you can follow a trail toward Hyalite Peak, for another two miles and 1,600 feet of climbing. The infamous Bridger Ridge Run mid-Aug climbs 6,800 feet and plummets another 9,500 feet in 20 rugged miles.  

6. Duck Pass

Mammoth Lakes, Calif. 

Mammoth Lakes is home to a community of elite runners. Though snow can cover Mammoth for half the year, running addicts descend to Bishop, 40 miles south, where the ground is dry year round and where even more world-class runners reside. Trail running opportunities abound in the Eastern Sierra, but Duck Pass offers a classic ten-mile roundtrip run that passes several spectacular lakes on the way. The views from the Pass extend as far south as Mt. Hooper above Florence Lake and as far north as Mt. Warren west of Mono Lake. The trail is accessed from the back of Coldwater Campground at the end of Lake Mary Road. 

7. Deschutes River Trail

Bend, Ore.

Duck Lake is just one of the gorgeous sites along the Duck Pass trail run. - ©Matthew Lehman

Duck Lake is just one of the gorgeous sites along the Duck Pass trail run.

Copyright: Matthew Lehman

Voted "America's Best Trail Running Town" by the editors of Outside Magazine, Bend is situated in the heart of Central Oregon at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Mature Ponderosa Pine Trees and sagebrush are evidence of the town’s 300 sunny days per year, though the volcanoes looming in the distance remain snow covered year round. There are more than a dozen quality trail runs near town, but the Deschutes River Trail reigns supreme. The singletrack winds along the Deschutes River past lava flows, waterfalls, Class Three rapids and marshes. If you have the luxury of a shuttle vehicle, (or are up for a 16-mile roundtrip run) opt for the section from Meadow Camp to Benham Falls, passing Lava Island Falls, Aspen Camp and Dillon Falls. 

8. Long Trail

Jay Peak, Vt.

America's oldest long-distance hiking trail, the 270-mile Long Trail follows the length of the Green Mountains, from the Massachusetts state line to the Canadian Border. A 10-mile section runs along Jay Peak, making for a challenging trail run. Beginning at Jay Pass, the Long Trail climbs north to the summit of Jay Peak and beyond to the Canadian border. You’ll pass Jay Camp, an overnight shelter for hikers. To avoid the open summit (especially in unstable weather), follow the ski trail to the left and circle around to the Tramway Station below the summit rock.  

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