What makes a city particularly desirable to its running culture? Runners often look for temperate climates, a variety of long routes and trails, and a vibrant running and racing culture — and some scenic views along the way can’t hurt.
Dozens of U.S. cities that hold qualities that new and veteran runners will enjoy along their exercising or training journeys. After researching some of the best spots for running, our four-part series The Best Running Cities in America breaks down the top twenty cities that stand out for runners.
- Jacksonville, Florida
As the most populated city in Florida and the largest city by geographic area in the United States, Jacksonville offers a mix of scenic riverside paths and downtown detours for the avid runner. The city holds many parks, beachfronts and residential neighborhoods with extensive paths and trails for newcomers or seasoned runners. Running guides are also available for nearby St. Augustine and Amelia Island.
Many runners in the area enjoy the scenery in the downtown area’s Riverwalk, a path that includes many bridges, the south bank section, and contains the historic San Marco community. Located 17 miles from downtown, the local beaches offer 20 miles of white sand that are perfect for running, while others may prefer the large boulevards along the dunes. If you’d like a more secluded nature destination, check out Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, Guana River State Park and Durbin Creek Peninsula Preserve Trail for its many running options.
- Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia is a fast-growing metropolis that is steadily building a more active running scene. Piedmont Park, a 189-acre space located in the Downtown area, offers the best option for runners. Known as the Crown Jewel of the city’s running scene, it boasts over five miles of paved and gravel trails across hilly terrain through wooded areas and meadows.
Another great running option in Atlanta is the Eastside BeltLine Trail which intersects with Piedmont Park. As one of the most extensive urban redevelopment programs being developed in the United States, it provides a network to public parks and multi-use trails along a historic 22-mile railroad corridor. The most developed parts of the path include a 2-mile trail lined with dynamic plants, views of historic neighborhoods and restaurants to stop and rest. Runners can also check out the nearby 2.5-mile Freedom Parkway trail for a more peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. Runners can also find scenic nature trails like the Freedom Trail and pleasant neighborhoods for running east of the downtown area. Further east, some local runners enjoy the run through Emory University’s landscaped campus.
The Atlanta Track Club typically hosts big races during the year, which has included the world’s largest 10k and the Peachtree Road Race.
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
If you want to truly get a dose of fresh air, Virginia Beach has some of the finest beachside running in the country. Offering up to five miles of Atlantic shoreline, it doesn’t hurt that the 2.7-mile boardwalk offers some places to stop and refresh. But if runners are looking for trails inland, Cape Henry East Trail, located five miles from the boat ramp area, provides a 6-mile gravel trail used for marathon training, complete with bike and running trails. Look for other trails in the park that feature hills which make a great place for trail running.
The First Landing State Park offers scenic alternatives. The latter features miles of trails that wind through forests, freshwater wetlands, dunes and forests within its 2,888-acre park at the northern end of Virginia Beach. It’s the perfect option to combine a beach run with 19 miles of trails. Before COVID-19, The Shamrock Marathon Weekend in March was a spring race destination as temps in the beach town usually are pleasant for running.
- Nashville, Tennessee
While Nashville may be known for its music scene, it also hosts a handful of beautiful parks perfect for runners. In Downtown Nashville, the paved 3.5-mile Cumberland River Greenway extends along the river into Downtown’s 1st Ave along Fort Nashborough and Riverfront Park, with offshoots along the path to Morgan Park and Bicentennial State Park. It features scenic river overlooks and public art.
One of the premier parks in East Nashville, the 960-acre Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Natural Area lies adjacent to Shelby Park and is one of five natural parks within the Metro Parks system. Including the Cumberland River Greenway, this park features bottomland hardwood forests, expansive fields, and streams, providing excellent habitat for wildlife. Offering over 5 miles of paved ADA accessible trails for running, hiking, biking, skating and wildlife watching, these paved and primitive trails feature options for both relaxing jogs and training sessions.
Runners can also check out the Stones River Greenway, 10.2 miles of paved path that connects Shelby Bottoms to Percy Priest Lake and connects to the YMCA, Two Rivers Park and Heartland Park along the way.
- Boise, Idaho
The largest city in Idaho and also the Idaho state capital, Boise is considered a runners’ paradise. Set in a beautiful landscape, the city features a tree-lined, 25-mile greenbelt trail next to the river that runs through the city center. An extensive, 190-mile network of trails also intertwines the Rockies’ foothills in the Ridge to River system, immediately north of downtown. The city currently hosts approximately twenty-six running clubs in the city area, so runners can easily find a support group or workout team to help newcomers explore the terrain in the dynamic yet structured city for runners. Don’t forget to check out the running loop around the downtown district’s Capitol.
Check back soon to read part two of our blog series: The Best Running Cities in America.