Enjoyable walking, running, and cycling areas in the USA. Join me as we talk about my favorite runs (and hikes and bikes)
By Mark D. Harris
After retiring from the US Army in September 2016, I took a new job in Tennessee. My schedule prevented me from doing one of my favorite things, running. Today, however, I took a glorious 5-miler in the Wolf River Nature Area outside Germantown, TN. Running there reminded me of some of my favorite places to run, bike, or walk, throughout the United States. These trails are relatively easy, and located close to urban areas. Unlike some of the trails considered “Best in the US” for running, these are (generally) short and accessible to casual walkers, runners, bikers, and hikers.
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve – Mostly a walk but can be a run, you will find terrific shorebirds in this coastal estuary near the city of Huntington Beach. The nearby Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve is also worth a walk.
Hickory Run State Park – This park boasts the Shades of Death trail and the Boulder Fields. Neither are suitable for running but both are great to hike and explore.
Lehigh Gorge State Park – Nestled in the Pocanos Mountains, the Lehigh Gorge State Park has many trails to bike, walk, and run. A 36-mile long gravel trail tracks the Lehigh River from Glen Summit through Whitehaven and Rockport and ends at Jim Thorpe. Our family biked the length of the gravel trail. The northern part of the path can be a little tough to follow at places
Wolf River Nature Area – Wolf River made it on to my favorites list after only one run. The trail slopes gently without large hills and passes through hardwood forests and wetlands along the river.
Franklin Mountains State Park – if you like desert trails and lots of ups and downs, the Franklin Mountains are for you. They separate east from west El Paso and boast all manner of high desert flora and fauna. For the fit, the Franklin Mountains trail run is up to 50 kilometers every September.
Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge – A mostly flat area of wetlands near the Potomac River at Fort Belvoir, the refuge is good for running, walking, and (occasionally in the winter) cross country skiing. Great blue heron, osprey, egrets and bald eagles abound. The 1.8-mile-long Beaver Pond Trail is the best known, but there are miles of other trails.
Appalachian Trial – David and I covered 16 miles of the trail from Kimberling Creek to Laurel Creek (14 miles) and a little extra for an overnight. We were carrying too much weight and too little food, so it was a little rough. Nonetheless, it was well worth it.
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park – This park follows the pathway of the old C&O Canal, which transported goods from the Ohio valley to markets throughout the East Coast. It is 184.5 miles long and is terrific for walking, running, and especially cycling. The southern part, near the Great Falls, is gravel and mostly flat. I must confess that I have only done parts of it.
Creeper Trial – The Virginia Creeper Trial is built on a railroad trail running 34 miles from Abingdon to Whitetop Station and then 17 miles from Whitetop Station into the town of Damascus. We have done the 17 mile trail twice with our church, the first in pouring cold rain and the second with clear skies and sunshine. The trial is gravel, almost all downhill, and beautiful. Nancy and I rode a tandem, which made it even better.
Mount Vernon Trail – Just outside of Washington DC, the Mount Vernon Trail snakes along the Potomac River for 18 miles from Theodore Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. It is paved, mostly flat, and busy, with thousands of people using it every week. The trail passes by the Reagan International Airport, through the City of Alexandria, and past several residential areas. Why do I like it? Because the Potomac is beautiful, parks abound along the trail, the eastern birds and wetlands are worth seeing, and it is easy to get to.
Noland Trail – This was my favorite run. Located near the Mariner’s Museum and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, the Noland Trail follows the shoreline around Lake Maury. The five-mile loop has steep climbs and drops so it is suitable for running or walking; bicycles are not allowed. The forest and the lake are gorgeous.
Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – The main trail, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Trail, is 4.4 miles long but only walking, not running or cycling, are permitted. Canoeing on the Nisqually River near the refuge is easy; suitable for beginners and families.
The Little Beaver State Park outside of Beckley has a 1.1-mile-long trail around the lake and many other great forest trails. We have spotted bald eagles, great blue herons, green herons, kingfishers, red shouldered hawks, and of course the ubiquitous crows, Canada geese, and ducks. On the ground and in the water we enjoyed beavers, turtles, foxes, and opossums. The trial is a mix of asphalt and gravel, including three bridges and a manmade waterfall.
There are thousands of other great nature trails and other places to run (or walk or bike), but these are some of the best that I have experienced. My family and I hope you enjoy exploring the trails in My Favorite Runs.