How to Find Running Trails

Whether you’re new to trail running, new to an area, or exploring a new area while traveling, finding new trails is often exhilarating… but the process itself can be frustrating. To make it a bit easier, here are a few suggestions for how to find new running trails.

How to Find Running Trails

  • find new running trailsFind a trail running club. A local club may have online trail resources and its members will have a wealth of knowledge about local trails, so chat with them on a run, at a local event, or on the club’s forum or email group.
  • Stop by a specialty running shop or outdoor store. Folks who work at running shops or outdoor stores (especially the later) tend to be local trail experts. Even if the person you ask doesn’t know the trails, he or she will point you toward the people or resources that’ll have you out on sweet, new singletrack in no time.
  • Look for other trail users. Look for local hiking and mountain biking organizations as they’re looking for the same dirt strips you are.
  • Search for trail races. A trail race is a sure sign of a trail network. The course map might be a good primer for initial forays into the new trail system.
  • Be an observant explorer. Finding new trails can be as easy as keeping your eyes open on your next road or trail run. Sure, you may end up hitting dead ends during these exploratory side trips, but you can always come back the way you went out. For your safety, always be respectfully of no trespassing signs and other indications that you’re on private property and are not welcome there.

Call for Comments
We’d love to know how you find new trails (we’ll add some of our favorites to the above list).

We’d also love to hear about some of the adventures you’ve had on newly discovered trails this year and what the gift of new trails means to you.

Finally, are you driven to explore new trails or are you happy to observe your surroundings slowly change as you run the same trails regularly.

There are 34 comments

  1. Neal Gorman

    If I am in a new place while traveling I simply look for a large green space on a map that is closest to the town or city where I am/will be. Odds are there will be trails there. Then I go find them.

  2. Luke

    I have mostly ran trails in my local area, so I find new trails by exploring green spaces and following trail branches. In order to help others discover trails, I have been making an effort to collect GPS tracks and document trails on openstreetmap.org (OSM). Luckily, OSM is easy to contribute to using a free tool called JOSM. Also, an OSM view option is available for tools like "Map My Run"

  3. antirabbit

    +2 on point 2 & 3

    also look for trails that the bikers complain of restrictions on. Thats how I have found my special spot, bikers are confined to the fire road, but they poach and keep the trails semi passiblie.

    If you can find poached trails, you have hit the jackpot.

  4. Jeremy Pade

    The North Face has a Trailhead App for the iPhone that locates trails based on your location. It's not perfect, but I've used it with some degree of success when traveling.

  5. Chris B

    If in the PNW, I cannot recommend enough the Northwest Trails project. Garmin maps featuring trails submitted by users and put together by the creator of the project Jon Stanley. It's pretty extensive and I know this has helped me find not only trails systems off in the wilderness, but also in my neighborhood. And if you happen to keep a tracklog and record trail not in there, you can submit it!
    http://www.switchbacks.com/gpsmaps.aspx

    There are a few other like projects linked off of NWT page that I do not have any experience with but might be worth checking out:

    Southwest Trails (Arizona and New Mexico) http://www.outdoor-resources.com/SW_Trails/

    Southern Alberta Trail Mapping Project http://www.calgarycachers.net/trailmaps/maps.htm

    The Ontario Mapping Project http://trailmaps.torontogeocaching.com/

  6. Laura Clark

    I normally take the sink or swim approach. It is amazing how many trail you can locate if you simply keep your eyse open as you run on the road.

    We have one official 3.5 mile marked trail on the lands behind my house. This trail is connected to a zillion unmarked trails or routes makred spontaneously by a few who frequent this area. When running, I will follow a trail that looks like a main trail. Later, I will go off to explore side routes. That way I have an idea just where the side routes are taking me and where/how they might connect. I am not ashamed to fashion arrows of sticks. Just have to be consistent it you are marking the way in or the way out!

    laura clark

  7. Scott Keeps Running

    http://www.trails.com is by far the best resource I've ever used. Thousands and thousands of trails to choose from. There is a subscription fee to get unlimited access ($50/yr or something like that), but it is worth it – especially if you travel and want to find trails before you get where you're going.

    For those who don't know about this site, it's a database of trails that have been printed from hundreds (thousands?) of guidebooks for running, hiking, biking, fishing, xc-skiing, and so on.

    1. CraigR

      I like the mountain biking trails as well, but beware the overly aggressive rider who thinks he owns the trail and wants to take your head off in the process. I regulary run the advanced mbt at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park in Cassopolis, MI and had an incident(which I reported) this past weekend where a mountain biker wanted to have it out with me on the trail and when I arrived back at the car. No punches were thrown, but this guy appeared jacked up on something.

  8. Sarah Lavender Smith

    When we did a round-the-world trip, my husband and I made use of databases like the one Scott Keeps Running above mentions as well as mapmyrun. Whenever we found a good trail, we'd upload the route from our Garmin watch and make note of the route for other travelers. The other thing I'd add is to always search locally for "hiking" or, Down Under, "trekking" and you're likely to find the trails that way.

  9. ric

    I have found the site http://www.dailymile.com useful for finding new trails. Under the Community tab, select "Routes" and then you can search for routes by location or by title (people often name their favorite routes by the name of the trail, for instance). I find this more useful than, say, Trails.com, which only lists the major trails, beginning at a trailhead. But with people-posted routes on dailymile.com, the route might be from a hotel or place of business, or may be a lesser-known favorite trail that you won't find in published trail books.

  10. andrew brautigam

    @CraigR – the vast majority of mountain bikers are very friendly and always yield the trail. That said, if you're running on an advanced, one way trail and a rider is coming around a blind corner or barreling through a technical section, and you pop up coming the wrong way, well, he has a reason to be mad.

    For non-mountain biking runners, you should know that there are times when stopping on a mountain bike is not really safe or possible, especially on really steep or rocky terrain. Most mountain bikers really try to yield to runners, but there are some bad apples out there, and times when even the nicest rider can't stop.

    1. ric

      Thanks for the biker POV, Andrew. Good to know. That said, I too have encountered a few of what I would call reckless trail bikers on single track trails; reckless in that they are taking switchback corners, or just blind corners in general, at a speed they cannot control, whether it's a runner or another biker they may encounter coming up the other way. One very close call on a switchback had both me and the biker shakin' in our shoes afterward, counting our lucky stars that we didn't go over that edge…

      Question for bikers: I've often wondered if there's a universally recognized yell that i can bellow out when running as i approach a blind corner on a trail used by bikers to alert them to my presence. Is there any such? I've tried "ahead!" or "corner!" and others. Only once did i try it when a biker was actually coming, but my yell backfired apparently, because the biker must have thought the yell was coming from behind him, so he was looking backwards as he went into the corner! not the desired effect…. :)

    2. CraigR

      @Andrew – I totally agree with you on the "very friendly" comment. I've never had an issue to this point on this trail and I always yield the trail to the bike, regardless of what pace I'm running or they are riding. And as far as running the opposite direction that is the way you are supposed to run on this trail, although I have run in the same direction as the bikes on quite a few occasions. If you knew the full story about this particular rider then you'd fully understand the issue. Had to be there kind of moment. This guy had a burr up his A$$ for some reason.

      As far as I'm concerned, if it is a bike trail then it is my job as the runner to respect the biker first.

  11. David Coffey

    Several sites on Facebook exist specifically as an information exchange for people interested in running within a certain area. I just established the LUR-Louisiana Ultra Runners group page on Facebook so that ultra runners can come together and exchange information on training, upcoming group runs, races and trails within Louisiana. I am also familiar with similiar Facebook site for Florida and Texas.

  12. Doug

    Where I live we are lucky enough to have a map available with GPS verified mileage for most of the nearby Wasatch Mountain trails. We also have a large winter touring community so many of the main trails are packed and run-able through the winter. As are most of the ridge lines.

    Personally I try and avoid trails frequented by mountain bikers here. Maybe 1 out of 5 of my encounters are with really cool people, but they are definitely in the minority.

  13. Anonymous

    I have found the look for trail races option very helpful mainly in the states where there are no language barriers. The local running shop is always great, again as long as you can speak the local tongue, or they speak english.

    I travel a lot for work and have come up with new method that has worked great lately. Go to google maps/earth and look for non developed areas, parks, open spaces, etc, many are already labeled on google maps. I do a bit more research if there are labeled areas, then book what ever hotel is closet and…Get ready to explore!!!

    I have found great runs with this method everywhere from the Dusseldorf(Germany) airpot, where there are literally trails right of the sky shuttle to developed and more rural areas of the states and europe, asia can be an issue as development is crazy in most countries there right now, and trails seem hard to come by however there can be a fare bit of dirt. But one the other hand a run through a developing city in Thailand, Vietnam, or India can be as adventurous as any trail I have found anywhere.

    Honestly the whole process is a lot of fun, and I have begun looking forward to me work trips much more and have even stopped packing my "treadmill shoes."

  14. Sarah

    I've found some awesome Mtbiking trails. The best being Levis Mound in WI so far, but I don't like to share. Otherwise if you get up anytime before noon and run, you'll likely miss the bikers :)

    I'm with Neal. When in a new spot looking on Google maps with the satellite works really well. Sometimes you can zoom in so much that you can actually see the gap in the trees where the trail is.

  15. Justin

    In Iowa you just have to find a couple of things. Rivers, because by rivers are trees and thats about the only place in "farm country" plus there is a little vertical gain and loss. Then just find a deer trail, they take some nice single track paths and enjoy. Just be ready to make about 200 loops per 10 mi. because…Its Iowa.

  16. David B

    In New England, I like to look for snowmobile trails. NH, VT, and ME have huge snowmobile networks that criss-cross the region dozens of times. If you make it onto the snowmobile trails in the winter, you'll find trail markers, signage with trail names, and easy packed out trails to follow. Some of the more established areas even groom their trails which makes them better to run and easier to navigate. You can find the trail maps at many local country stores, gas stations, or outdoor sports shops.

    One caution though, once the weather starts to melt/freeze then the trails can get a bit bullet proof.

  17. Mark

    Be careful on the snowmobile trails. They are very protective of the trails. Most states require membership in a local snowmobile club to even use the trails, and most prohibit any other form of transportation on them in the winter, not sure about summer though. I also don't like the idea of a snowmobile coming at me at 60 mph! I'll take the mountain biker instead, thank you.

    Also, most snowmobile trails are pretty wide and flat, not that narrow snaky singletrack we all love!

  18. rickyb

    Also try going to Garminconnect.com You click the 'explore' tab, zoom in on your desired area, and look for trail running. Many events will pop up and each one shows the map and other info about the run ( incline, altitude, etc) recorded from the runners device.

  19. JoeGarland

    How about from the other side? I knew of many trails where I live, been running on them for 40 years, but learned of others more recently from friends. So I built a website so others can learn of them too. Nothing fancy but it's amazing how many folks tell me how useful it is. Not just maps and directions but a runner's perspective on each.

    So if you know of trails in your neighborhood, make your own site and share.

  20. Ric

    good timing, Rich; I'm visiting Pennsylvania in October, and this site rocks, intro'ing me to the 150-mile D & L/Lehigh Canal South trail — just a few miles from where I'm staying. thanks. ;8^)

  21. TheTrailSnail

    I do a lot of things mentioned above, but the most successful for me has been just exploring. There's a popular trail near my house that's about a four mile out and back. When I started trail running I ran there a few times and started spotting little side trails. I've spent the past few years exploring every one I can find. Now I have miles and miles of trails that I run in the area, and I don't think I've even come close to trying them all. The best part is nobody seems aware of them except horse owners and the occasional mountain biker. It's kind of like my private trail running resort :)
    http://www.thetrailsnail.com

  22. baudry26

    Hello I am french and I am moving in Herriman Utah for 2 years. I am looking for trail runners group to run with in Herriman. I'd also like to know if there are trails to run in there?

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