21 Destination Trail Races for Your 2016 Bucket List
Scenic races you'll want to travel for
Note: We originally published this article at the beginning of 2015. All races have been updated with their 2016 dates.
Between work, family and running, it can be hard to travel to races, vacation with family and still find time to hit all the famously scenic destinations on your bucket list. So why not combine all three? Here are 21 trail races in gorgeous destinations across the United States that runners and non-runners alike will want to visit. Cross a few off your bucket list this year.
(For more great trail races in the U.S. and around the world, check out Trail Runner's Race Calendar.)
Photo by Paul Nelson
1. Smith Rock Ascent
Smith Rock State Park, OR
May 7, 2016
Held among the pine forests and dramatic basalt cliffs of central Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park, a well-known destination for rock climbers, this 15-mile race gains over 3,000 feet. If you can handle the vert, you’ll be well rewarded with panoramic views of the Three Sisters from the top of Gray Butte and a nice long descent.
2. The Dipsea Race
June 18, 2016
Mill Valley, CA
Held near-annually since 1905 in the rolling forests outside of San Francisco, the Dipsea is the oldest trail race in the U.S. and arguably one of the quirkiest. There are no male, female or age-group champions: the race’s staggered start is handicapped based on age and sex, and senior citizens battle it out with 20-something speedsters to finish the hilly seven-mile course first. (The elders hold up pretty well, it should be noted: Diana Fitzpatrick, 56, has won Dipsea the last two years.)
The application process for Dipsea is about as convoluted as its handicapping, a combination of first-come, first-serve; a lottery; “bribes” in excess of the entry fee (the proceeds go to the nonprofit Dipsea Foundation); convincing “sob stories”; and an auction two nights before the race. Nonetheless, for trail-running history buffs, Dipsea’s a must.
More on Dipsea:
- Decades of Dipsea: Trail running's holy grail celebrates 100 years
- Handicapped: An even field on an uneven course
3. Mount Marathon Race
July 4, 2016
Like all good impossibly brutal trail runs, the Mount Marathon Race began as a drunken bar bet, when a man named Al Taylor accepted a challenge to run up and down a 3,000-foot mountain outside of Seward, Alaska, in under an hour. (He missed the cutoff by two minutes.) A few years later, in 1915, Taylor’s round-trip run became an official event, and has been going strong since.
The 3.2-mile Mount Marathon Race is not for the faint of heart: In 2012, one runner went missing, and two others suffered serious injuries after falling on the highly technical course. But the challenging nature of the race will put it on many a mountain-running masochist’s bucket list.
More on the Mount Marathon Race:
- (Not) A Runner's Story: The author follows in his mother's 1969 footsteps to run Alaska's renowned Mount Marathon Race
Photo by Scott Stolarz
4. Catalina Island Eco-Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K
November 19, 2016
For a family-friendly island getaway accessible from a major airport, head to Southern California for the Trail Venture Weekend on Catalina Island, which consists of a marathon, half-marathon, 10K and kid’s race. Starting from the beachside town of Avalon, the races follow singletrack trails and dirt roads into the island’s interior, exposing runners to a variety of wildlife—including, potentially, buffalo, bald eagles and seals—and views of the Pacific Ocean on either side.
Photo by Aric Becker / XTERRA
5. XTERRA Worlds
December 4, 2016
The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship seems designed for runners who find themselves craving warm, sunny weather by the time December rolls around each year. The 21K (world-championship course), 10K, 5K, kids’ race and adventure walk take place amidst the dense rainforest, broad valleys, white sand beaches and verdant cliff faces of Kualao Ranch, a working, family-owned cattle ranch on Oahu Island, Hawaii, about an hour outside of Honolulu.
As if the lush volcanic greenery and the consistently competitive field weren’t enough to put the XTERRA Worlds on every runner’s bucket list, movie and TV aficionados will delight in running against literally cinematic backdrops: Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Five-O, LOST and other big- and small-screen hits have filmed scenes at Kualao Ranch.
More on XTERRA: