20 Great Trail Running Races

Any fan of ours knows that we love trails — whether it be hiking, biking, or running. Trail running is high on our list of favorite outdoor activities.

Getting outside on a quiet trail, with the challenge of ups-and-downs and technical terrain, the time can really fly. Just be sure to have the right gear — trail running footwear, a headlamp if you need it, in some areas some bear spray, and keep yourself injury-free. Once you are set, trail running can be a perfect activity to improve both your physical and mental well-being.

That brings us to trail run races, which by definition let you experience beautiful places while competing with others — or just yourself. We had our writing team compile a list of our 20 favorite trail run races across the country. Here they are:

1. Western States Endurance Run

Credit: Jon Roig – Flickr

Location: Squaw Valley to Auburn, California

Month: June

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 1974

The Western States Endurance run is an oldie – celebrating its 50th year in 2024 making it legendary by any standards. It is a legendary California race that starts at Palisades ski area on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, and ends in Auburn, CA, near Sacramento.

The run is challenging with lots of climbs and descents, but the start-to-finish features a drop in elevation of about 5,000 feet. However, there are lots of challenges in between! This run will throw a lot of different terrain at you as you navigate the Sierras.

Most of the running surface is mountain trails and gravel roads, with some pavement toward the end.

2. Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance

Hardrock 100 Endurance run, Grant Swamp Pass

Location: Silverton, Colorado

Month: July

Distance: 102.5 miles

Established: 1992

If you want serious elevation and altitude, this might be your race. Those interested in participating in the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run face an ultramarathon run that takes you for a total elevation change of 66,394 ft (33,197 feet of climb and descent). It takes participants through Telluride, Ouray, and Sherman (a ghost town) and hits the highest point – the summit of Handies Peak (14,048’).

Runners who choose to participate should be prepared for extreme challenges including steepness, mountaineering, wilderness survival, navigation, altitude, and more.

It’s not enough to finish the run in less than 48 hours – the finish line is actually kissing a photo of a ram’s head that is painted on some stone debris.

3. Leadville Trail 100 Run

Leadville Trail 100 Run

Location: Leadville, Colorado

Month: August

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 1983

An absolute classic, on the bucket list of so many trail runners. Also known as the “Race Across the Sky,” the Leadville Trail 100 Run was started to bring attention to the town of Leadville in Colorado. In 2023, the run celebrated its 40th anniversary. Participants will face 18,000 feet of elevation gain, including a peak elevation of 12,600 ft at Hope Pass.  Not to be outdone by Silverton’s altitude, the Leadville 100 will put you way up there as well.

The trail passes through Powerline, Sugarloaf, and the Colorado Trail. The 100-mile run has a 30 hour time limit, and fewer than half actually manage to complete it in that time. In addition to the main event, the site also holds the 10K Run, Trail Marathon, 100 Mountain Bike Race, and others.

4. The Rut

The Rut 28K

Location: Big Sky, Montana

Month: September

Distance: Varies

Established: 2013

The Rut in stunning Big Sky, Montana is a three day event featuring a number of races including the Trifecta (84k), 50K, 28K, 21K, 11K, Lone Peak VK (4.6K), and the Runt Run (1K). The Trifecta is made up of The Lone Peak VK (or Rut VK), 28K, and 50K. 

In the Rut VK, runners will finish on the summit of iconic Lone Peak (11,166ft), gaining 3,632 ft. in just 2.8 miles. Those interested in the longer runs should follow the mandatory and recommended gear guidelines for a safer race.

When you are here, you won’t be far from Yellowstone, so give yourself a couple post-race days of reward and hang out for a while. The fly fishing out this way is world-class, too. There is something about the Northern Rockies that is just more wild.

5. Pike’s Peak Marathon

PikePeak Marathon

Location: Manitou Springs, Colorado

Month: September

Distance: 26.2 miles

Established: 1956

Those interested in running the Pike’s Peak Marathon will travel from Manitou Springs, along the Barr Trail, hit the top at 14,115 feet, and then head back down. Racers do have to complete a qualifying event in order to run as there is no vehicle access to most of the Barr Trail. 

Pike’s Peak is also home to the Ascent – a 13.3 mile race to the top of Pike’s Peak. The trail is narrow and steep, but there are no open ledges, so runners don’t have to worry about falling.

Manitou Springs is easily accessible from Colorado Springs and Denver metro, making it one of the easier trail races on our list to travel to.

6. Mount Marathon Race

Flickr: J from Seattle

Location: Seward, Alaska

Month: July

Distance: 3.1 miles

Established: 1915

The Mount Marathon Race is held every July 4th and is believed to be one of the oldest races in the United States. The first ever race had no official route either – as long as they reached the summit and back, they finished.

Today the race starts and ends downtown. Participants will head up 2,974 feet above sea level to a stone marker before making their way back down. This is a particularly grueling run and those reaching the finish line are often muddy and scraped up!

It’s not a long race, but hey, it’s over 100 years old and it is in Alaska. To us, that’s a bucket list race.

7. Moab Trail Marathon

Moab Trail Marathon

Location: Moab, Utah

Month: November

Distance: 26.2 miles

Established: 2008

The Moab Trail Marathon starts at the entrance of Pritchett Canyon and runners will tackle a number of trails including the HUnter Canyon Rim Trail, Amasa Back jeep trail, Jackson Trail singletrack, and others until finishing just across Kane Creek at the finish line. Participants can expect to run through narrow canyons, along canyons, and old mining trails. The sights themselves are spectacular.

The area is also home to the ½ Marathon, which takes you through the first 9 miles of the Marathon Course. And, in 2023, the area featured their first 10k but it’s advised that you stay away from the edges if you’re afraid of heights!

The Moab area is also home to some of the best mountain biking around, so if you want to make a week of it, you will probably find lots to do.

8. Lake Sonoma 50

Lake Sonoma 50

Location: Lake Sonoma, California

Month: April

Distance: 50 miles

Established: 2008

Starting and ending next to the Lake Sonoma Visitor Center, the Lake Sonoma 50 is a doozy. It is highly advised you save something for the second half of the course as the first half can be a bit exhausting! It’s all uphill on that first part.

Runners can expect three major climbs, gradual climbs, and beautiful sights. A majority of the race happens on a trail. Participants have 14 hours to complete the Lake Sonoma 50.

Other races include the Lake Sonoma Marathon and the Trail Sisters Half Marathon.

Needless to say, if you like wine, this is a great area to hang out and relax for a while after the race!

9. Vermont 100 Endurance Race

Vermont 100 Endurance Race

Location: West Windsor, Vermont

Month: July

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 1989

The Vermont 100 Endurance Race covers 17,000 feet of ascent (though no big climbs), 68 miles of country dirt roads, 30 miles of horse trails, and 2 miles of pavement, all while offering stunning views of the Green Mountains. 

The race starts on Saturday at 4am, and participants have until 10am the next day to complete their run. 

Also available is the 100 KM, with a start time of 9am on Saturday and a finish time of 5am on Sunday. This one features 9,000 feet of total ascent, country roads, horse trails, and just a bit of pavement.

10. Javelina Jundred

The Javelina Jundred

Location: Fountain Hills, Arizona

Month: October

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 2003

If you love costumes and Halloween, the Javelina Jundred is for you. It’s the original 100 miles trail run to feature costumes. Taking place on a roughly 20 mile loop through the Sonoran Desert, participants will circle around 5 times and have plenty of time to take in the unique sights of the McDowell Mountain Regional Park from the hills to the cactus. Each loop has about a 1,580 ft ascent.

For 100-km, runners only have to run the loop 3 times and the Jackass 31k is one loop. All three usually take place the weekend before Halloween.

11. The Barkley Marathons

Flickr: Michael Hodge

Location: Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee

Month: March/April

Distance: Approx. 100 miles

Established: 1986

The Barkley Marathons also takes place on a ~20 mile trail where runners will make 5 loops. The actual course changes year to year, but participants have 60 hours to complete the race. 

This particular marathon is considered extremely difficult – one of the most difficult in the United States. It has no aid stations (except two points for water) and features 54,200 feet of ascent total. Many of the races have actually had no one that finished! But those who complete 3 loops can say they completed a “fun run.”

12. Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim

Credit: National Park Foundation

Location: Grand Canyon, Arizona

Month: Year-round (most popular in spring and fall)

Distance: Approx. 42 miles

Established: 1996

No doubt, you have heard about this run.

Technically, this is not an organized race with a singular start time, rather, it is a run that many, many people train for each years.  For those planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike or run is tough. It is highly advised that only those with proper preparation and an understanding of hiking and running attempt it, especially for those aiming to complete it in a single day. However, most people take more than one day to finish this particular trail.

This hike/run will take you along the South Kaibab Trailhead (South Rim), Bright Angel Trailhead (South Rim), and the North Kaibab Trailhead (North Rim) – you’re welcome to start your run on either of these. Those looking to tackle this adventure should plan ahead, and it is generally not advised to complete it in the summer due to high temperatures. And, in the winter, the North Rim is inaccessible to vehicles.

You will want a nutrition and hydration plan — this is a long race that will often be in the sun with little relief, depending on when you do it.

13. Run Rabbit Run

Run Rabbit Run

Location: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Month: September

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 2012

The Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile Race is a steep and challenging run, and the actual course can depend on construction in the area. Participants are put into two groups – tortoises and hares – with tortoises having 36 hours to complete the race and hares having only 30.  

Usually, the course will take you through a number of different trails with views of peaks, meadows, creeks, and more. Climbs aren’t to be understated either – they can have a +25% gradient!

For those who want a shorter option, there is also the 50 Mile Course which goes up Mount Werner to Rabbit Ears and back.

14. Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run

Angeles Crest 100

Location: Wrightwood to Altadena, California

Month: August

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 1986

This ultramarathon happens right in the Angeles National Forest. Originally a 30 hour course, it now has a time limit of 33 hours. The actual course has also changed over the years, but a majority of it remains the same. Participants will travel to the top of Mt. Wilson in the San Gabriel mountains, seeing elevations range from 1,135 to 9,300 ft. 

Wildfires, wildlife, and other concerns in the area can and have impacted course changes, so runners should keep on top of the AC100’s website to see the current course.

15. Grand Teton Races

Grand Teton Races

Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Month: May / June

Distance: Varies

Established: 2018

There are two Grand Teton races happening one day after the other: the 5K race and the half marathon. It’s a great route if you don’t want to deal with too much elevation change – it only changes about a hundred feet. But it’s still said to be a challenge.

Participants will mostly stick to a wide paved road with the half marathon, but with stunning views of the Teton range and Snake River. The 5K has a similar start, but also includes a jogging trail, loop, and pasture.

For those looking for other great races in the area, the Yellowstone Half Marathon and Yellowstone 5K happen the following week each year.

16. Superior Trail Races

Superior Trail Race

Location: Lutsen, Minnesota

Month: May

Distance: Varies

Established: 1991

Northern Minnesota is surprisingly rugged, with some classic Northwoods towns and lots of wilderness. There are three trails that make up the Superior Trail Races: 50KM, 25KM, and the 12.5KM. All three take place on the Superior Hiking Trail which is very hilly and rugged. Participants will go along the Sawtooth Mountain Range and have views of Lake Superior, forests, peaks, rivers, streams, and more.

The 25KM and 50KM are out and back – they both start and finish at the Caribou Highlands Lodge. The 12.5K is point to point (and also finishes at the Lodge). The 50KM has a time limit of 9 hours.

17. Vermont 50

Vermont 50

Location: Brownsville, Vermont

Month: September

Distance: 50 miles

Established: 1993

The Vermont 50 Ultra Run takes place during the last weekend in September, and takes place on paved roads, unpaved roads, gravel roads, ATV trails, hiking trails, and more. Participants should expect uphill climbs, but little in the way of obstacles like roots ready to trip you – they keep the trail well maintained. 

Due to the fact that some of the run happens on private lands, the course can change year to year.

The site is also home to the Vermont 50 Mountain Bike Race and the 50K, both of which happen the same weekend as the Ultra Run.

18. Eastern States 100

Eastern States 100

Location: Waterville, Pennsylvania

Month: August

Distance: 100 miles

Established: 2013

The Eastern States 100 covers the scenic and rugged terrain of the Allegheny Plateau (and it’s actually 103 miles). A challenging course, participants can expect steep climbs, technical descents, rocky trails, varied terrain, and 20,000+ feet of climbing. You wouldn’t think there is that much elevation in central PA, but this is part of the broader Appalachian range and everything is a roller.

This particular race starts and ends at the Little Pine State Park. Racers will have to scramble across moss covered stones, watch out for rattlesnakes, and avoid stinging nettles, but the views make up for it. Stunning vistas and beautiful forests can be seen throughout the trail full of oak-hickory, blueberry, mountain laurel, and more. 

19. JFK 50 Mile

JFK 50 Mile

Location: Boonsboro, Maryland

Month: November

Distance: 50 miles

Established: 1963

In 1963, several 50 mile events were held throughout the country thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s interest in helping the country become fit. While most were not repeated after the president was assassinated later that year, the JFK 50 Mile continued on. It is in spirit a military race but is now open to the public.

This particular course starts on a road, but quickly joins the Appalachian Trail. Participants should be prepared for rocky sections, steep switchbacks, big elevation changes, and challenging descents. The final portion of the JFK 50 Mile though is flat, taking place on dirt roads, gravel surfaces, and paved country roads.

This race starts in downtown Boonsboro and finishes in Williamsport.

20. Mount Mitchell Challenge

credit: Mount Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon Facebook Page

Location: Black Mountain, North Carolina

Month: February

Distance: 40 miles

Established: 1998

The Mount Mitchell Challenge is a challenge indeed! It takes runners up to the highest point in the eastern United States: Mount Mitchell’s summit of 6,684 feet. Then back down. The total elevation gain is 4,324 feet as the starting point is Black Mountain at an altitude of 2,360 feet. 

A point to point route, this trail can be difficult and physically demanding. And since it takes place in February, snow and cold weather is always a concern. If access is limited to the course, the organizers will work to determine alternate options. 

Courses for the Mount Mitchell Challenge can change regularly due to access concerns, so keeping on top of the latest is essential. The surrounded area, with Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountains nearby, are worth hanging around and exploring for a while after the race.

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