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Run Off-Road: 8 Picturesque Trail Runs

Intro

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The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is just one place to get off-road.
(Image credit: NPS.)

Summer is here and the outdoors beckons. If you're a runner, you're probably checking out the summer race schedule. Sure, there are plenty of road races, but to experience all our amazing planet has to offer, go off-road during one of the summer's stunning trail races.

Many of the races here are ultramarathons, which is any run farther than 26.2 miles (42.1 kilometers). But there's something here for everyone; traditional marathons (26.2 miles, 42.1 km), half-marathons (13.1 miles, 21 km), 10 Ks (6.2 miles), long walks or in one case, a bike race. Even if you aren't big on running, these trails are in some of the most scenic locations imaginable. Get out there and enjoy!

Taylor Mountain Tahoma-Maple Valley, Wash.

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The trail awaits.
(Image credit: KingCounty.gov.)

New for 2011 is an addition to the Evergreen Trail Run series, the most popular trail run series in terms of participants, with 3,500 runners each year. The race is run on single-track trails on Washington's Taylor Mountain. The trails guide runners through the lush Pacific Northwest forests and past streams, with breathtaking views of Mount Rainer along the run.

Leadville 100-Mile Trail Run - Leadville, Colo.

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2009 Leadville 100-Mile Trail Run finisher Larry DeWitt (foreground) descends toward Twin Lakes.
(Image credit: Rick Hessek)

Run 50 miles (80 km) deep into the Colorado Rockies then turn around and run back.

The famous Leadville 100-Mile Trail Run is considered one of the most grueling endurance challenges around. The 100-mile (160-km) race, detailed in the popular bestseller "Born to Run," by Christopher McDougall (Knopf, 2009) was nicknamed the "Race Across the Sky."

Leadville is about the Rockies. Forest trails whisk runners through pine and aspen forests and up and down mountains. The trail hits a high point of 12,600 feet (3,800 km) at Hope Pass, the centerpiece of the run.

If you aren't up for a 100-mile run, Leadville also has shorter runs through the Rockies.

Pinhoti 100 Heflin, Ala.

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The view from Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama.
(Image credit: Public Domain.)

So you don't want to run in the summer heat? Then put the Pinhoti 100 on your calendar. This 100-mile (80-km) point-to-point race takes runners over the highest point in Alabama, offering spectacular views of the fall colors in the Appalachian Mountains.

Runners climb over rocks, splash through creeks and follow the ridgelines of Talladega National Forest. Nearly the entire course is on the unmolested Pinhoti single-track trail (Pinhoti is the Creek Indian word for "turkey home"). The trail is the longest hiking trail in Alabama and neighboring Georgia.

Crater Lake Crater Lake National Park, Ore.

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(Image credit: NASA/JSC)

This run takes place at one of the most amazing National Park structures. Runners follow the trails around Crater Lake, formed from the caldera of Mount Mazama. The event offers runs of different distances, but they all cross rugged mountain and provide breathtaking views.

Part of the Cascades volcanic chain, Mount Mazama sits between the Three Sisters volcanoes to the north and Mount Shasta to the south.

The catastrophic eruption of Mount Mazama that occurred approximately 7,700 years ago destroyed the volcano while simultaneously forming the basin for Crater Lake . Eruptive activity continued in the region for perhaps a few hundred years after the major eruption.

Wizard Island, in the middle of the image above, is a cinder cone volcano that erupted after Crater Lake began to fill with water.

Badwater Ultramarathon Death Valley, Calif.

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The salt flats of Badwater Basin.
(Image credit: NPS.)

This non-stop run stretches over 100 miles (80 km) from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, Calif. It's not just the distance that's brutal, it's the heat, too. Temperatures can soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in the shade. The race's organizers call it "the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet."

Obviously, not everyone is cut out for this run. But the race covers some of California's most stunning terrain. The original idea was to guide runners from the lowest to the highest points in the contiguous United States. Runners start at 282 feet (85 m) below sea level in Death Valley, and end 8,360 feet (2,548 m) above sea level at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. The race ends at the entrance to the John Muir Wilderness, home to the most spectacular and highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Leona Divide Lake Huges, Calif.

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Angeles National Forest.
(Image credit: USDA.)

Don't be fooled by the name of the infamous "Nasty Grade" part of the course. This trail run covers beautiful trails in Southern California. The course cuts through the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes, climbing up and down the San Gabriel Mountains, home to stunning old-growth trees.

Ice Age Run La Grange, Wis.

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The Plover RIver is filled with boulders left behind from a glacier.
(Image credit: NPS.)

An ideal race for first time ultrarunners, the Ice Age Run follows the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in the southern part of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, about 60 miles (100 km) south of Milwaukee. The ultramarathon race is 50 miles (80 km) long, but there are plenty of aid stations along the exclusively off-road course.

The trail takes runners on a tour of unique geologic features left by the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago, including the last glacier in the state. The terrain ranges from flat and soft, grassy double-track to twisting and technical single-track

Western States Endurance Run Squaw Valley, Calif.

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Straight ahead: Emigrant's Gap.
(Image credit: Public Domain.)

No list of trail runs is complete without the Western States Endurance Run. Founded in 1977, it's one of the oldest ultra trail runs in the world. Runners begin in Squaw Valley, Calif., and finish 100 miles (160 km) later in Auburn, Calif., the "Endurance Capital of the World." In between, runners climb Emigrant Pass, an 8,750-foot tall (2,667 m) mountain, following the trails used by the gold and silver miners of the 1850's.

But wait, there's more. Runners also climb another 15,000 feet (4,572 m)and then all the way back down to the finish line. And the trails are pristine; they are only accessible to hikers, horses and helicopters.