The 50 Most Gorgeous Running Races in America, State by State
Running is always better with a view. That’s why we rounded up the most scenic races in every state—from roads to trails, cities to country, mountains to prairies, and 5Ks to ultramarathons, these events all promise well organized and extremely rewarding courses, with new sights to delight your mind (and distract your tired muscles) every mile.
Unless otherwise noted, the cities listed here are the races’ starting locations. Some events may already be sold out for their next running, so check their websites for up-to-date details. Then, book your travel and start training, because these 50 runs are definitely worth the trip.
Little River Canyon Half Marathon, Fort Payne
Jacksonville State University and the Little River Canyon Center sponsor this annual small-town half marathon—last year’s race had just over 100 runners—held every October. The paved-road course offers 5 miles of breathtaking views along the canyon’s rim, then drops into gently rolling farm country.
Crow Pass Crossing, Girdwood
Competitor magazine called this 22.5-mile point-to-point course one of its 21 most-scenic trail races. It runs along Crow Pass National Historic Trail in Chugach State Park, and is not for the faint of heart: Runners are on their own for most of the course (no medical or aid stations) and, at one point, must cross a quarter-mile, thigh-deep glacial river. It’s held every July and is limited to 150 entries.
Held every February, both the 50-mile and the 50K (31-mile) courses overlook the world-famous Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River—but only the 50-miler passes through the spectacular red-orange Upper Antelope Canyon, one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. The half marathon skips the canyons, but still has great views of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam.
Little Rock Marathon, Little Rock
Runner’s World magazine called this one of its favorite “little marathons,” and noted its charming and varied course as one of the reasons: The race, held every March, “starts and finishes in the shadow of the state capitol, winds past antebellum mansions in the (hilly) historic residential area called Quapaw Quarters, and runs out-and-back along a scenic road by the Arkansas River.” There’s also a half marathon, 10K, and 5K held the same weekend.
Big Sur International Marathon, Big Sur
Conde Nast Traveler named this one of the country’s most scenic road races, thanks to its long coastal stretch on State Highway 1 and the chance to run across the iconic Bixby Bridge. If you’re not up for a full marathon just yet, sign up for the 21-miler (held concurrently with the marathon, in April) or the half marathon (held separately, in November), instead.
Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run, Manitou Springs
“Big hills, awesome rocks, all challenge” is the motto of this long-running road race, which takes participants on a hilly loop through Garden of the Gods Park—a National Natural Landmark filled with 300-foot towering sandstone rock formations. If that’s not enough, you’ve also got views of Colorado’s majestic mountains on the horizon.
Lime Rock Half Marathon, Salisbury
A race that starts and ends on a track doesn’t sound too scenic—but this June half marathon will not disappoint. Its out-and-back course winds along beautiful roads in the southern Berkshire Mountains region, and finishes (under a checkered flag!) with a lap in historic Lime Rock Park, the third-oldest continuously operating road-racing track in the country. Two laps of the track also serve as a fun 5K.
Coastal Delaware Running Festival, Dewey Beach
This April weekend hosts a marathon, half marathon, 9K, and 5K, all of which are flat and fast with scenic ocean views. The longer races begin in Delaware Seashore State Park, traverse the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk, pass through the Gordons Pond Wildlife Area, and finish at the Dewey Beach lighthouse.
Keys 100, Key Largo
Run the whole 100 miles yourself or do it as part of a six-runner team; either way, you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in the Sunshine state. The race takes you down U.S. Highway 1 (and over lots of hilly bridges) to Key West’s Higgs Beach—very close to the southernmost point in the United States. Held every May, there are also 50-mile and 50K options.
Peach Jam Half Marathon & 5K, Cumming
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution included this pair of races in its Spring 2016 roundup of “runs with a view” in the Atlanta metro area. They take place in April on the Big Creek Greenway—a wide, well-maintained concrete and boardwalk path that meanders through the woods and along the babbling Big Creek. “Running here,” the AJC says, “you’re more likely to hear the natural call of ducks, squirrels, and other wildlife than the sounds of traffic.”
Known as the “crown jewel of trail running,” this race series is held every December. Though it's considered a "World Championship" race, anyone can enter any of the various distances: 21K (13 miles—just short of a half-marathon), 10K, or 5K, plus an adventure walk and a kids’ race. Its setting is the lush, green Kualoa Ranch; you may recognize its rainforests, valleys, beaches, and sheer cliff faces from shows and movies like LOST, Jurassic Park, and Pearl Harbor.
Scenic Half Marathon, Sandpoint
The name says it all: This out-and-back race, held in September, takes runners across the iconic Long Bridge, with panoramic views of Lake Pend Orielle and the surrounding mountains. The half marathon takes place half on paved pedestrian and bike paths, and half on the rural Lakeshore Drive. There’s also a 10K and 5K option.
Chicago Marathon, Chicago
Every October, approximately 45,000 people run the Chicago Marathon, one of the country’s largest and most competitive marathons. The race also has some of the most enjoyable—and varied—scenery. “The course winds through 29 neighborhoods, giving you a run-by tour of can’t-miss spots like Wrigley Field, Chinatown, and Lake Michigan,” says Runner’s World magazine.
These September road races (there’s a 5K option, as well) start and finish along Lake Michigan in Marquette Beach Park, surrounded by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Not only do you get a sea breeze and lake views along much of the course, but you can glimpse the Chicago skyline in the distance, as well.
Mines of Spain Trail Races, Dubuque
Trail Runner magazine called this half marathon a bucket-list destination race, thanks to its “long, steep climbs along river bluffs, technical singletrack, ski trails through prairies, creek crossings, and some 2,000 feet of climbing.” The race (and its companion 5K and 10K) is held every August; with registration capped at 250 runners, it usually sells out quickly.
Lake Perry Rocks!, Meriden
This October race series has three different distance options: a 50K (31 miles), half marathon, and 5K. (And dogs can enter, too!) The courses are all on rocky, hilly, singletrack trails, through shaded woods with views of Lake Perry below. Race fees go toward the Kansas Trails Council’s “Friends of the Trail” fund, to benefit the very trails you’re running on.
Cloudsplitter 100, Elkhorn City
If you’re not up for a 100-mile trail race, this October series also offers 100K (62 miles), 50K (31 miles), and 25K (15.5 miles) distances. All four options take place on the Pine Mountain Scenic Trial, in a secluded part of central Appalachia with diverse plant life and spellbinding views of Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Along the way you’ll pass pioneer homesteads, cliffs, waterfalls, caves, enormous sandstone boulders, and more.
Crescent City Classic 10K, New Orleans
Competitor magazine called this one of the 10 must-do 10Ks in the United States. One of the oldest 6.2-milers in the country, it’s become an Easter weekend tradition for more than 20,000 runners, both tourists and locals alike. The race begins in downtown New Orleans and runs through the French Quarter, then up the scenic Esplanade Avenue to New Orleans City Park.
TD Beach to Beacon 10K, Cape Elizabeth
Olympic marathoner (and Maine native) Joan Benoit Samuelson founded this annual August race in order to show runners some of her favorite training grounds and her home state’s beautiful environment. The course does not disappoint: It begins near Crescent Beach State Park and ends next to Portland Head Light, the most photographed lighthouse in America, with tree-lined roads and stunning ocean views the whole way.
River Valley Run Trail Festival, Manchester
This event features five races in one August weekend: Two trail races—15K and 10K—with breathtaking wooded scenery, a 5K race on rolling country roads, a 1-mile kids “stampede,” and a toddler trot for your family’s youngest runners. The 15K wind through the stunning Prettyboy watershed and climb to the highest point on the River Valley Ranch, with near-panoramic views of the Gunpowder Valley. Check out the series’ half marathon, held in April, as well.
7 Sisters Trail Race, Amherst
This 12-mile out-and-back, held each May, follows the ridgeline of the Mount Holyoke Range and looks down on the Connecticut River and Pioneer Valley below. Don’t expect a PR with those views, though: You’ll be climbing roughly 3,700 feet on rocky, singletrack trail, so you might as well slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Grand Island Trail Marathon, Grand Island Township
This race takes place every July along the perimeter of Grand Island, off the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (There’s also a 50K and half marathon.) You’ll run along beaches and through forests, with views of crystal blue water and 300-foot cliffs. The race’s website does point out the location’s tradeoffs: “This is a trail marathon on a wilderness island,” it states. “Do not expect large numbers of spectators and loud music. Expect extraordinarily beautiful views of Lake Superior.” (We’ll take it.)
Lola’s Lake Waconia Half Marathon, Waconia
This road race, held every June, provides a sightseeing tour through the picturesque city of Waconia, a hilly but scenic run along the lake, and a finish in City Square Park. There’s also a two-person half-marathon relay, a 10-mile option, and a dog-friendly 5K run/walk.
Mississippi River Marathon & Half Marathon, Greenville
These races actually start in Arkansas before traveling over the Mississippi River Bridge to finish in downtown Greenville. (Runners meet at the end and are bussed to their starting lines.) The courses are flat and fast; the marathon runs along a scenic lake for the first several miles, and both races offer gorgeous views while crossing the river.
White River Valley Trail Trek, Branson
This June event offers a 5K and a 13K option through the rugged Ozark Mountain region, on the award-winning trails of Table Rock State Park. Both races start and end at the same point, but the longer course travels down along the scenic Lake Taneycomo and climbs 330 feet to the highest point on the course.
Wulfman’s CDT 14K Trail Race, Butte
This race, held on “Summer Solstice Saturday” in June, follows 14 kilometers (about 8.6 miles) along Montana’s Continental Divide Trail between Homestead and Pipestone passes. The singletrack trail has some incredible sights, with sweeping vistas and soaring rock formations everywhere you look. Run it two years in a row and you’ll get a completely different view the second time, since the course switches start-to-finish direction every year.
Nebraska Marathon, Omaha
October 2016 will mark the debut of the full Nebraska Marathon; its half-marathon and 5K companion races were both held for the first time in 2015. Both the half and the full course take runners along the Missouri River through Lewis and Clark Landing and Heartland of America Park, then cross over into Iowa before turning back to the waterfront finish-line festival.
Rock ’n' Roll Marathon’s Strip at Night, Las Vegas
For most race courses, running them at night would mean missing out on the best scenery. But on the famous Las Vegas Strip, after dark is the best time to take in the sights. This November road-race-slash-dance-party (with marathon, half marathon, 10K, and 5K options) begins just as the sun is setting, and treats runners to dazzling lights and upbeat music from start to finish.
Reach the Beach Relay, Bretton Woods
Find 11 friends and form a team for this 200-mile relay that stretches from New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean at Hampton Beach State Park. You’ll pass fields, lakes, vistas, and even the occasional covered bridge. Oh, and it takes place in September—peak season for New England fall foliage.
Belmar Five, Belmar
This small-town Jersey Shore road race attracts several thousand runners every year, thanks to its fast, flat, and scenic course around two lakes and along the Atlantic Ocean. The sea breeze helps keeps runners cool, even in the heat of July, and the finish-line festival at Silver Lake Park is not to be missed.
Santa Fe Thunder Half Marathon, Santa Fe
Few races provide a mix of urban and rural scenery the way this one does: It starts in downtown Santa Fe but quickly climbs into the hills outside of town. From there it’s all downhill (literally) as you drop into the Rio Grande Valley, taking in views of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains. It’s held every September; there’s a 5K and a mile-walk option, as well.