Plan your next holiday around one of these exceptional destinations for trail running. We've picked a mix, with options for solo exploring and also trips based around a race
A running holiday is the perfect choice for those who want to take some time away (so – everyone) but still want to keep active. Trail running is essentially extreme sight-seeing. Only, instead of gazing upon a pleasant view from a bench at the summit of a hill and taking it in as if it were an oil painting, trail runners gaze upon a pleasant view and then charge at it. Move through it. Transfigure it, an ever-changing smudge of a charcoal landscape. It’s an exhilarating activity, and certainly does wonders for your health and wellbeing, which is why we at Outdoors Magic strongly recommend that you give it a try if you haven’t yet.
Luckily, the world is full of places you can run. Obviously you can run anywhere, but established trails are definitely the better bet. And there’s nothing more thrilling than entering a race and testing your skills and determination against an army of peers. So, we’ve gathered together our top 10 picks for places to take a running holiday, and some bonus information about local competitions and festivals.
Hadrian’s Wall, UK
End-to-end, this historic stone wall stretches seventy-three miles across the northern plains of the UK, and it’s remarkably well-preserved given its age. Built in AD 122 by the Roman Emperor Hayden, you can run right alongside the in-tact sections and trace the footsteps of ancient legionaries. The National Trail route along it is well waymarked, meaning you can put the map down and take in the fascinating ruins and sights along the way.
Running the full length can be a three-, four-, even five-day affair if you want to progress leisurely and enjoy stops at several mile castles, forts, and nearby quaint Northumbrian towns. However, you could also take on the full trail in a single day by signing up for The Wall, a yearly ultramarathon run by Rat Race in support of Children with Cancer UK.
This popular event begins with participants charging out of Carlisle Castle in an epic stampede, and you’ll cross the finish line overlooking the River Tyne, halfway across Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Bookings for June 18th 2022 are already sold out, but registration for June 17th 2023 is now open.
Selva Val Gardena, Italy
Selva is the highest of the three towns within the Dolomites’ Gardena Valley (Val Gardena) and the Puez-Odles Natural Park begins right at the edge of it, making it the perfect base camp for daily excursions into alpine trail runs. Experienced runners can challenge themselves with the Puez trail, a 15km (9.3mi) circuit around the Mont de Seura which features some thrilling rocky surfaces and immense views.
Val Gardena’s Saslong Half Marathon is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful half marathon events in Europe, moving through a luscious woodland before ascending to over 2,300 meters above sea level and looping around the Sassolungo range. It kicks off in June 2022, though if you’re headed to the Italian hills during the cooler months, we’d recommend you go in September and catch the Dolomitale Film Festival. The trails are all still accessible, and the evenings always present a fresh screening against an unbelievable backdrop.
Cornwall Coast, UK
Head down to the southwest of England to find some of the most well-furnished and well-trodden running trails on the island. We’ve covered some of the best walks in Cornwall, but nothing beats running alongside the bristling blue ocean.
Cornwall’s entire coastal perimeter, which totals 460km (286 miles), is tracked by the Southwest Coast Path, which not only serves as an excellent long-distance run, but which can also be used to explore the hundreds of trails which splinter off from the coast and run into the inland hills. You could get away with turning up and exploring the winding routes around any of the popular towns, and we’d recommend St. Ives for a good combination of coastal and woodland runs, or Tintagel for a healthy dose of British mythology – legend has it that King Arthur was born there. For the competitive runner, arrive July 16th 2022 and join one of four possible routes on the Roseland August Trail Race Series.
Granada and Sierra Nevada, Spain
Granada is like the San Francisco of Spain. It’s chock full of hills and artists, ancient history and modern culture. It’s also home to several exciting routes which start and end in the city with a long excursion out to the foothills in the middle.
Pick any established loop which passes the Carrera del Darro and run under the intimidating-yet-beautiful Alhambra palace. At higher elevations, we’d highly recommend touring the Sacromonte hillside neighbourhoods and checking out the centuries-old caves which are still lived-in today. Just behind these dwellings are the Sierra Nevada mountains. This challenging national park holds a wide variety of athletic competitions during summer. For serious competitors, no trail running event will surpass the winter IBEX Multi-Day, a five-stage series around Granada which runs from December 23rd to the 27th and offers participants luxury mountainside accommodation. Registration is open now but extremely limited.
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil
Towards the southern tip of Brazil, and at the very north of Argentina, two sister national parks share a system of running trails almost as expansive as their surrounding system of waterfalls. The Iguaçu Falls cascade into the Iguazu River which, for a part of its length, forms the very border between these nations.
We’d recommend posting up in the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu which sits on the edge of the Iguassu National Park, where the yearly Cataratas Half Marathon takes place. Here, participants can take a tour of the iconic falls and experience the epic scale of South America’s verdant and mountainous geography.
The Lake District, UK
This UNESCO heritage site and national park is revered in Britain as a haven for trail runners (or fell runners, in these parts) as well as all outdoor enthusiasts. The vast landscape is filled with trails of all different lengths and difficulties, and the abundant peaks and ridges can leave you feeling totally remote and embroiled in nature without ever actually getting too far from civilisation.
We recommend heading north where you can discover the diverse wildlife and freely explore the trails in Whinlatter Forest. Just 10 minutes away, you could spend your weekend at the Keswick Mountain Festival from May 20th to the 22nd. One of the UK’s most popular outdoor events, this Spring festival combines an extensive program of trail runs, water sports and cycling with live music and talks at the Theatre by the Lake. Over 20,000 attendees come from all over, and Keswick town is a vibrant and historic host. Plan your running holiday around this event and you’ll never be at a loss for something active to do.
Rotorua, New Zealand
New Zealand’s landscape is so varied, touring the country can feel like trekking across the globe on fast-forward (and with much cleaner air). Up and down the island, you’ll find hundreds of spots to plan a running holiday around.
Explore the misty, volcanic planes of Tongariro National Park, look down over the Banks Peninsula from the Summit Walkway, or compete in the 102km (63mi) point-to-point Tarawera Ultra Marathon. This prestigious course starts amongst ancient tress in Rotorua’s Redwood Forest and takes runners past a series of silver streams and waterfalls as well as four great lakes, the final of which will greet you at the finish line on Lakefront Drive. This run is stepped in Maori culture, celebrating New Zealand’s history and featuring sights of immense cultural pride.
Cape Town, South Africa
This coastal region of South Africa is iconic for its bayside mountain ranges, especially the unique Table Mountain range on the northern end of the high, rocky Cape Peninsula. Table Mountain, known for its signature flat top (hence the name) is believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world, around 600 millions years. It’s one of the new 7 natural world wonders and exploring it will reveal one of the richest floral biospheres on Earth, over 70% of the flowers are endemic to the mountain.
There are several trails leading up and along the ridges of this mountain range, but it is imperative that you reach Chapman’s Peak, the highest point in the Cape from which you can see the entire peninsula in 360 degrees. One trail which leads to Chapman’s Peak also forms part of the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon (56km, 34.7mi) which takes place each year, usually on Easter weekend.
Las Vegas, U.S.A.
Indeed, there is far more to this shining town in the heart of Nevada than extravagant casinos and questionable 24-hour diners. Head out towards the Red Rocks National Conservation Area to find a range of pristine, burning orange running trails. The climate tends to be dry (very dry), which is obviously preferable for some runners, but the sheer temperatures are no joke, so we’d still recommend planning your trip for the colder months.
If you arrive in Autumn, you could consider participating in the Red Rock Canyon 100k hosted by Desert Dash. The first leg of this route is varied and accessible, slowly dipping down in the middle before ramping up with consistent elevation increases right up to the final few miles which are a huge relief of a descent through Red Valley, finally arriving in Blue Diamond. These are real place names. There’s also a 50km (31mi) format. Both routes promise to guide runners through ancient Aztec sandstone canyons and limestone formations formed over millions of years.
Mont Blanc, France
When it comes to trail running events, the absolute crème de la crème is the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Perhaps the most prestigious mountain race of all, UTMB has grown into a worldwide powerhouse organisation since it launched in 2003. It takes place annually either on the last weekend in August or the first of September, and follows the Tour du Mont Blanc route through 18 French, Italian and Swiss municipalities, all coming together to support this tremendous event. The distance is approximately 171km, or 106 miles.
We recommend attending even if you aren’t participating in any of the seven races being held at this year’s event. The atmosphere amongst the supporters and spectators (of whom there tends to be at least 50,000) is inspirational to say the least. Leading ultra-runners come from all across the world, and the mutual love that the entire trail running community shares is palpable and exhilarating. You’ll certainly still get plenty of runs in, and maybe find some likeminded companions along the way. The towns and villages of the Pays du Mont-Blanc are also hosting mini-festivities and are glad to welcome the influx of trail runners. It’s truly an experience unlike any other, and a pilgrimage any runner worth their salt must inevitably make.
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