Trail Races You Need to Run This Spring

The days are getting longer, the weather’s getting warmer, and the trails will soon blossom with lush foliage and happy runners.

With moderate temperatures and less snow and ice on the trails, spring is an ideal time to run a few key races. Here are 10 trail events of varying distances that don’t disappoint in challenge, organization, and scenery.

Marin Ultra Challenge
Where: Mt. Tamalpais State Park, California
When: March 11, 2017
Distance: 25K, 50K, 50 miles

Explore Marin County, home to some of California’s most scenic and challenging trails during this early spring event. You’ll start in Sausalito underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, you’ll run through Muir Woods and climb along the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais. Heavenly coastal views await.

Behind the Rocks
Where: Moab, Utah
When: March 25, 2017
Distance: 30K, 50K, 50 miles

Photo: TRP contributor Kim Conner

Mad Moose Events created this trail race series to highlight the Behind the Rocks Wilderness Area, Moab’s hidden gem. Take in the stunning domes, arches, and deep canyons that define this wondrous area. Technical but mostly runnable trails, with some serious climbs, comprise each course. 50-milers encounter a few steep ledge sections that you have to climb down. Reward: Enchiladas at the finish.

Yamacraw Trail Race
Where: Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky
When: April 8, 2017
Distance: 10K, 20K, 50K

Run by the Big South Fork OF THE Cumberland River, gushing waterfalls, and rock overhangs in southern Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. With almost 4,000 feet of climbing on mostly singletrack trails, this is a challenging but not brutal point-to-point course with multiple stream crossings. You’ll finish by running over the Cumberland on a 100-foot-tall pedestrian bridge. This race is great for 50K first-timers.

Ozark Foothills Trail Race
Where: St. Louis, Missouri
When: April 8, 2017
Distance: 25K, 50K

Situated about 25 minutes outside of St. Louis, Missouri, the Ozark Foothills 25 and 50K takes place in the forested confines of Greensfelder County Park. The courses offer long but runnable climbs, speedy downhills, and mildly technical singletrack. The 50K is a USA Track & Field Association Championship race and part of the 50K Mashup series, which includes ultras all over the Midwest. There’s even barbecue and craft beer at the finish. Can’t beat that!

Fonta Flora Half Marathon
Where: Lake James State Park, North Carolina
When: April 22, 2017
Distance: Half marathon

Photo: TRP contributor Brandon Thrower

Beer and trail running go together like coffee and doughnuts. This eastern North Carolina half starts and finishes at Fonta Flora Brewery’s Whippoorwill Farm—ideal for a post-run pint. The fast course features only 800 feet of elevation gain on streamside singletrack and mountain bike paths. Along the way, you’ll see Lake James and Shortoff Mountain. Race director Brandon Thrower started the race, and a few others, to bring awareness to areas in need of conservation. Whether you’re a speedster or a first-timers, this race is for you.

7 Sisters Trail Race
Where: Amherst, Massachusetts
When: May 6, 2017
Distance: 12 miles

Considered the most challenging trail race in the Northeast, 7 Sisters features 3,500 feet of elevation gain over 12-ish miles. The out-and-back course follows the Holyoke Range ridgecrest, located on the outskirts of Amherst, Massachusetts, providing nice Appalachian views… if you can look up from the rocky, rooty singletrack. The low-key event attracts some of New England’s top trail runners as well as runners who just want to see if they can finish.

Ice Age Trail Race
Where: La Grange, Wisconsin
When: May 13, 2017
Distance: Half marathon, 50K, 50 miles

The oldest continuously running 50-miler in the Midwest, the Ice Age Trail 50 and its shorter cousins take you through dense forests, across open prairies, and over rocky ridges in historic parkland near La Grange, Wisconsin. If you want a competitive race, you’ll find it here. If you want to finish your first ultra, these courses provide optimal conditions: a little over 4,000 feet of climbing for the 50K and about 7,500 for the 50-mile. Reward: post-race BBQ.

Boulder Mountain Marathon and 10-Mile Ascent
Where: Boulder, Colorado
When: May 21, 2017
Distance: 10 miles, marathon

Photo: TRP contributor Todd Straka

Find out why professional runners migrate to Boulder when you visit for this popular trail marathon. With an elevation gain of about 3,800 feet and lots of wide dirt paths, the course is very runnable. But remember, it tops out at 9,000 feet, so the effort may feel like breathing through a straw. Let the pine and aspen forests and mountain views take your mind off the suffering.

Grand Canyon Trail Race
Where: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
When: May 27, 2017
Distance: Half marathon, 50K, 50 miles

Grand Canyon 50K | Photo: TRP contributor Matt Anderson

A run in the Grand Canyon tops many a bucket list. Ultra Adventures’ Grand Canyon event provides an opportunity to run on the North Rim’s forest service trails, away from the tourists, with spectacular views of the iconic canyon. The 50K and 50-mile both feature a steep five-mile section dubbed the “Barkley” for its ruggedness. Both routes also descend 1,000 feet over the last five miles.

Lake Chabot Trail Challenge
Where: Castro Valley, California
When: June 4, 2017
Distance: 5K, half marathon

Explore the open, rolling hills of the eastern San Francisco Bay Area during this challenging half marathon. The route starts on a paved bike path that circles Lake Chabot. You hit dirt about two miles later and immediately start climbing, mostly on wide, sunny fire roads. The race is part of the East Bay Triple Crown, a three-race trail series in and near Oakland, California.