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Tired of seeing the same houses, trees and cracks in the pavement on your neighborhood running route? It might just be time to expand your horizons to any of Oregon’s incredible running trails, where you can run to your heart’s content on dirt, gravel or pavement and soak up some of the state’s most gorgeous landscapes. Here’s a roundup of top running spots in Oregon, recommended by local running-shop experts.
Once you lace up, plan your trip to catch a glimpse of the pros at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Eugene’s newly renovated Hayward Field, scheduled for July 15-24, 2022. Here’s how to get ready for the big event. Tickets go on sale July 15, 2021.
You don’t have to leave the city for phenomenal trails if you don’t want to. Clay Lambourne, manager of Portland Running Company’s Northwest Portland location, says Forest Park, just a few minutes from the store, is the ultimate go-to for many runners. Consider starting a section of the 30-mile Wildwood Trail at Washington Park, where you can park at the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial or ride the MAX from downtown Portland. Avoid crowds by going early or midweek, or download a map to find another route among the 80-plus miles of trail in all. When in doubt, try the 11.2-mile Leif Erickson Trail, an extra-wide dirt and gravel fire lane that can accommodate varying paces of runners, hikers and cyclists. Always remember to be a good trail user and share the space.
On Portland’s east side, Lambourne recommends the flat, beginner-friendly trails at several neighborhood parks including Alberta Park, Irvington Park, Wilshire Park and Fernhill Park, which has a track on it. Powell Butte Nature Park features no less than 21 trails of different surfaces and distances for runners and hikers, with views of Mt. Hood in the distance.
Running, Lambourne says, “is just a way to escape, be in nature and have some time to yourself, almost like a meditation.” Or if you’re looking to socialize, the shop hosts two group runs per week and is also hosting various organized runs — a great way to stretch those goals. “There’s a big sense of community you can get involved with,” he says.
There’s no better running community than Eugene, Oregon’s legendary TrackTown USA. Home of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Track & Field this past June, Eugene is chock-full of accessible urban and forested trails with big payoffs. Dustin Pearce, owner of Run Hub Northwest in Eugene, gets asked about his favorite local trails so often that he’s posted a handy map and guide to 18 of them on his store website. His top recommendations include the Ridgeline Trail System (4 to13 miles), with moderate to challenging inclines. For epic views of the Willamette Valley and beyond, head to the Main Summit Trail or the less-crowded West Trail to the summit of Spencer Butte. Pearce’s personal favorite, he says, is Mount Pisgah Arboretum, which presents lots of options including an 8-mile scenic and flat jaunt if you aren’t wanting to go to the summit. Bring a map or a friend familiar with the routes, as well as cash or credit card for the parking fee.
The third destination-worthy run Pearce recommends is the McKenzie River Trail, just over an hour east of Eugene along the McKenzie River Scenic Byway. The 26-mile National Recreation Trail — open to all users — escaped heavy damage from the recent Holiday Farm wildfire. Stopping into local businesses for a slice of pie or a cup of coffee is a great way to show your love to the McKenzie River area. If you’d like to run the entire trail with support, consider signing up for the annual McKenzie River Trail Run, Oregon’s oldest ultramarathon, set for Sept. 11, 2021.
“I think people are ready to get out and do things,” Pearce says of the number of runners looking to get out in nature. “During the pandemic, running stores were able to thrive because people weren’t able to do a whole lot else.”
Ashland is a hot spot for runners in Southern Oregon, full of easy-access mountains with stellar views and well-maintained trails. Noble Boutin, a sales associate at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland, says a top destination is the Ashland Watershed — a multiuse trail system with more than 45 trails. Some of his personal favorite sections, Boutin says, are the Wonder Trail (1.5 miles), Red Queen (1.8 miles), Alice in Wonderland (1 mile) and Toothpick Trail (1 mile). Each of the singletrack trails are shared with mountain bikers, so be sure to be considerate of all users. If you still want more, the 10-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail at Mt. Ashland is also a favorite, with plenty of free parking. Do an out-and-back of your choice or have a friend give you a shuttle back.
Because of the number of volunteers in the Ashland area who perform trail maintenance, “all of the trails are well kept, beautiful, runnable and accessible to anyone,” Boutin says. “We really like it because you can essentially train for the vertical profile of any big trail race in the world and mimic those scenarios in our trail system, because the elevation gain and descent are so great.” Whether you’re just finding your pace or you’re an ultra-runner training for a PR, Southern Oregon is a runner’s wonderland. “People are very excited to get out and start running again,” Boutin says.