If you had asked me a few years ago if I was a trail runner I would have said “does that mean running along the canals?” Ha! I had no idea what trail running was or where in Arizona you could even go to do such a thing. I was a ‘roadie’ through and through. Road biking, road running, road racing.
What I didn’t realize, while surrounded by all of the noise and car exhaust, is that Arizona is quite peaceful and BEAUTIFUL! I didn’t even have to look far to find it. I could blend my love of the outdoors with my love of running. Did you know, if you stand in the middle of Tempe, you have no less than 6-8 different trail running options within 30 minutes?
• Papago Park
• Hawes Trail
• Usery Mountain Park
• McDowell Mountain
• San Tan Mountain
• South Mountain
• Ahwatukee Foothills
• Phoenix Mountain Preserve
My love of trail running comes from my love of nature. I feel completely energized by some good time in the sun and fresh air. However, my motivation to find the trails was more than seeking out the natural beauty of Arizona. I am training for a charity endurance event in May that will take me over, around, and through a couple of national forests and will be very hilly and challenging. Hitting the Arizona trails is just what I need to properly prepare myself for this fete.
Although I may be taking on a crazy ultra endurance event for charity, not everyone wants to run 5 marathons in five days! The great thing about these trails is you don’t have to be a runner to visit and enjoy them. Walking, hiking, mountain biking, even riding a horse are all fun options. Some days my favorite thing to do is to grab my family with no plan or agenda, head out to the mountains and enjoy the trails. It reminds me why I chose Arizona to make my home. When it comes to running, here are the trails that make my top three.
Number One: San Tan Mountain Regional Park
I find myself out at San Tan frequently. Okay yes this is closest to my home making it the most convenient, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the beauty and many trail options available at San Tan. Not to mention the 360 degree views at the top of the Gold Mine trail. Ahhhh I can hear the quiet desert sounds now…. Well, except for those coyotes in the distance! I’m kidding, they’re harmless.
Number Two: Usery Mountain Park (including Pass Mountain)
I’ll be honest, I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this location. I love the view from the top, but I secretly grumble through one section that is pretty rocky. It’s ALWAYS worth it as I crest the peak of Pass Mountain and I never question why I chose to visit Usery Park. If I’m not up for the challenge of Pass Mountain I can always enjoy the foothill trails or hike up to the Wind Caves instead. You can see the famous Phoenix sign from here.
Number Three: Phoenix Mountain Preserve
Phoenix Mountain Preserve boasts some truly beautiful trails and also includes the popular Piestewa Peak hike which is the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains, after Camelback Mountain. It’s pretty high! It’s a further drive for me personally so I don’t get to run here often but it is gorgeous! It’s one of those places where you feel like you could just run forever.
I could really go on and on about the great trail options we have in Arizona and what I love about each one. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to do some of your own exploring I’ve found that the AllTrails app is a great tool to find trails near you and provides maps and routes you can follow. It also lists the difficulty level from easy, moderate to hard. This app has also been a lifesaver when I found myself turned around on a trail I’d never been on before and I was able to find my way back on the right path. If you prefer not to hit the trails alone or want to find like-minded people to trail run with Aravaipa Running hosts weekly group trail runs rotating locations all over the valley.
In May I will be running 136 miles across the state of Utah (in just 5 days) as part of the MS Run the US Relay. This is something I am very passionate about. My brother has Multiple Sclerosis and I’m using my love of running to bring awareness and hopefully one day a cure for this horrible disease. If you want more info you can check out my story at bitly.com/lauraruns4ms. In the meantime, come join me on the trails! Happy running!
Guest Writer: Laura Miles Laura is a runner, triathlete and Ironman. Having completed running distances from 5k’s to full marathons, and triathlons from sprints to Ironman, she will be adding ultramarathons, 50k trail races, and running across America with MS Run The US in 2018. She loves to be outdoors, and spending time with her one year old and fiancé.