What criteria have we used to come up with our list of the best trail running towns to live in the USA? Well, as trail runners we have a passion for beautiful trails, views, nature and open spaces, so this is key. Additionally, the livability and other amenities of a town are important when choosing a town or city you may want to actually live in, rather than visit for a running vacation.
There are hundreds of small towns in the US that have access to amazing trails nearby, but we also like our comforts and appreciate good coffee and a fun, warm place to socialize with a cool beer, so this has been taken into account when coming up with our list of the best trail running towns to live in.
These are all places we would love to call home ourselves (and in two cases, have done!).
Best Trail Running Towns To Live In The USA
1. Bend, Oregon
There are many good reasons why we chose to move to Bend, one of which being it is undoubtedly one of the best trail running towns to live in in the western US.
Why is Bend a great town for trail runners to live in?
The number one reason for me is that wherever you live in Bend, you can access a quiet, well-maintained and scenic trail within 10 minutes of your home – sometimes even within a mile from home so you can access the trail on foot without even driving anywhere! Bend is a small yet fast-growing city that is attracting not just trail runners but many adventure and mountain sports enthusiasts – mountain biking, climbing, skiing, and kayaking are all popular sports that take advantage of Bend’s proximity to numerous mountains, desert-scapes, forests, lakes, and of course the Deschutes River, on which Bend was founded (the town is named after a bend in the river).
What also makes Bend special is how spoilt for choice you are for things to do when you’re not on the trails, including excellent coffee shops, wine bars, restaurants, and many, many breweries.
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions in Bend – Bend is high, generally dry, and sunny. Most trails are dirt, desert sand, and rocky singletrack. A trip out into the forest or desert nearby will reward you with hundreds of miles of beautiful, quiet trails. It gets very cold and snows in winter however the desert areas attract less snow and are better places to run in winter.
- Famous running trails in Bend – popular trails include the Deschutes River Trail that runs right through town, Smith Rock State Park, the mountain-bike-lover’s ‘Phil’s Trail’ complex is also great for running, and, in summer, trails such as the Green Lakes and Soda Rock trails that take you up into the Sisters Wilderness are incredibly beautiful.
- Recommended coffee shops in Bend – it’s difficult to choose when you’re spoilt for choice here. Our favorite coffee places to hang out are at one of the Backporch Coffee Roasters or Thump Coffee locations. If you feel your coffee shop should be listed here, please get in touch.
- Recommended breweries in Bend – you’re also spoilt for choice when it comes to breweries in Bend, but a couple of our personal favorites are Crux Fermentation Project (especially during sunset for beautiful views) and 10 Barrel Brewing Westside, for a fun, relaxed beer garden vibe, and great food to complement the beer. If you feel your brewery should be on this list, please get in touch.
- Bend population and cost of living – around 100,000 people live in Bend the cost of living is around 25% higher than the national average. Average house prices are around $450,000, which drives the higher-than-average cost of living – although housing is more affordable in nearby Redmond and Sisters.
- Average climate in Bend – Bend has a high-desert climate. The warm summer (Jun–Aug) is the peak for visitors. Winter (Dec–Feb) is chilly with snowfall in the mountains, and often in town (but not always) – things start to warm up really in April. Some mountain area trails are closed except between late Spring/early Summer and Fall.
- Nearest major airport to Bend – Redmond Airport flies to most major Western US cities; for a larger airport the closest is Portland, around 3 hours drive away.
- Fun fact about Bend, Oregon – Bend has been named as one of the most dog-friendly cities in the US!
- Bend, Oregon Tourism Website – https://www.visitbend.com/
Where to stay when visiting Bend
The following are all highly-rated accommodation options in Bend, Oregon:
2. Boulder, Colorado
Why is Boulder a great town for trail runners to live in?
Similar to Bend, Boulder has hundreds of miles of both flat and mountain trails within easy access from town. Boulder is a larger city than Bend, though, and home to college students and a number of large businesses.
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions in Boulder – If you’re after big mountain trails, you can run your heart out in the nearby Rocky Mountains. While Boulder itself is on flat land, the terrain changes quickly up into the Flatirons and foothills of the Rockies, where you can get in some serious vert. Watch out for afternoon thunderstorms, though.
- Famous running trails in Boulder – Chautauqua Park is scenic, and also a starting place for access to trails up the Flatirons, such as via the popular Mesa Trail. Mount Sanitas and Bear Peak Trail are also popular options, but really you have so much choice it will be fun exploring other less-well-known options.
- Recommended coffee shops in Boulder – you can’t beat Boxcar Coffee Roasters, right in downtown Boulder, for a quality coffee and great vibe.
- Recommended breweries and drinking establishments in Boulder – Boulder is home to 20+ microbreweries! Check out Upslope Brewing, one of my favorites.
- Boulder population and cost of living – Population is over 100,000 and cost of living is high – 67% above the national average and average house price of $738,000. It’s worth exploring other nearby towns such as Broomfield and Longmont and the outskirts of Denver, which still offer mountain access but with potential for lower house prices.
- Average climate in Boulder – The summers are warm; the winters are very cold, dry, and windy – it snows here, too.
- Nearest major airport to Boulder – Denver Airport is around 45 minutes’ drive away.
- Fun fact about Boulder, Colorado – Apparently one dog for every five humans visits Boulder Mountain Parks, making it another popular place for trail dogs and dog-lovers.
- Boulder, Colorado Tourism Website – https://www.bouldercoloradousa.com/
Where to stay when visiting Boulder
The following are all highly-rated accommodation options in Boulder, Colorado:
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
Why is Salt Lake City a great town for trail runners to live in?
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions in SLC – Buffed and technical mountain trails adorn the mountains along the Wasatch Mountains that run from north to south to the East of the city. Many areas, such as Alta and Brighton, are world-class ski resorts in winter and trail running havens in summer – this is the place to be if you need to get in some serious vert (and aren’t moving to the European Alps any time soon).
- Famous running trails in SLC – Take your pick. Little Cottonwood Canyon is an Instagrammer’s favorite, Horsetail Falls is also particularly beautiful during wildflower season, and you can even find trails to run on in winter, if you stay closer to the city and on popular routes then the snow can get packed down quickly by other trail users, making it runnable.
- Recommended coffee shops in SLC – Three Pines Coffee and Cupla Coffee both make quality espresso-based drinks.
- Recommended breweries and drinking establishments in SLC – Check out the Toasted Barrel Brewery and Squatters Craft Beers.
- SLC population and cost of living – Around 200,000 people call Salt Lake City home, and it has a lower cost of living than the other mountain cities we’ve featured so far – average house prices are $392,000 and the cost of living is around 18% above the national average.
- Average climate in SLC – the summers are hot, dry, and mostly clear and the winters are very cold, with snowfall mainly between November and February.
- Nearest major airport to SLC – Salt Lake City Airport
- Fun fact about Salt Lake City, Utah – When we lived in the UK Alastair decided he wanted to do a ski challenge in Utah and at the same time raise money for charity. He hadn’t skied for 10+ years but that didn’t stop him – he flew to Salt Lake City and skied all over the Wasatch range. 100,000 vertical feet over six days later, he had done ten year’s worth of skiing in a week, and had the quads to prove it!
- Salt Lake City, Utah Tourism Website – https://www.visitsaltlake.com/
Where to stay when visiting the Salt Lake City area
- Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek
- Sundance Mountain Resort – a great choice to be right by the trails
- Best Western Plus Landmark Inn Utah – this hotel is located in Kimball Junction, which is closer to Park City and the ski resorts (summer trails!) than being in downtown SLC.
4. Fairfax, California
It is impossible to list out the best trail running towns to live in the USA without mentioning a town or city in Marin County, California, which is just to the north of downtown San Francisco – head over the Golden Gate Bridge and you’re there.
Why is Fairfax a great town for trail runners to live in?
Marin County’s landscape is dominated by Mount Tamalpais, a coastal mountain that is covered in beautiful trails. You can travel from the Golden Gate Bridge, on foot, all over this area via trail, which includes the Marin Headlands, Coastal Trail, Dipsea Trail, and hundreds of miles of singletrack and fire roads throughout the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mt Tamalpais State Park. You can ascend into the Mt Tamalpais Watershed and straight over to these trails directly from the town of Fairfax.
There are several other great towns in Marin County to live in for trail runners, such as Mill Valley, and our former home, Larkspur. However, the trails are quieter on the north side of Mt Tam and we have more fun off the trails in the Fairfax area and nearby San Anselmo – it has a more relaxed vibe and sense of community.
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions in Marin – Dreamy coastal California trails – from gnarly rooted forest singletrack to buffed golden trails. It doesn’t rain very often, but when it does, it really rains and things get tricky. Otherwise, the trails are generally dry, runnable and offer epic views of the coast, mountain ridges, the San Francisco bay itself, as well as the city on a clear day – and you can run in beautiful weather most days of the year.
- Famous running trails in Marin – accessible from Fairfax are trails including most of The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile route, including names such as the Dipsea Trail and Miwok Trail. We also have our favorite secret ‘locals’ trails, drop us an email if you’re planning to visit and we can share some insights.
- Recommended coffee shops in Fairfax – you can get coffee, beer and a bike repair at Split Rock Tap and Wheel.
- Recommended breweries and drinking establishments in Fairfax – if you move to or visit the Fairfax area then you also have to visit our all-time favorite pizza and taproom, Creekside, in neighboring town San Anselmo.
- Fairfax population and cost of living – Fairfax itself has less than 10,000 in population, but there are many similar sized towns linked to it in the area. The downside of looking to live in Fairfax (or any part of Marin County) is the crazy cost of living – twice the national average and an average home price of four times the national average, at >$900k. Yep, it’s a huge bummer that housing costs are out of reach for the majority of us – you have to be a millionaire or on a huge salary to be able to own even a tiny house here – but that doesn’t mean we can’t visit and enjoy the trails on vacation instead.
- Average climate in Fairfax – The summers are long, comfortable, arid, and mostly clear and the winters are short, cold, wet, and partly cloudy. This is a great place to live if you don’t like the cold and aren’t bothered by a few large rain downpours during winter and early spring.
- Nearest major airport to Fairfax – San Francisco Airport is around 1h30 drive away.
- Fun fact about Fairfax, California – this is the place where mountain biking was invented.
- Fairfax, California Website – https://www.townoffairfax.org/
Where to stay when visiting Marin
There isn’t really a choice of hotels in Fairfax itself but you can stay nearby nearer the 101 highway, or even in downtown San Francisco (preferably the Marina / Fisherman’s Wharf area to be close to the Golden Gate Bridge and able to quickly access the trails in Marin with a short drive).
- Mill Valley Inn – you can access the trails from this hotel as Mill Valley also has awesome Marin Headlands and Mt Tamalpais trail access.
- Courtyard San Francisco Larkspur Landing – we used to live next to this hotel and it’s in a very convenient location
- Hotel Zoe, Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco – we have stayed in this hotel and its location is ideal if you want to spend time in Marin as well as the city.
Here’s one of several short running films we made while living in Marin, California (more on our YouTube Channel):
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5. Flagstaff, Arizona
Why is Flagstaff a great town for trail runners to live in?
- Typical trail running terrain and conditions in Flagstaff – If you aren’t familiar with Arizona geography, it’s easy to assume it would be very hot in Flagstaff most of the year, like many other parts of the state. However, due to the significant elevation there (~7000ft), the Flagstaff area is more mountain than what most people think of when they think of ‘desert’. It gets very cold in winter, with a lot of snow, and is home to one of the world’s largest Ponderosa pine forests, the Coconino National Forest, so many trails are a mix of dusty and needle-strewn forest singletrack. The elevation and miles of trails also make it an attractive place for athletes to move to, as they can get consistent elevation at a higher altitude. If you want desert trails with fewer trees and more cacti, you don’t have to drive far to get to those trails, either.
- Famous running trails in Flagstaff – Raspberry Spring Trail is one of so many trails that are particularly beautiful during wildflower season, and it’s hard to get lost if you run it out and back. Many other trails, such as the Elden Loop Trail, are accessible from, or close to town – which is a good reason Flagstaff has made this list of the best trail running towns to live in the west!
- Recommended coffee shops in Flagstaff – Firecreek Coffee and Stronghold Coffee Co are places to go for espresso-based coffee.
- Recommended breweries and drinking establishments in Flagstaff – grab post-run or post-work beers at Beaver Street Brewery and Mother Road Brewing Co.
- Flagstaff population and cost of living – Flagstaff’s population is around 71,000 and it has cost of living is around 16% over the National average, with average home prices of $383,000.
- Average climate in Flagstaff – Flagstaff has the lowest average low temperatures of our list of top trail running towns – winters get very fresh!
- Nearest major airport to Flagstaff – Phoenix Skyharbor Airport is a 2-2h30 drive from Flagstaff.
- Fun fact about Flagstaff, Arizona – for fellow astronomy buffs out there… Pluto was discovered at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory.
- Flagstaff, Arizona Website – http://www.discoverflagstaff.com/
Where to stay when visiting the Flagstaff area
As well as Flagstaff there are some great hotels in nearby Sedona.
- Little America, Flagstaff
- Sedona Real Inn & Suites – obvious from the name, this hotel is in Sedona!
- Residence Inn by Marriott in Flagstaff
Population, house price and cost of living stats are taken from https://www.bestplaces.net
Climate charts and stats are taken from Google, which uses NOAA data.
If you believe your coffee shop / brewery / winery or favorite running town should have made it onto our list of best trail running towns to live in the USA, drop us a comment or get in contact and let us know about it!