Exploring the natural world

11 half marathons in state + national parks across the U.S.

“You don’t have to look like a runner. Anybody can be a runner. You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to know anything. You just have to start small and break it down. You will be afraid. You will worry about wild animals and strangers and getting injured and losing everything. This is natural. This is resistance. You’re stronger than you think you are. Keep going.”

— Katie Arnold, Running Home

Death Valley Half Marathon

Death Valley, Calif. | Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021

Run entirely along a 6.55-mile stretch of Highway 190 through the flat, desolate desert terrain of California’s Death Valley National Park, this race offers one of the most unique race routes of any kind. Out-and-back and surrounded by the sandy hills and mountains for which the park is known, the race is also relatively flat, featuring no more than 500 feet of elevation change. Famous for its low elevation (at 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere), the race features views of nearby mountain ranges and is run — thankfully! — at a time of the year when Death Valley experiences much cooler weather than its summer, when the park has recorded some of the hottest-ever temperatures on earth.

$130 and up | Sign up here

Santa Cruz Half Marathon

Santa Cruz, Calif. | Sunday, March 7, 2021

West Cliff Drive, a beautifully scenic and windswept coastal road along this Northern California city’s rocky Pacific coastline, serves as most of the route for this late winter/early springtime race. Runners who’ve participated in the past say the views are breathtaking and the course takes you along trails you’d never find on your own, such as the trails inside Wilder Ranch State Park. Finishing on the sand at Cowell’s Beach offers up a great view as you’re completing the race but it’s also quite a challenge, to say the least — running on soft, squishy sand after you’ve just clocked 13 miles isn’t so easy!

$64 and up | Sign up here

Saguaro Half Marathon

Tucson, Ariz. | Saturday, March 27, 2021

An all-new race from the folks who organize the Great Smoky Mountains Half (which you can see below), this half unfolds through the 20,000-acre Tucson Mountain Park, a desert park filled with dozens of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as the signature saguaro cactus for which this area is so well-known. You’ll run a combination of roads and trails, and cross the finish line at the Old Tucson Movie Studio, where everything from TV shows like “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie” to movies like “Rio Bravo” and “Three Amigos” were filmed.

$109 and up | Sign up here

Dirty Kiln Trail Races

Hollidaysburg, Pa. | Saturday, April 10, 2021

“A lot of variety of trails from wide paths, winding singletrack, stream crossings and mud… lots of mud,” is how the race organizers at Allegheny Trailrunners describe this springtime race through Canoe Creek State Park. From the start of the half marathon — the race also offers a 10K — you’ll run up and down a series of hills and past the imposing, century-old kilns, where the limestone that was quarried here was turned into quicklime. What goes up must come down, of course, and once you run up and down the hills, you’ll make more than one stream crossing and then run on slick, muddy trails. Note that the race is open to just 220 runners.

$30 and up | Sign up here

Fall Creek Falls Half Marathon

Spencer, Tenn. | Sunday, May 2, 2021

Filled with cascading waterfalls, gorges, streams, creeks and hardwood forests — including the tallest waterfall in the eastern United States, the 256-ft. waterfall that gives this 29,000-acre park its name — Fall Creek Falls State Park plays host to this race each year on the Cumberland Plateau. Runners will start the race inside the park, which lies just a few miles northwest of the small town of Pikeville, home to just under 2,000 residents here in east Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley. The park has received raves as one of the best state parks in the southeastern U.S. by publications like Southern Living magazine.

$40 and up | Sign up here

Acadia National Park Half Marathon

Bar Harbor, Maine | Sunday, June 6, 2021

Stunningly beautiful run along the loop road inside Acadia National Park, one of two races that run inside the 41,000-acre park each year. You’ll get to take in views of the rocky Maine coastline for most of the first half of the race, which looks out onto the waters of the Mount Desert Narrows. Be sure to sign up early — thanks to National Park Service restrictions, the race is capped at 400 runners. It’s not limited to runners, too — walkers are welcome and encouraged to sign up, organizers say.

$135 and up | Sign up here

Bryce Canyon Half Marathon

Bryce, Utah | Saturday, July 10, 2021

A jaw-dropping run through Utah’s spectacular Bryce Canyon National Park, a geologic wonder that lures visitors from around the world with its incredible red rock formations, stunning views of amphitheater-like canyons like Inspiration Point, and wide-open skies. The point-to-point course is a flat, downhill run, boasting a net elevation loss of 1800 feet — however, the race starts at 7,652 feet above sea level, so the thin air can be a challenge for runners who aren’t used to the high altitude. From the start on Highway 63, you’ll get to take in spectacular views of the sunrise as it lights up the pink cliffs and red walls of the canyon ahead; later, you’ll run through parts of the park itself, which offer views of the unique sandstone pinnacles and spires that rise from the bottom of the canyon.

$55 and up | Sign up here

Wy'east Howl on Mt. Hood Half Marathon

Mt. Hood, Ore. | Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021

Described by its organizers as “wildly scenic and challenging,” this trail race is a one-of-a-kind event that unfolds along the slopes of Mount Hood, the famed, (and always snowy) 11,250-ft. peak in the Cascades of northern Oregon. You’ll run on trails that criss-cross the slopes of Wy’east (the name native tribes gave to the mountain) and nearby ridgelines, as well as across meadows and over bridges, past waterfalls and along dirt trails — all while taking in breathtaking views of the mountain and the surrounding forests.

$70 and up | Sign up here

Moonlight on the Falls Half Marathon

Davis, W.V. | Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021

A nighttime run through West Virginia’s beautiful Blackwater Falls State Park, a 2,358-acre park in the eastern corner of the state, named for the 62-ft.-high waterfalls whose stained, tea-like water gets its color from the abundant hemlock and spruce needles that fall into it. Starting at 10:00 p.m., you’ll follow a loop route that starts and finishes at the park’s Pendleton Point overlook, which (during the day) offers up expansive views of Blackwater Canyon. Runners in the marathon and half marathon can start anytime they like, as long as you’re done by 7:00 a.m. the next morning.

TBA | Registration opens February 2021

Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon

Townsend, Tenn. | Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021

A gorgeously scenic run through the Blue Ridge Mountains that straddle the Tennessee-North Carolina border await runners at this race, which runs just outside the border of the nation’s most-visited national park. The region features some some of the most unspoiled natural beauty anywhere on the East Coast, and you’ll finish the race just a couple of miles from the entrance to the park, where you’ll get to see the “smoky” mountains that surround it all around throughout. The course follows an overall uphill ascent from start to finish, but the climb is very gradual throughout your 13.1 miles — you’ll start at just under 900 feet above sea level and finish at just under 1,100 feet.

$109 and up | Sign up here

Three Sisters Skyline Half Marathon

Sisters, Ore. | Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021

Run along the trails at the edge of the Three Sisters Wilderness, where you’ll get to take in stunning views of the Cascade Range all around. One of Oregon’s most popular hiking and mountain climbing areas, the wilderness is named for the three mountain peaks known to early settlers as Faith, Hope and Charity (and now called the North, Middle and South Sisters, respectively). Each snow-capped peak reaches more than 10,000 feet high, and you’ll get to see them as you run through Ponderosa pine forests that alternate with alpine meadows along single-track trails.

TBA | Sign up here

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