Favorites for Winter/Holidays

Best Winter Running Cities

For some, winter running might mean hopping on a treadmill or getting on a plane to a warm weather spot. But others embrace winter running for its crisp air and snowy landscape. For winter running lovers, this column is for you — the Great Runs list of the best winter running cities.

What makes a great winter running city? First off is reliable winter weather! We prefer running when it’s 20º and snowy than when it’s 42º and rainy. But even more than that, good winter running cities have a winter running culture. They celebrate winter. And in some cases, they maintain some of the roads and trails so they can be enjoyed in winter. So grab your Yaktrax and go! And the prize for snowiest cities? Sapporo, Japan receives the most annual snowfall of any major city in the world, while in the United States, that title belongs to Syracuse. On snowy days, look for routes in parks/forests.  Another alternative is to search out leafy residential areas, where you’ll find snow on the trees and plowed, lit roads! To qualify for our list, a city must receive at least 30 inches (75cm) of snow annually and have winter high temperatures generally below freezing.

CANADA

Montreal. It will be no surprise that three Canadian cities top our list. Montreal has among the coldest and snowiest winters of any major city in the world. Head to Mount Royal, which in winter has a maintained outdoor ice rink, ski/toboggan hill, and miles of trails popular with runners. And on a snowy night, there’s nothing better than running through the streets of Old Montreal. See also our guides to the Laurentian mountains up north and the Eastern Townships to the east.

Ottawa. Like Montreal, Canada’s capital celebrates winter. The Rideau Canal is a World Heritage site and is the longest maintained skating rink in the world. Several miles of the path, especially near downtown, are cleared of snow. Runners can enjoy these paths and avail themselves of the changing rooms and warning huts lining the canal – and have a post-run hot chocolate!

Quebec City. Like the other two Canadian cities in the snowy Golden Triangle, winter is celebrated in Quebec City, rather than eschewed. Of course, there’s the famous Winter Carnival, which features some skiing and running amidst the snow sculptures, sledding spots, and copious alcohol consumption. Here’s a hearty winter challenge: run the Plains of Abraham on a cold, windy morning and tell us about it. We’ll send you a T-shirt!

The Laurentians & Eastern Townships. This popular vacation destination north of Montreal is dotted with numerous small ski hills and the resort area of Mont Tremblant. Some terrific winter running options, especially a section of the P’tit Train du Nord. Serious winter here. East of Montreal, the Eastern Townships is a winter playground.

London, Ontario. This small city west of Toronto has a particularly nice selection of centrally located paths that are well maintained in the city’s snowy winter.

Barrie, Ontario. Lake effect snows deliver 225 cm of annual snowfall to this city located on Lake Simcoe, 90 km north of Toronto.

Saint John, NB. Not a big city but among the snowiest in North America. Some nice parks and trails are well-maintained.

St. John’s Newfoundland. It’s the snowiest, foggiest, windiest, and cloudiest major Canadian city. Favorites in fresh snow are our ‘residential’ tour to enjoy the colorful houses, or Bowring Park, and around Memorial University to Signal Hill.

UNITED STATES

New England. Many Currier and Ives spots to run in New England. In Western Massachusetts, there is festive winter running along the main streets of Amherst and Northampton, and around the bucolic ‘five colleges’. And the Berkshires, while popular in summer, are also a running treat in winter. What could be a more appropriate place to run after a fresh snowfall than the grounds of the Normal Rockwell Museum? Just west of the Berkshires (and not officially in New England), Saratoga Springs has some lovely winter running. Or, head to Burlington, since winter and Vermont are synonymous. Great winter running spots are incorporated in our Burlington Highlights Tour. Or, head down to the Lake Champlain waterfront, where trails are packed by winter sports enthusiasts, and enjoy views of the frozen lake, the Green Mountains, and the Adirondacks. North Conway is the gateway to the White Mountains and has some fabulous winter running options.

U.S. Northeast Cities For east coast cities, Boston gets the most snow (but not reliably). The go-to run after a fresh snowfall is through the Common and around Back Bay, or along the paths of the Emerald Necklace. Portland, Maine is another solid winter destination—run the streets of the pretty, and hilly downtown. In central New York State, the major cities of Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse are all wintry, owing to the lake effect snows. In fact, Syracuse is the snowiest major city in the United States, averaging 120 inches annually!

Acadia National Park. The most visited national park in the U.S. is quiet and pristine in winter. It’s worth the drive to enjoy running on the park’s famous Carriage Trails. XC skiers and snowshoers will pack down the trail for you, and the trails are groomed by a group of volunteers in winter. They’re wide enough so that runners can share the trail – but please stay out of the ski tracks!  Grooming status here.

U.S. Midwest Cities:  Minneapolis-St.Paul is the coldest major city in the United States, where winter is braved…and celebrated. A prime example: the iconic Chain of Lakes trail is plowed in winter. Duluth, MN is another good winter running city, with near guaranteed below-freezing temps and snow. In Madison, the go-to winter run is around the well-maintained paths around the University of Wisconsin, whose Arboretum is special after a fresh snowfall. To run in areas that benefit from plentiful lake-effect snows, head to Lake Erie Shores, OH (just east of Cleveland). In Chicago, the fresh winter wind coming off Lake Michigan (Lakefront Trail) can be ‘invigorating’, while the Forest Preserves are really pretty in snow.

Northern Michigan. Traverse City receives 100 inches of snow annually. Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula receives copious winter snows.

Voyageurs National Park. This water-based park in northern Minnesota is transformed in winter, with extensive trails for running and maintained “ice roads” across frozen lakes.

North America Ski Towns. We have running guides to most of the major ski destinations in the western United States. Our two favorites for running are Aspen and Banff. In Aspen, the Village Run features pretty residential side streets lined with Victorian era homes and the tony shops along Main St. In Banff, the historic downtown is festive and well-lit.

Alaska. We have running guides for Anchorage and Fairbanks, which are both good winter running cites. While both cities receive about the same amount of annual snowfall, winter temps in Fairbanks are significantly colder. Both cities have excellent winter running options, with lit paths and maintained paths.

EUROPE

Moscow, Russia. Among the coldest major cities in the world, alongside Montreal. Reliable snow from November to March, matched by short winter days due to its northern latitude. It can be a treat to go running in the winter there. A snowy run in Red Square might be fun, but the river paths might be tricky. On a pretty winter day, find a path in Gorky Park, or in one Moscow’s other great parks: extensive Solniki and Pokrovskoye Streshnevo parks; Filevsky and Suvorov parks in western Moscow; and Severnoye Tushino, Riverport, and Druzhby parks in the northwestern part of the city.

Kyiv, Ukraine. Combination of reliable winter weather and some beautiful places to run in the heart of town. Many impressive parks and sights. We note, however, the very unfortunate war situation in Ukraine.

Tallinn, Estonia. Among the snowiest cities, in Europe, Tallinn is an increasingly popular visitor destination, owing to its setting and beautiful architecture. It’s charming (but dark) in winter, and especially festive during the holiday season. Head to Harku Forest after a fresh snow.

Lithuania. We have guides to Vilnius, Kaunas, & Klaipeda — all among the snowiest cities in Europe.

Scandinavian Cities. Stockholm, Copenhagen, & Oslo are at relatively similar latitudes and can all be very festive and snowy in the winter months. The short daylight hours and the strong biking culture mean that key paths are well-lit and maintained – a boon for runners! Due to the ocean influence, none of the major Scandinavian cities gets extreme cold or abundant snow. Oslo probably has the most ‘reliable’ winter in terms of snowscape. Trondheim, Norway is among the snowiest cities in Europe. The further north and away from the coast you go – think Lapland – world class Nordic skiing also provides for some great running opportunities.

Finland. Helsinki is similar to Oslo in terms of reliable snow. In snowy Tampere, our recommended winter route is Kauppi Forest Park, followed by a post-run sauna! Oulu is the fourth northernmost city in the world with over 100,000 inhabitants and receives 150 cm of snow annually. Great winter culture! In Turku, head to the forest trails on Ruissalo Island.

Salzburg, Austria. This city located at the foothills of the Alps averages 110 cm of snow annually, and is absolutely charming when blessed with a winter landscape. If it snows, be sure to run the Hellbrunner Allée, a path that leads to the beautiful grounds of the Hellbrun Palace.

Warsaw, Poland. Picture eastern Europe and you think winter, right? There are some other European cities that are a bit snowier, but Warsaw temperatures are more reliably cool and the city’s setting makes it great for winter running. If the Vistula River Paths aren’t cleared of snow, Łazienki Park and Mokotowskie Field have a pleasant winter atmosphere. Or, enjoy the snowy trails in Kabacki Forest south of the city, and Bielański Forest.

Poznań, Poland. Among the snowier cities in Poland. Head to Marceliński Forest or Dębińskii Forest for some beautiful winter running.

St. Moritz, Switzerland. Gorgeous Swiss village, plentiful snow, and lots of great, well-maintained places to run.

Grenoble, France. Considered the ‘capital of the Alps’, and among the snowier cities in Europe.

Iceland. Iceland gets its fair share of snow, but winter temperatures are fairly moderate due to the influence of the North Atlantic current. In Reykjavik, recommended running spots when it’s snowy are Park Elliðaárdalur, and the Fossvogur & Laugardalur neighborhoods. Note: Less than 5 hours of daylight between 2 December & 10 January.

ASIA

Here’s one for ‘running trivia’: the snowiest and coldest major cities in the world are located in…Asia!

Sapporo, Japan. The snowiest (but not the coldest) major city in the world, with 235 inches (600mm) annually. It snows on 25+ out of 30 days, from December-March. A good winter running route is around the campus of Hokkaido University. Or, take the train to Otaru and enjoy the festively lit canal path.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The coldest capital city in the world. It’s also very dry in winter. Average high temp in January is -14C. Run here to say you did it!

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Scott Pfeiffer
2 months ago

How did you miss Chicago? The lakefront trail is well maintained, and the running culture here is strong! I know you can’t list them all, but here is one vote for Chi-town.