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! We’ve come up with our list of the best cities for winter running. What makes a great winter running city? First off is reliable winter weather! We prefer running when its 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.
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.
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!
Currier and Ives New England. 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? 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.
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!
Midwest Cities: Minneapolis-St.Paul is the coldest major citiy in the United States, where winter is braved…and celebrated. A prime example: the iconic Chain of Lakes trail is plowed in winter. For a smaller city, head to Fargo or Madison. The go-to winter run in Madison is around the well-maintained paths around the University of Wisconsin, whose Arboretum is special after a fresh snowfall.
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.
Ski Towns. 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.
Sapporo, Japan. Probably 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. But it’s pretty and they do a great job of clearing the roads and paths.
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.
Tallinn, Estonia. This city located on the Gulf of Finland is an increasingly popular visitor destination, owing to its setting and beautiful architecture. It’s charming (but dark) in winter, especially festive during the holiday season.
Scandinavian Cities. Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Helsinki 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. Oslo and Helsinki probably have the most ‘reliable’ winter in terms of snowscape. The further north and away from the coast you go– think Lapland – world class Nordic skiing also provides for some great running opportunities.
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 to the north.