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Finding the Best Urban Hills

All major cities have their iconic runs—Central Park in New York, the lakefront path in Chicago, the Charles River in Boston—but many of these come up lacking if you’re looking for elevation gain. Competitive runners are often in search of something a little more challenging. After all, hills are the cornerstone of a successful training program, and that training program can’t be interrupted by a business trip. Our friends at Great Runs have compiled a list of some of the best hill runs in or around North American’s major metro areas. They’ve even uncovered some ‘hills’ in notoriously flat cities.

More extensive descriptions of all of these routes can be found at Great Runs. You can search the route or the city, or simply click the keyword ‘hilly’ on the Great Runs’ home page to see all the hilly/challenging runs in more than 500 destinations worldwide.

Atlanta: Stone Mountain is a popular recreation area located 15 miles from downtown Atlanta. There’s a 1-mile trail to the summit that rises 1,000 feet, and a 5-mile loop around the base of the mountain.

Austin. For real hill and trail running in Austin, you have to get outside the city. The Lakeway Area is a favorite for its scenic and hilly residential roads, while the Canyonlands Trails offer some steep, technical trail running options.

Baltimore. Head up to Druid Hill Park. Located near Johns Hopkins University, this large park has some good hills and trails, with the 1.5-mile lake loop serving as a great cool-down.

Boston. Boston’s iconic runs along the Charles River and the Emerald Necklace are flat. But just south of the city, Blue Hill Reservation has 7,000 acres of preserved land, incorporating 5 towns and 125 miles of trails of varying difficulty.

Charlotte’s ASC Greenway / photo: courtesy Great Runs

Charlotte. It’s worth the half-hour drive from Uptown to run the 30 miles of trails of the Anne Close Springs Greenway. This place has something for everyone. For a challenge, seek out the ‘hiking’ trails on their map.

Chicago. Most of the routes downtown are as flat as the wide water of Lake Michigan that they border. To get some hills and trails in Chicago, seek out one of the Forest Preserves located in the western suburbs.

Cincinnati. For some hills close to the city, head for Devou Park, just across the bridge in Covington, KY, near the airport. While the park isn’t large, you’ll find some short, steep hills which make for good repeats while enjoying great views of Cincinnati.

Dallas. It takes some doing to find some hills in this famously flat city. The best bet is to run in the hilly residential area just west of White Rock Lake—itself one of the city’s iconic running spots.

flatirons vista running Boulder
Flatirons Vista near Denver/Boulder / photo: 101 Degrees West

Denver. The city itself is the calm before the storm, with barely-perceptible elevation gains on the creek-side running paths. But, hill and trail running heaven awaits on Denver’s outskirts. Some favorites: Green Mountain Park in Lakewood, with wonderful trails through rolling foothills; Matthews/Winters Park, 18 miles west of downtown, featuring the Dakota Ridge/Red Rocks trail—6 miles and 1,100 feet of elevation gain. Or choose from myriad options around Boulder, 25–30 miles northwest of Denver.

Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood: Head west about 20 miles to Vista View Park. It takes a park built on a former landfill to get something akin to hills in Florida.

Honolulu. Wonderful trail and hill running options exist steps away from the famous Waikiki Beach. Favorites include Diamond Head (including the 99 stairs to the summit) and the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail, just off the Kalanianaole Highway.

Houston. Houston, we have a problem: it’s tough to find hills in Space City. You’ll find some minor elevation opportunities in the Buffalo Bayou, and in Spotts Park adjacent to the Bayou.

Kansas City. The Bridle Trail is a fairly hilly option in 1500-acre Wyandotte County Park, located 15 miles from downtown.

Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas / photo: courtesy Great Runs

Las Vegas. Get thee away from the Strip to enjoy some fab running in Las Vegas. The best place an Uber ride away is Red Rock Canyon, which features 30 miles of trails, dirt roads, and a 13-mile Scenic Drive loop (gorgeous at sunrise or sunset). Further afield, the hill/trail running are tremendous (as is the heat from May-October).

Los Angeles. L.A. boasts some of the best hill and trail running of any city in the world. Griffith Park is steps from the Hollywood area, or head to Runyon Canyon Park in appropriately named Hollywood Hills. There’s famous hill and trail running just north of the city in Malibu Canyon Park, and south on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Miami. Oleta River Park is Florida’s largest urban park. There isn’t much in the way of hills, but there are 14 miles of trails.

Montreal. The Olmsted-designed Mount Royal is one of the best urban hill runs accessible from a city’s downtown. Run to the ‘Croix’ at the summit, and enjoy great views of the city. A real treat in winter, for those who love winter running.

Nashville. It’s worth the 30-minute drive to enjoy the nearly 3,000 acres of the Warner Park, where you’ll be treated to a variety of forests, fields, gentle paths, and more challenging trails. Plus, take in great views of the Nashville skyline at the top of Percy Warner Park.

New York. You can get in some elevation in Central Park (head to the north end for the most challenging hills), but most of Manhattan is pretty flat. Better options are in the boroughs: Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and the Staten Island Greenbelt.

Oakland/Berkeley: The East Bay is often overlooked from a running perspective, given San Francisco’s treasures. A favorite is Tilden Regional Park, located just a couple of miles east of Berkeley. There’s something for every ability in the 40+ miles of trails that wind through open, rolling hills. Redwood Regional Park is another great option.

Orange County. This huge area south of Los Angeles is famous for its beaches, but there are some good hill running options too. Near Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State park has gorgeous running along a coastal cliff and more challenging trails in Moro Canyon.

Valley Forge outside Philadelphia / photo: Shutterstock

Philadelphia. The best running in central Philly is generally flat along the river. But 20 miles northwest of the city, there are gorgeous trails for running in Valley Forge National Park. The signature run there is the 8.7-mile, hilly Joseph Plumb Martin Trail.

Phoenix. Running is binary in this city. It’s either flat or super-hilly. Relive your youth near ASU by running up ‘A’ Mountain. Camelback Mountain and Mummy Mountain are near each other and are popular for running. South Mountain is the world’s largest city park—hilly roads and trails abound its 17,000 acres.

Pittsburgh. As one of the hilliest major cities in the United States, there are few runs that won’t get the heart rate up. A centrally located ‘quickie’ is Mt. Washington Park. Or, find your own hill in Pittsburgh’s iconic Schenley Park & Frick Park, or in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood just north of there.

Portland, OR. The Rose City is one of the best in the U.S. for hills and trails near downtown. You’ll never get bored in Forest Park—the largest urban forest in the United States—with 80 miles of hilly trails. Terwilliger Blvd. and Council Crest Park are other great hill options in Portland.

Running above Salt Lake City
Running above Salt Lake City / photo: 101 Degrees West

Salt Lake City. Another city with amazing opportunities for challenging running a stone’s throw from downtown. City Creek Canyon is one great option, rising quickly from the trailhead—and it’s closed to cars on odd days from May to October!  For an even greater challenge, take the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, accessible from the City Creek Canyon trailhead.

San Antonio. Get a taste of Texas hill running in the Hills and Dale run, famous for being a short, hilly route that ends next to a bar popular for breakfast tacos. The Alamo Heights/Olmos Dam route also has a few short, steep hills.

San Diego. Though many of San Diego’s iconic routes are on the beach or around Mission Bay, the terrain is famously hilly just away from the coast. Closest to the city is the area around the University of San Diego, which has pleasant paths and more serious trails and hills in adjacent Tecolote Canyon. Mission Trails Regional Park, located 12 miles northeast of downtown, has 30 miles of hilly trails, including a tough, 3-mile ascent to the summit of Cowles Mountain.

San Francisco. No shortage of hill and trail running options here! The Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge, are about as scenic as it gets for a metropolitan area. And for a special sunset run, run to the top of Twin Peaks, gaining 400 feet over only one mile. Add to it with the shady trails in adjacent Mount Sutro, or cool off in nearby Golden Gate Park.

Stairs in Seattle's Discovery Park
Seattle’s Discovery Park / photo: Bee Balogun on Unsplash

Seattle. You’ll find 10 miles of trails in Discovery Park, varying from forested single-track to wooded stairways overlooking the shores of Puget Sound. Even the main loop trail is a challenge, with a 365-foot gain over only 3.1 miles.

Silicon Valley. Running in Silicon Valley (the area from San Francisco Airport south to San Jose) is a tale of two cities: flat and scenic on the bay side, hilly west of I-280. Among the many scenic, hilly parks off I-280, we love Rancho San Antonio Preserve, which has 4,000 acres of terrain ranging from open meadows to more forested trails—only 10 minutes from Apple’s HQ. Another iconic, hilly run is the Stanford Dish, a popular spot just behind Stanford’s campus in bucolic Palo Alto.

Toronto. While the flat lakefront has the most obvious running paths, the best bet for some elevation is to run on the Lower Don River Trails north toward Edwards Gardens & the Ontario Science Center. The posh Forest Hills neighborhood has some hilly streets.

Vancouver, BC. One of our favorite cities for running has great options for those who love challenging hills. On the peninsula near the University of British Columbia, you can run 73 km of interconnected trails in Pacific Spirit Park��add to the challenge by taking the steep stairs to the beach. A famous hill run 20 minutes north of Vancouver is the Grouse Grind, which consists of 2,830 stairs, gaining 2,800 feet in elevation over 1.8 miles. Note: you must take the tram down.

Washington, D.C. A great city for running, but fairly flat. Best bet for some elevation is the run along Embassy Row, where you’ll gain nearly 400 feet over a couple of miles while passing by more than 150 embassies.

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