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What makes us happiest? Experiences, not stuff. Relationships, not material possessions. Awe and wonder, not things. This holiday season, Outside Run editors curated five dream running trip ideas to gift your loved ones this year.
Elevated Experiences in Aspen, Colorado
Perhaps better known for its skiing, Aspen, Colorado, boasts an impressive trail system for all off-road adventurers in search of steep fun. Challenge your quads on the local test piece Ute Trail, with over 1,000 feet of vertical gain in less than a mile. Traverse over to the Sundeck at the top of Aspen Mountain for a mid-run refreshment, and bomb down the popular summer road on the ski hill face, or take the free lift down to save your knees. If you’re looking for more, meander on the Government Trail for incredible views and wildflowers in late June-July.
For food, dive into vegan nachos at the Spring Cafe in downtown Aspen for après vibes all day, or check out the Aspen Tap/Brewing Company for post-run brews and small plates. For a more upscale post-run experience, the J Bar in the historic Hotel Jerome was a longtime favorite of local Hunter S. Thompson, and offers incredible cocktails and small plates (as well as the best veggie burger in Aspen).
Get off the beaten path at the Aspen Art Museum, which is free and open to the public and features a well-curated rotating array of installations. Explore Bookseller is a charming local bookstore where you’ll be sure to get a personalized recommendation for your next favorite read. For those in search of more active adventure, rent a bike and take the Rio Grande trail to the Woody Creek Tavern (approximately eight miles) for truly next-level nachos and margaritas.
Take on The Wonderland Trail
Imagine running 92 miles in three days around Washington State’s largest volcano, Mount Rainier, at peak wildflower and berry-picking season. Imagine spending every day following one of the most iconic, awe-inspiring trails on Earth and having your gear, a hot meal, and a cold beverage, waiting for you at the end of each day.
If there is someone in your family who loves multi-day mountain adventures, Rainier’s Wonderland Trail is about as good as it gets. The experience combines rich geologic wonder and well-marked single-track, in one of the country’s most dramatic National Parks. The route encircles the mountain’s base to offer a 360-degree experience.
Consider organizing a 3-day circumnavigation, starting at Longmire, and camping at Mowich Lake, night one. Day two would travel from Mowich Lake to White River, and the third day, back to Longmire. Because the route is fairly remote, pick up all your pre-run gear needs at the Rainier Basecamp Bar and Grill, in Ashford. If you are running support or shuttling, be sure to stop in, on day two, at Nomad PNW for the best coffee at the base of Mount Rainier. You’ll hardly believe the quality of this small-town gem. Summer months in the park see its fair share of visitation, so consider camping just outside the park, at Big Creek Campground.
For those wanting to hire an outfitter to organize all of this for you, join one of six sections with Aspire Adventure Running, a guided service based out of Bellingham, Washington. Travel to Seattle and their guides will take care of the rest. They scoop you up at the airport, do all the permitting (a significant factor if planning it on your own), and prepare every meal and camping reservations. All you have to focus on is running world-class single-track trail for three days, joining a small group, and traveling at your own pace. Shorter trips in the Pacific Northwest are also available.
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Trails and Tubes in Missoula, Montana
Running rivers isn’t the only kind of running in Montana. Trails and mountains abound in the Big Sky State, and Missoula might be your perfect launch pad. This three-day itinerary starts with a strong locally-roasted coffee at Black Coffee Company, before a run up the most iconic slope in Missoula, Mount Sentinel. After basking in the views from the top and getting oriented to this university town, descend for tacos at Gild before taking a peek inside the Missoula Public Library (voted the best public library in the world!), then heading to the historic Wilma Theater for a show. Consider a wide range of AirBnb rentals (this modern downtown unit might be perfect for a few nights.)
The next day, grab a breakfast burrito at Market on Front or Clyde Coffee before heading up Stuart Peak in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, 15 minutes from town, for an 18-mile out-and-back with stunning views from the top. Return to Missoula for a two-hour tube float down the Clark Fork River (try Love Boat Paddle Co. for easy rentals and shuttling), followed by drinks at The Dram Shop, Imagination Brewery, or Plonk, and dinner at The Camino or Scotty’s Table, ending with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream in a homemade waffle cone from Sweet Peaks. For two nights and three days, this is about the perfect, logistics-minimal running experience in western Montana.
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Something for Every Runner in Asheville, North Carolina
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina, attracts trail runners year-round with mild temperatures, but most often during its spectacular leaf-peeping season. This equally artsy and foodie city supports its running community so much that its visitors bureau created its own guide to running Asheville.
Beaver Lake Trail (and Bird Sanctuary) has been called a “hidden oasis in the city.” This can be a flat recovery run or the perfect loop to do 2-mile repeats. One of the more popular routes for locals is the 6-mile Hard Times Trail Loop located in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. The rolling path provides great views of mountain ridges and Lake Powhatan.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel is a luxurious stay designed to look like a plush 19th-century hunting lodge. It is a great home base for runners since it’s minutes away from over 20 miles of forested trails on the Biltmore estate. Wrong Way Cabins combine the nostalgia of a campground with hotel conveniences. The Sixteen A-frame “Scappalachian” (Scandinavian design meets Appalachia) are conveniently located right across from the French River Greenway, a 3.5-mile asphalt path. Located in the historic neighborhood called The Block, Benne on Eagle is known not only for its “Affrilacian” cuisine, but the ways it has preserved the memory of the African-Americans who had a professional impact on The Block.
If you’re looking for quality comfort food using locally sourced ingredients, check out HomeGrown, whose slogan is “slow food right quick.” It’s a perfect stop only two miles from an interval run at Beaver Lake. Stop in Skinny Beats for a group or private sound healing session or book a Mountaintop Vortex Yoga experience at sunset through Namaste Nature.
Run and Recover in Mendocino, California
This enchanted, historic seaside town is a great hub for trail adventures along northern California’s rugged coast or through nearby acres of redwood forests filled with fern-covered canyons and stream-lined paths.
Mendocino was eco-conscious before it was trendy. Run through towering redwoods to a 30-foot waterfall by taking the 3.9-mile Russian Gulch Waterfall Loop. Or for stunning coastal views, cruise the 4.2-mile out-and-back Mendocino Headlands Trail.
For a cozy treat, book one of 11 rooms at the Brewery Gulch Inn, a bed and breakfast made of eco-salvaged redwood and perched on the bluffs overlooking Smuggler’s Cove. Don’t miss the wine hour or the guided forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) tour. Add the North Coast Adventure package for a guided horseback ride down the beach, followed by a kayak tour through sea caves.
Take your running pals on a glamping trip to the slightly rustic Mendocino Grove, only minutes from trails at Big River Beach and Estuary. Your heated bed in a spacious tent will welcome you after a day on the trails. The bathhouse comes complete with organic bath products and a designated shower for your canine trail companion, too.
For the ultimate culinary experience in plant-based meals, check out Ravens Restaurant at Stanford Inn by the Sea, a restaurant known for locally harvested sea palm and chanterelles. For fresh off-the-boat seafood caught by an all-women crew, travel a few miles north to Princess Seafood at Noyo Harbor. Or for Californian vegan cuisine with a southern twang, try Fog Eater Café.
After a long day on the trails, step into the clothing-optional redwood hot tubs at Sweetwater Inn and Spa. If you’re into the healing benefits of cannabis, visit the Bohemian Chemist for its tasteful selection of lotions and potions set in a vintage apothecary.