Joined: 30 Jan 2007
Connecticut, United States
|Posted: Thu 07 Aug 2008 01:54 pm GMT
Great question, Clydesdalerunner!
I will reply with regards to where I used to live (AZ), vs. where I live now (CT), as I don't have a favorite place to run here...I just don't enjoy running much at all since moving here, I'm sorry to say. Well, okay, the Narragansett trail is the best I've found, but it pales in comparison with anything I've run elsewhere and below.
Anyway, when I lived in Prescott, AZ, my two favorite trails were the Granite Mtn. wilderness trail system, which was a network of singletrack trails that were utilized by people, cyclists (in designated areas) and equestrians. You could mix 'n match for the length and difficulty of the run you wanted on that day, starting from the same location. One of the trails would take you to the saddle of Granite Mtn. itself, which was about a 1000' climb over about 2 miles, I think. I would run that pretty regularly. It had a spectacular view of the entire area. Prescott is mile-high, and the vegetation zone is pinon-juniper and manzanita at the lower levels. Most of the trails were not heavily used, and on many occasions, I'd seldom see anyone on my runs, particularly on the more remote and rougher trails. I once startled a small herd of javalina (wild pigs) that were clearly as anxious about the experience as I was, and around this time of year, encountered a juvenile rattlesnake stretched perpendicular to the trail. I jumped over him, and then stopped for a closer look; it was completely non-plussed by my presence. On the same trail system, I also saw a fox once, and there were known mountain lions in the area - I have no doubt I was being watched probably many times when I ran.
The biggest problem on this trail, as I'm sure many of you will probably relate to, was the presence of off-leash dogs and their indignant owners...sigh.
The other trail was the Spruce Mtn. Lookout trail, which was a 9 mile loop through ponderosa pine forest. It had an elevation gain of about 1000', I think. This was what we'd run in the summer, as it was higher elevation (about 7200') and shaded throughout most of it. Very popular with equestrians and some experience mtn. bikers, but I never had any negative experiences at all - people were very courteous on this trail. It's fantastic, and if you visit Prescott and want a great workout, go do this trail. It's right off a paved highway just outside of town in an area called Groom Creek.
When I lived in Flagstaff, there was also an amazing trail network that allowed for challenging and nearly limitless running - the Mt. Elden trail system. Flagstaff is also at 7000' elevation, so the air is dry and somewhat thin for lowlanders, but it offers some of the most exceptional trail running I've ever done. I would regularly run up Mt. Elden (using that term loosely, of course..ha!) when I was training for the R2R hikes each year. It was 3 miles/2000' ft. elevation change with a great panoramic view on top and links to the rest of the trail system. The trail also circumnavigates the entire mountain area, and is probably 20 mi. in length total. Cyclists love it!
However, the most unusual and interesting place I've ever run, and for me, the Ultimate Trail Run, is of course, the Grand Canyon....I could wax poetic about this all day, as it is my favorite place on this planet to be, bar none. I've run it, hiked it, backpacked it and know it better than anywhere else. Included in that are four R2R's [rim-to-rim], some of which I ran significant portions.
If one is prepared, fit and prudent, trail running in the Canyon will be an awesome experience. If one is unprepared, fit and foolish, it can be miserable at best and fatal at worst. Go in the spring or late fall, or winter if the weather's good. Do NOT go in the summer, unless it is dark when you start or dark when you return and you live and train in a hot, arid climate; it's usually only inexperienced folk (tourists) that venture below the rim in the summer - the rest of us stay away. Don't try running on non-corridor trails, esp. if you've never run in the canyon before, and I really wouldn't recommend it even if you have - none are really amenable to running and water is either unpredictable or non-existent along most of them.
Best trail runs for those that haven't run there before, in order of difficulty:
BA (Bright Angel) -> Indian Gardens and out to Plateau Pt. = 12 mi. Perfect for Canyon noobs. Plenty of water and bathrooms. Watch out for mule trains and pungent puddles of mule urine along the trail.
SK (South Kaibab) -> BA via the Tonto = 11 miles. SK is a bit steeper and there is no water along it, but there are two restrooms. The Tonto section is not a corridor, but it's relatively easy to run and pretty short (3 mi.). I used to do this when I wanted an "easy" trail run that was away from the circus of humanity that's on the BA trail. This is slightly shorter but more difficult than the Plateau Pt. rt. mentioned above.
BA -> Colorado River (@ Pipe Creek) and back = 14 mi. The warnings all over the place in the park tell you not do attempt a rim to river hike and back in a day, and for 90% of the people there, that's prudent and recommended. However, if you're fit, acclimated to altitude and arid climate and don't go in the summer, you can do this. There is no water after Indian Gardens, though, so you have to keep that in mind. Either drink up and fill up there or bring a water filter along. It's best to bring a towel or something and lay around on Pipe Creek beach for an hour (or more) and relax, recover and enjoy the splended and unique perspective from the bottom of the Big Ditch.
SK-BA loop via the River trail = 17 miles. This also takes you down to the river. I love this route, but I probably wouldn't recommend it for anyone who has never run the Canyon before as a first trail run. Options are to cross the bridge and get drinking water on the other side of the Colorado and maybe hang out on the beach there, or continue on the river trail to Pipe Creek beach, and have lunch and a rest there (and a swim if you're bold - water is about 45 deg. F). The River trail takes you along the inner gorge and has sections that are sandy, rocky, and rise and drop in elevation a few hundred feet along its course. Even if you're fit, this will probably kick your ass, but in a good way :).
Rim to Rim: This is the coup de grace of trail running in the Grand Canyon. Each October, for the first two weeks, you will see dozens, if not hundreds, of intrepid and crazy hikers and runners along the corridor trails and they are all doing R2R's. It's an institution for many. Most will start on the south rim via the SK trail and some will start at the BA trail and head down and across and up on the NK (North Kaibab) trail to eventually emerge, trudge or stumble out on the north rim, 21 or 23 miles. 10,000' elevation differential and several hours later. Some ultra runners will immediately turn around and go for the full-on-disco experience of a back-to-back R2R. I've done back-to-backs twice...both times with a hot meal, shower and an 8-hr. nap between them ;-). Much more fun that way. I've done R2R trips four different years and it was always a blast. The key is to have other like-minded peeps to hike/run with and someone (or someones) who are willing to shuttle your gear to the north rim and pick up hikers/runners and transport them to the campground or hotel/cabins, because the last thing you want to do after hiking 23 miles is walk another 2 along the road to your cabin. Then, a good stretch, a hot shower and some warm clothes on, you all meet for dinner at the North Rim Lodge for a well-earned meal and then hit the sack. It's up at dark-thirty to get ready and have your shuttle person dump you off at the NK trailhead to do it again (or, if you're a pansy or injured, drive back with the shuttle people - ha) . The north to south r2r is easier, as it is 1000' extra feet you are going *down* instead of up. It's pretty easy to run most of the way down and across, and for people like me that can't run inclines well at all, to hike/run the remaining 7 miles from pipe creek. You can shave off two miles by coming out SK, but I prefer BA because it's got water and you don't have to shuffle far to get yourself some hot food and a cold beer afterwards. SK requires a shuttle to take you back to the main area.
Oh yeah...if you want to do this: plan ahead. Reservations for the hotel and cabins sell out shortly after they become available a year in advance during the first two weekends in Oct (the north rim closes on Oct 15 or second weekend, whichever comes last). You can camp - I've done that - but it's not nearly as fun as sleeping in an actual bed in a heated cabin.
Wow...that was pretty long-winded. Probably more than you were asking for, but I do have a hard time shutting up when it comes to anything Grand Canyon, or the southwest, for that matter :-). Thankfully, we will be heading back to the southwest in a couple of years (Durango) and I can't wait!!