What’s the best part of mountain sports? Compared to mainstream activities like basketball or football, the opportunity to participate with professionals in an event is MUCH higher. Instead of being in the stands, you’re more likely to be in the race itself standing next to an expert. This makes it more like a brother/sisterhood! Everyone is doing it for the love of the sport and not the money. Over the past year, we’ve highlighted alternative pursuits like Nordic skiing and Enduro mountain biking. Another amazing way to experience the mountains that’s close to our heart is trail running. It might be as ancient as humanity, but it’s new when it comes to organized competitions. Here’s our list of the biggest, baddest, and best trail races in the US containing some of the most scenic and legendary races out there.
Best Trail Running Races in the US
Kendall Mountain Run – July 12th
Silverton is home to die-hard passionate people embracing the mountain life. Managed by Aravaipa Running, the first of two races dubbed the “modern” version of the Kendall Mountain Run, may be in its 43rd year, but the original race was born from a bet during the silver boom. On Monday August 24th, 1908, a miner named Neil McQuieg bet that he could race to the top of the 13,066 foot Kendall Mountain and back to town in less than 90 min. He lost the bet but only by a minute and forty seconds! In 1978, this “bet” was revived as the Kendall Mountain Run. While running this race, imagine a miner with boots, a beard and maybe a bit of booze, rushing up and down this mountain in only an hour and a half! A true foot race that deserves a big nod from any avid trail runner.
Audi Power of 4 – August 1st
It’s named the Power of 4 because this premiere endurance race embraces ALL four resorts, showcasing the topography and scenery that makes Aspen so majestic. Multiple different races are offered across the weekend from the Vertical K challenge, 10K, 25K, and 50K Ultra.
The 50K Ultra event is one-third of the “Triple” crown Power of 4 race along with the following:
- Ski Mountaineering Race on March 2nd – 24 mile race consisting of 10,000 feet of vertical gain starting in Snowmass, traversing over to West Buttermilk and onto Aspen Highlands, and finishing off at the classic Ajax Mountain
- Mountain Bike Race on August 17th – 33 mile race consisting of 10,000 feet of elevation gain
A true festival in everything endurance with access to one of the classic ski-towns in the world.
Whiteface Sky Race – August 15th
Wilmington, New York
Home to the 1980 Olympics, Whiteface Mountain is a beast even compared to ski resorts out West. In fact, there are only 14 other ski resorts in North America that have a bigger vertical gain. This event covers two days with Saturday as the Vertical Climb competition followed by the Sky Race on Sunday with over 8,000 vertical feet gained across 15.2 miles! In the end, your lungs and legs might be burned but you’ll feel like an Olympian. All this fun is brought to you by the awesome crew of Red Newt Racing.
The Rut! – September 2nd – 4th
Big Sky, Montana
The sound of an Elk bugle booming over the large crowd of racers signals the beginning of what many consider the TOUGHEST trail race in North America. The RUT! With nearly 20,000 vertical feet of climb over high alpine terrain, it’s covered in loose rocks and consistent rockfall danger at every step! If the 50K seems a bit too much, you can attempt the “small” vertical climb starting at the base of Big Sky. From the village, it sends camo and blaze orange colored competitors up 3,466 vertical feet covering three miles to the top of Lone Peak. Once you’re done, don’t forget to check out the one-of-a-kind first place trophy made from elk hide!
IMTUF – September 11th
McCall may be known as Ski Town USA, but it offers a lot more than that. In the summer, this place transforms into a paradise filled with mountain and lake activities that rival any other town in North America. One of the amazing events that happens here deep in the forest is the Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival or IMTUF for short.
In its sixth year, this is the most organic race on the list. Started by Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey, the goal of this race is to provide a challenging 100 mile race but at the same time bring the running community together. Just like the Rut, the course covers 20,000 vertical feet of ascents across its 100 miles. If the difficulty wasn’t enough to take your breath away, the scenery in the Salmon Mountain Range surrounding the Burgdorf Hot Springs will. Don’t worry if this competition seems a bit too daunting. Instead, consider checking out the Legend of Bear Peak 30K or the McCall Trail Running Classic.
Flagstaff Sky Peaks – September
Arizona Snowbowl’s base sits at 9,200’ above sea level and is home to the Flagstaff Sky Peaks Mountain Runs. The single track trail for the 50K Ultra winds its way through:
- Ponderosa pine forests
- Aspen groves
- A climb to the top of Mount Elden
- A traverse below the San Francisco Peaks (tallest mountain range in Arizona)
- Ascent to the summit of Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort
Besides the Aspen Dream 50K Ultra, they’re also offering:
- Ring The Sky 50 Mile – A single loop around the San Francisco Peaks
- Quad Bomber 25K – A beastly climb to the top of Snowbowl and epic descent on the Arizona Trail
- Rocky Moto 10K – The toughest 10K you’ll do with a trip to 11,500 feet
- Topshots 5K – In past years it was a beautiful trip around the Aspen Loop
Trail running just like backcountry skiing it isn’t about finishing first, but rather enjoying yourself and doing your best. Happy running!
If you want to get more ideas on summer fun, get tips on what to pack for a mountain vacation, or just find some unique ski towns to vacation at then check out our guide: Cool Off With Summer Fun In The Mountains