Three Local Spots to Check Out on National Trails Day

Three Local Spots to Check Out on National Trails Day

Earlier this week, we highlighted 25 ways you can celebrate Global Running Day on June 7. Number 19 on our list was to "Hit the Trails," but you don't have to wait until then to explore some off-road running. This year, National Trails Day falls on Saturday, June 3.

Throughout my high school and college running careers, I was fortunate enough to have a massive trail system just two miles from my house (or three-and-a-half miles, depending on which route I took). You'll learn more about that spot later on.

Whichever route I took to get there, and whichever trail I chose once I was there, I always enjoyed how trails forced you to stay alert: One minute you might have to catch yourself from slipping on some loose rocks, and the next you might find yourself carefully negotiating your way past a herd of deer.

As much as we all love the "concrete jungle" of New York City, sometimes it's nice to step out onto some softer surfaces. Here are a few of my favorite places for running trails, all accessible by public transit.

Van Cortlandt Park

Location: The Bronx
How to Get There: Take the 1 train to 242nd Street/Van Cortlandt Park

Any high school runner from the Northeast knows what to do when they spot this sign:

But for the uninitiated, "VCP" is considered the Mecca of cross-country running.

Having raced the park's 4K, 5K, 8K, and 10K courses in my lifetime, I can say that the combination of "The Flats" section early on—where lead runners will dash out with sub-5:00 miles—with climbs so tough they've been given names (Freshman Hill, the Back Hills, and Cemetery Hill), VCP keeps you on your toes, literally and metaphorically.

Fun Feature: At the finish-line area, you'll find a nod to Pete McArdle, a 1964 U.S. Olympic marathoner. Each December, NYRR hosts a cross-country 15K in his name, bringing runners over multiple loops of the park's hills. It's certainly not the easiest race on the calendar, but it's a good challenge!

Forest Park

Location: Queens
How to Get There: Take the J/Z train to Woodhaven Blvd or the E/F train to Kew Gardens/Union Tpke

Forest Park offers something for every type of runner: It has two road loops as part of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway—one on either side of Woodhaven Boulevard—plus a six-lane track and three marked trails. The longest trail, marked with orange blazes, covers 2.4 miles, and it connects to the 1.7-mile blue trail and the 1-mile yellow trail. Weave in and out of each to create a unique run each time you're there.

Fun Feature: You may not be the only one out there on the trail. An equestrian camp nearby also uses the paths to train riders and horses.

View the map of the entire park on the Forest Park Trust site, and check out this video I took last time I ran there.

A first-person view of some of the trails in Forest Park in Queens.

South Mountain Reservation

Location: Maplewood, Millburn, South Orange, and West Orange, NJ
How to Get There: Take the NJ Transit Morris and Essex line from Penn Station to Millburn

I'm a little biased about this one; it's in my hometown. Still, cross state lines and venture into the Garden State!

Here, you'll find a network of trails that's spread across four towns and 2,000-plus acres. Download a map of the trail system from the Essex County Parks Department site.

Only a 40-minute ride from Penn Station, the Millburn train station puts you right across the street from the longest trail in the system, the six-mile Lenape trail (marked with yellow blazes). However, if you get off the train a stop earlier, in Maplewood, you can warm up with a one-mile uphill climb to a different entrance.

Fun Feature: Scattered throughout the trails are miniature houses; I spotted this one on a run this past winter:

Extra Fun Feature: Number 8 on our Global Running Day list was to "Run with Your Dog" and if you visit the Reservation, your pup is in luck! The South Mountain Dog Park has fenced-in areas, with separate spaces for big dogs and small dogs.

Bonus Spot: Weequahic Park

Location: Newark, NJ
How to Get There: Take the New Jersey Transit 107 bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to Meeker Avenue at Empire Street

Although it's not technically a "trail" in the sense of dirt paths, this park has a whole different definition of "soft surface." The 2.25-mile fitness trail that runs throughout the park is made of a rubberized track surface. Words don't describe it as well as pictures can, but just know that while you might be in Brick City, your legs won't feel like bricks after a long run on this path.

Fun Feature: It's a 2.25-mile long track. I think that's fun enough in itself.

Looking for more trail spots? Check out the NY-NJ Trail Conference's Hike Finder for a list of trails throughout the Tri-State area. 

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