Colorado Trail Running

© Amanda R Barker at the Paul Intemann Memorial Nature Trail

The state of Colorado has a reputation for being a recreational mecca, and trail running is easily one of the most popular activities around. Since the state has approximately 37,254 miles of hiking trails, you’re bound to find a new favorite here if you haven’t already.

You can access the map of the trails in one place at the Colorado Trail Explorer. The Colorado Trail Explorer initiative was started as a part of the “Colorado the Beautiful Project” by Governor John Hickenlooper and was created with the aim of increasing public interest in staying active outdoors.

The Denver Post reported that in total, there are over 1,430 trailheads for over 17,099 trails in 226 jurisdictions with Colorado. This is incredible and means that if you explored five new trails every week (some on the short side), it would still take almost 62 years to try them all!

Which Trails Are Best for Running?

Larger parks and national forests throughout Colorado have many options for running trails. National parks tend to have a variety of interesting terrains like mountain scrambles and even desert paths. If parks are busier, you get the even more accomplished feeling of running up hills that hikers visiting from afar might be having trouble reaching the top of.

For a trail map that spreads from one side of the country to the other, Trail Run Project is a great way to find trails near you. You’ll also be able to find a map and description of the exact trail that you want to take.

Even parks located in Colorado Springs such as Palmer Park and Red Rocks Open Space have incredible trail systems that are ideal for long or short runs through the trees. Parks can be surprising because there are often great trails that you may not have even known were there. Plus, hiking during your warm-up is a great way to become acclimated to the trails and to get your body in shape if you’re just starting out.

Trail Running Supplies

Other than sun protection, gear is not actually required for trail running. Runners leave the paved path and head onto dirt trails frequently without substituting different gear. If you plan to trail run frequently, then it’s worthwhile to think about the following types of gear.

Sun Protection

Complete defense from the sun involves sunblock (at a recommended minimum of SPF 30), a hat, chapstick (with SPF), and even clothing that will protect your skin from the harsh rays. It’s important to remember that people can experience skin damage after being outside in the sun for only 15 minutes, especially at a higher altitude.

Trail running is unique because certain trails might be in the shade since they’re covered almost entirely by tree branches. In these situations, you won’t need as much sun protection. Once the ascent through the trees ends though and you reach the top of a mountain or an uncovered ridgeline, be sure that you don’t skimp on the sun protection.


Water is essential to have when trail running; it would be appropriate on only the shortest runs to skip bringing water. There are many options for carrying water, like hydration vests, packs, or a water bottle.

For short trail runs, you should be fine with just a single water bottle. A waist pack or armband might be helpful to have to carry your keys, a snack, and any other belongings that you might want while you’re out on the trail.

For trail runs that are on the long side, it may be worthwhile to bring a hydration vest made for running, a somewhat bigger waist pack, or a slim hydration pack that’s built with runners in mind. Running hydration packs are designed to be skinnier than regular hiking packs so that your arms can have a full range of motion.

Gear built for transporting water will allow you to make longer trips (my pack holds 3 liters!), and you’ll probably also have room to bring extra layers of clothing, a healthy snack, navigation tools, and even first-aid items. These packs usually have room for anything else that you might require on a longer adventure that could last several hours or even a full day.


The main question trail runners have is usually about which shoes are best. Gym shoes will work for mellow trails or for gravel roads, but if you want to hit trails that have slippery mud, rocks, or roots, then you’ll appreciate having shoes that are designed for trail running.

Trail running shoes are different from regular athletic shoes because they emphasize stability, foot protection, and traction. The difference between gym sneakers and trail running shoes is similar to the tread on a mountain bike’s tires when compared with a road bike’s tires. Trail-running shoes are even made for different types of trails, from more variable and technical trails to easier terrain.

There are also minimalistic trail running shoes that help you to connect with the trail even more. On days that you run for many miles you might appreciate maximalist trail running shoes that can reduce fatigue on your joints. Both types of shoes are more suitable for the trail than gym shoes.


The best type of clothing for trail runners is synthetic fabrics or clothing that is made of moisture-wicking material. It’s best to avoid cotton because it takes a long time for it to become completely dry. Even socks should be a synthetic material or merino wool. In rainy conditions, some trail runners might prefer to have a windbreaker or a lightweight shell to keep warm.

It’s always smart to dress in layers, even more so for longer runs. This is beneficial for maintaining at least a minimum level of comfort. The wind might be freezing when your shoes first hit the dirt but as your temperature increases on a big hill you can remove layers. Then, when your temperature becomes more regulated as you get cooler or if ominous weather starts to lurk, you can put the layers back on.

The most important aspect of your clothing is how breathable it actually is. During trail running, don’t be surprised if your body produces extra perspiration and heat. Heavy cotton sweatshirts and jeans can act as a barrier and don’t allow much ventilation, so try and avoid these. Shirts that have zippers on the necks and knit materials are helpful with ventilation.

Safety Tips for Trail Runners

It’s important to be aware that while trouble can occur in the woods, trail running is not normally a recipe for disaster. It’s rare to find yourself in harm’s way as long as you are careful, mindful, and use common sense.

However, it’s always best to be cautious so keep the following safety tips in mind before you venture out.

  1. Tell someone where you are headed and when you anticipate returning.
  2. Take a map and compass or GPS to plan your run if you’re not familiar with the trail.
  3. Bring a little money in case you need it for an emergency.
  4. Plan your trip thoroughly if you’re planning on being out after dark alone, otherwise bring a friend.
  5. For long trips, pack more fuel and water than you think you’ll need.
  6. Bring your cell phone with you in case you need to make any emergency phone calls.
  7. If you drive and park at the trailhead, consider writing down where you’re running, when you might finish, and your name.
  8. Keep a first-aid kit in the car just in case you need it; and if you have a small one that can fit in your hydration pack, consider bringing it with you.
  9. Watch for roots and rocks even more carefully near the final stretch of your run when you begin to feel more fatigued.
  10. If you encounter any wildlife, in general, leave the animal alone and give it space. Walk away quietly and quickly.

While it’s not likely that anything bad will happen, it’s always important to take basic safety precautions. If you are concerned about encountering wildlife, stick to major parks with trails within the city.

Trail Running Is Easier Than You Think

This is one activity that is exhilarating, scenic, and tons of fun. It completely changed how I feel about running, and the best part of it is that you can start simply by just hitting the trail and trying it out.

I find that it’s more about maintaining posture and form and less about having to focus on the effort of actually running. Hills and mountains are surprisingly good at helping to guide you along. When the downhill jogs are almost effortless, the uphill trails don’t feel as daunting.

Trail running can give you a true thrill that is difficult to match, and it tends to make exercise much more enjoyable than indoor machines allow for. Apps like MapMyHike can track your workout, and in my experience I’ve always found that I burn more calories for the time effort put in when on the trail rather than in the gym. Plus, you get to see neat stats like how much elevation you climbed. Next time you get the opportunity, I encourage you to hit the trails!

Amanda is a writer, artist, creator, and free spirit. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and received her B.A. in English with an emphasis in Professional and Technical Writing. Amanda was born and raised in Colorado Springs but now resides in beautiful Manitou Springs with her family. Since graduation, she’s been busy raising her daughter and working as a government contracted technical writer, ghostwriter, and digital content marketer. Following her passion led her to follow in her parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps as business owners and founders of the treasured Woodland Park Donut Mill. To achieve the freedom she desired, she and a colleague began their own marketing agency, Forrest & Rose (, to further leverage her talent. As the director of content and copywriter, she is able to put her heart, attentiveness, and passion directly into her client’s work.