How To Stay Safe on Gnarly New England Trails, and Some of the Best To Check Out!
Trail Running at Sunset - Photo Credit: Cameron Venti
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New England features some of the most amazing trails in the entire country. The legendary Appalachian Trail traverses Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine for hundreds of miles, and countless others thread throughout the region’s expansive peaks and forests, offering more than you could ever hope to explore in a single lifetime.
With such a bounty of natural wonders, it is no surprise that the trail running scene is second-to-none here. However, New England trails have a well-earned reputation for being rooty, rugged, and overall unforgiving. The forested, sloping mountains of the Appalachians are easy to underestimate, but are quick to humble overconfident or inexperienced hikers and runners.
New England locals are proud of this rugged reputation, and some lovingly refer to the Northeast as the “Beast Coast.” (New-England-born-and-bred Editor's Note: People don't really call it this. No one says Beantown either, for the record.) Uneven terrain, unpredictable conditions, and steep switchbacks make trail running here as challenging as it is fun.
Technical Trails on Mount Katahdin, ME - Photo Credit: Joseph Holihan
Running on Technical Trails
There is no zoning out mid-run in the Northeast: you’ll likely never be cruising down miles of buttery smooth trails like a marble on a track, as you might while running elsewhere in the country. New England trail running demands that you zone in, staying hyper-aware of each and every footfall on the constantly changing terrain.
The result is a kind of mindfulness that makes technical trails both engaging and rewarding. But avoiding trips and injuries is a constant challenge, so here are a few essential tips and tricks to help you confidently take on those gnarly New England trails.
Eyes on the Trail
It can be tempting to lift your head to take in the views, but the footing on New England trails demands your attention if you hope to remain upright for long. Rocks, roots, and slippery mud present an endless stream of obstacles. To navigate them successfully, practice running with your eyes scanning slightly ahead of you, rather than looking straight down at your feet or far away to mountain vistas. This helps you react appropriately to what’s coming next. You will make better foot placements and thus avoid tripping or rolling an ankle.
Short and quick strides keep your center of gravity over your legs, which improves your balance. This also wastes less energy and reduces fatigue as compared to taking longer, loping strides. Practice short strides on training runs with a little game: pretend the ground is white hot so you need to lift your foot as fast as possible after every step. Minimal contact time with the ground naturally leads to short stride lengths and great form on technical trails.
Lift your Feet
Towards the end of a long run, fatigue often takes over, and your feet may begin to drag. Try to stay mindful of this while out on the trails. Pay attention to your form, and keep lifting your feet strongly from your knees to avoid tripping.
Wear the Right Shoes
Appropriate footwear makes an enormous difference on burly New England trails. Your shoes should fit well, with no heel slippage. They should be secure enough that, once tightened, your foot cannot slide out, even with some effort. This fit will ensure your feet are nimble and precise.
The tread of your shoes should also be able to handle technical trails. Minimal-tread road running shoes simply won’t cut it here. Trail running shoes with deep lugs will be more secure when traversing mud, slippery roots, and steep climbs. Look for trail shoes with a rock plate, which will help protect your feet from New England’s overabundance of sharp rocks and gnarled roots.
White Mountains National Forest, NH - Photo Credit: Billy Freeman
The Best New England Trail Running Destinations
Put your technical running skills to the test at one of New England’s premier trail running destinations! Here are a few of our favorite spots.
Baxter State Park (ME)
With over 200 miles of trail and some of the most dramatic peaks in the Northeast, Maine’s Baxter State Park is full of fantastic running opportunities. Highlights include the last 10 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the epic Mt. Katahdin (Maine’s tallest mountain and the northern terminus of the AT), forested creekside routes around Togue Pond Gate, and dozens of rarely visited trails that weave deep into the Park’s 200,000 acres of protected wilderness.
Green Mountain National Forest (VT)
Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest is home to some legendary trails. The AT passes through here on the way northward to Maine, as does the 273-mile Long Trail, the oldest long-distance route in the country. For a challenge, hop on a section of the Long Trail or the AT, or push for the summit of Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen, two of Vermont’s tallest peaks. For a more laid-back adventure, some mellower and shorter trails lead to the National Forest’s many waterfalls, like the Falls of Lana.
Green Mountains National Forest, VT - Photo Credit: David Trinks
White Mountain National Forest (NH)
New Hampshire’s answer to the Green Mountains of its neighboring state, White Mountain National Forest is a wilderness wonderland. With over 1200 miles of non-motorized trails, the running here is world-class. The Mt. Chocorua, Kancamagus Scenic Byway, and Moat Mountain areas boast dozens of mountain trails, with endless opportunities for runs of any distance.
Mount Holyoke Range State Park (MA)
A compact, but stunning spot in Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke Range State Park features over 30 miles of well-marked trails. The park’s 10-mile section of the 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail is perfect for a long day of technical ridge running. Less committing options include a 3.4-mile round-trip grind up to the Park’s highest point on Mount Norwottuck, or a cruise along a pleasant section of the Robert Frost Trail, starting from the Notch Visitors Center.
White Mountains National Forest, NH - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Plan a New England Trail Running Adventure
Running the technical trails of New England is extremely rewarding. There are endless miles of engaging terrain through gorgeous and often remote scenery. It can be challenging, but the Northeastern U.S. is a fantastic destination — not just for trail running, but for hiking, backpacking, biking, and camping as well! It gets even better in the fall, when the Appalachian forests explode into brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow.
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