Utah Trail Running Basics

By Travel Tips and Deals Jun 19, 2018
There’s nowhere better to try trail running than Utah’s rugged landscape. Here are the basics to get you started!
Utah Trail Running Basics

Mentally it makes me happier…

“Much harder on the trail but it’s making me stronger and mentally it makes me happier…,” texted my friend Hemarie. Before moving to Utah she’d only trained on roads and paths. Now she's hooked on the challenges and pleasures of running trails.

If trail running is new to you, there’s nowhere better to try it than Utah’s rugged network of trails and paths. 

Here’s how to explore one of our most popular sports during your next visit.

 Trail Running Park City

Hydrate In Advance

Hydration is critical in Utah’s climate, especially when exerting yourself at high elevation. You can’t depend on thirst to alert you because both appetite and thirst decrease at elevation. There are plenty of scientific guidelines on how much water to drink, but one simple guide is to drink enough plain water to dilute your urine to pale yellow or clear. If it’s dark, you need more water (be aware that there are a few vitamins and foods that can tint urine making this method unreliable). For more information on trail running hydration, read Hydration Basics for Trail Running by REI.


Gear Up

Shoes - You can give it a whirl with your regular running shoes, but if you get hooked, invest in a pair of trail runners. The tread is more aggressive and most have a rock plate in the sole to protect your foot from sharp rocks.

Hydration Pack or Other Means of Carrying Water Etc – There won’t be any pit stops on the trail, so you always need to carry hydration. If you’re planning a long run, especially in a remote area, pack hiking basics including a small first aid kit, an extra layer, snacks etc.

Clothing – Dress as you would for hiking, only a little cooler because you’ll work up a sweat. Opt for durable yet comfortable clothes in quick-dry fabrics. I also prefer close fitting clothes when I’m running because they reduce chafing. Pack a layer for stops and the notoriously unpredictable mountain weather shifts.

Lung Training

Choose a Location

The first thing you’ll notice about trail running is that it’s slower. The rough terrain and sometimes steep will eat up your time. Initially choose distances shorter than you normally run until you gain a feel for your “trail pace.”

Explore a Long Urban Trail - A great location to explore trail running without leaving town is the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, a roughly 100-mile path tracking along the ancient shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. Sitting above the valley on the Wasatch Bench, it has nice views and a ton of spurs to explore with little chance of getting lost (you can see the valley the whole time).

Ski Areas Have the Views – Hiking trails surrounding ski areas are excellent for trail runs as well. The elevation means cooler temperatures and they have some of the best views! If you’re accustomed to living at sea level, the altitude will leave you feeling short of breath. Slow down and enjoy the scenery…it’s a normal reaction. The following posts are a great resource for trails near ski areas and towns:

Top 10 Trail Runs in Northern Utah

Ogden’s Top Trails After the Snow Melts

Salt Lake’s Top Hiking Trails

Park City’s Top Trails

From Slopes to Trails: Spring Hiking and Biking in Utah

5 Spectacular Fall Hikes Near Salt Lake City

8 Spring Hikes in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Park City

Top 6 Hiking Trails Near Brian Head and Eagle Point

Local Runners Have the Beta – This is one of the best ways to find a good trail. Stop into any local running or outdoor store and talk to the staff. Chances are most run trails and can tell you which are the best at that time of year. There are also a number of trail running meetup groups that could be good sources of intel. 

Check Out the Trail Run Project– A crowd-sourced website cataloging the best trails for running. It includes lots of great routes, information, and photos. 


Running With a Dog

Trail running and dogs are a match made in heaven! My lab gets excited every time she sees me slip on my trail shoes and use my inhaler. There are a few things to be aware of, however.

Know Before You Go – Not all areas allow dogs. The watershed surrounding Salt Lake City doesn’t allow dogs. This includes Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Also, some canyons, such as Millcreek, have days for on or off leash.

Prepare for Dirty Feet – Getting dirty is half the fun, but if you have a dog, protect your car with a seat cover. This could be as simple as a cheap shower curtain, or you could spring for a fitted cover. I use the Loft Bench Seat Cover from Kurgo. I like that it stays in place, is easy to wash, and looks decent.

Pack Water and Snacks for Pup – Please don’t forget to hydrate your pup in addition to yourself. I used to carry a bowl and separate bottle of water, but now I give her drinks directly from my hydration pack by squirting the water from the tube into her mouth (keeping the mouthpiece clean). I also pack a bag of kibble.

Consider a Hands-Free Leash – If your companion isn’t well trained, I suggest a leash for his or her safety. Coyotes and snakes live in the area, especially near lower elevation trails. I encounter them a few times a year. Also, mountain bikes can be a hazard for both dog and rider. I use the “Quantum Leash” so I don’t have to hold it all the time. Yes, I’m a fan of Kurgo products!

Pack Out Poop – Don’t forget to carry some poo bags. With the number of dogs on the trail, droppings add up quickly. Also, there isn’t a crew that comes along to gather up the little “gift” bags – if you leave it behind, another hiker will have to carry it out for you.

For more details on hiking/trail running with a dog, read: Hiking With Your Dog in Utah.

 Running Red Butte Trail

Have Fun!

The most important advice I have is to enjoy yourself and don’t get wrapped up in times or performance. Trail running is a different experience than road running. It will humble you in some ways, and uplift you in others.

Once you've tested the waters and are looking for a challenge, try out the Discrete Cirque Series. This thrilling race series will challenge competitors at three Utah resorts this summer: Brighton, Alta Ski Area and Snowbird.  

Do you have a favorite running trail in Utah? Please share!