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Best Places to Run in Raleigh

Raleigh is one of the best running cities in the country, yet one of the least talked about. A large part of that is because the city is still small but growing rapidly, so many people are just now discovering all the trails and greenways that make Raleigh so special. For many, the neighborhoods are the best places to start exploring Raleigh. With tons of sidewalks, bike lanes, and crosswalks, you can run all over the city exploring without having to run alongside cars. However, there are stretches of road where sidewalks end and you’re left feeling trapped and uninspired.

That’s where this article comes in. It can be daunting moving to a new city and not knowing where to run, so we’ll help you out with some of our favorite places to run from, to, or around. One of the best parts of Raleigh is the ability to make your own route so let us know where you run and your own personal routes. 

William B. Umstead State Park

Umstead marathon on the reedy in umstead
William B Umstead State Park. Photo by Josh Dwight

First and foremost, William B. Umstead State Park. Any local will tell you that Umstead makes Champions. The epicenter of running in Raleigh provides miles upon miles of soft-surface trails perfect for any type of run. Much of the surface is crushed gravel at varying sizes. The rest of the surface is singlet track trail that weaves through the woods in between trees and creeks.

For your first time, we recommend you visit the entrance off of Harrison Avenue. It has a pretty large parking area and you can choose between the crushed gravel, multi-use trail and the single track trail. In terms of mileage, Umstead is perfect for any distance from short easy runs to 20 mile long runs. There are multiple loops within the park where you can add mileage and create your own variation of the routes. The Turkey Creek Loop is a 10-14 mile loop (depending on the entrance) that is rolling hills that tests even the most fit athletes. 

The American Tobacco Trail

three people running on the American Tobacco Trail
American Tobacco Trail. Photo by Josh Dwight.

While not being an official “Raleigh” park, the American Tobacco Trail is a popular spot. Once again there are plenty of entrances to mix up your runs along this 23 mile trail that takes you from downtown Durham to rural parts of Cary. Depending on where you start, you’ll either encounter crushed gravel or a paved trail with a parallel crushed gravel trail. The trail is effectively a long, straight trail open to runners, bikers, and walkers. You’re limited to out and backs until you begin to explore some of the country roads that intersect with it. I recommend staying on the trails to start. Again, this trail is a perfect trail for 5k runs all the way to 26.2 mile marathons. Coincidentally, there’s a great race called the Tobacco Road Marathon where you run 26.2 miles on the very same trail you could be training on. 

Now while both of those running routes are incredible in terms of, well, everything. It’s hard to make a drive to a park every morning during the week with work, school, kids, dogs, etc.. So it’s best you find something nearby. 

The Capital Area Greenway System

In Raleigh the best option is a greenway. There are 28 trails that compose the Capital Area Greenway system. If you live anywhere with a Raleigh or Cary address, there’s all likelihood that you’re very close to a greenway. All of them are varying lengths and difficulty in terms of elevation change, but they’re completely paved. Most neighborhoods have an entrance to the local greenway that can take you around Raleigh or sometimes to new greenways.

One of the best parts of the Capital Area Greenway System is that you can make your own routes using parts of different greenways. Whether it’s taking the Crabtree Creek Greenway to the House Creek Greenway to the Rocky Branch Greenway, or some variety of this running route. You’ll be able to get creative with how you use the Raleigh greenways. These running routes can be perfect for that weekday morning route to keep you consistent on training. 

people running on the raleigh greenway for the raleigh half.
Neuse River Greenway for the Raleigh Half. Photo by Josh Dwight

Short and Sweet

The next two are some shorter options that provide some incredible views and environments. 

NC Art Museum

First is the North Carolina Museum of Art off Blue Ridge Rd. The art museum is a great place to run with outside art installations, soft surface trails, and access to the House Creek and Reedy Creek greenways. Staying on the museums campus you’ll have to do multiple loops for more miles, but you can start at the museum exploring the different exhibits and then cross the bridge over I-40 to get on the House Creek Greenway. There’s some elevation and parts of the trail are paved but it’s an incredible experience exploring the trails and art exhibits that the museum has to offer. If you follow the Reedy Creek Trail signs you’ll find yourself in Umstead in no time. 

Lake Johnson

Second is Lake Johnson. Lake Johnson comes in as one of the smallest places to run on this list, but it’s a favorite for people in the area for soft surface runs. Most of the park is soft mulch surface with some parts turning into single track trail with roots and winding turns. There’s a great bridge that cuts across the lake. For the workouts there, if you find your way to the parking lot next to the beach, take a right and you’ll see a long straight mulch trail where local high schools and college teams rip 1K repeats. For a training session, it’s a perfect place to get some faster work on soft surfaces

Finally, if you’re confused at all by the locations I’ve given above or you’re looking for a group to run with and explore new running routes in Raleigh, stop by Runologie for run club on Thursdays at 6 p.m.. If you need track access (it’s hard to find), join Runologie on Tuesdays at St. Augustines University Track at 5 p.m.. We got some good routes and great people that can give you their favorite places to run in Raleigh. 

Get out there and find your favorite running routes. Raleigh is your proverbial canvas for running.