Flagstaff is known as the running capital of the United States with the extensive system of trails and its elevation of 7000 feet. We see professional runners from all over the country as well as other countries flocking there for all that it has to offer. It is the Mecca of the running community and a unspoken right of passage if you are to achieve greatness as a professional runner. However, to the foreign runner just arriving in Flagstaff, the assets of the city are not so clear. While there are trails all over the city, it is hard to find the best ones to suit your days run if you do not know the landscape. Therefore, I will give a brief overview of the best trails Flagstaff has to offer and what types of runs or workouts would be good on each.
The best and most well known place to run in Flagstaff is the urban trail–not to be confused with the Arizona trail and the spur of the Buffalo Park trail (as all are technically part of the urban trail system of flagstaff). The urban trail runs north-south along the west edge of town and offers a soft and smooth dirt path for almost 7 miles. If you run the whole trail out and back you can get up to 14 miles for the day. But be weary before choosing this trail, there are a couple parts where you will hit very steep and over half mile long hills that you need to climb. You will be rewarded for your climbs however with breathtaking views of the city from far above. If the Urban trail is your choice the best place to access it is from the Baseball fields at Thorpe park just west of the High School. You can park here and go north for a flat run or head east if you are feeling brave enough to challenge the hills. If you want to head east to witness the views but don’t want to challenge the hills then you can drive up to the Observatory, park in their parking lot, and access the Urban trail from there.
The Arizona trail is similar to the urban trail in terms of distance and trail composition but offers somewhat different attributes in terms of terrain and scenery. This trail is on the South end of town and for the most part runs east-west. It is much flatter than the urban trail and is nice for an easy run day when you need a break from the hills. It goes through the Northern Arizona Univeristy Campus for a couple miles and even extends to a forest preserve where if you are lucky, you can witness a horse and its rider traverse an equestrian course. The best place to access this trail is to park in the Walmart parking lot on the south side of town. From the east side of the parking lot you can jump on to the trail and either head south for the forest preserve, or north then east into campus. Either way you will have a nice flat, dirt path for a beautiful run. Beware of prairie dogs though! While they don’t pose much of a treat to you physically they may startle you when darting in and out of holes!
If you need to get in a hard workout for the day or a fartlek run then Buffalo Park may be a good alterntive. It is a 2 mille loop on the north-east side of town where you can get rolling and run uniterrupted for as long as your workout requires. It has its own parking lot and drinking fountain and you may just run into some professional runners or collegitates running for the Univerisity. Don’t let this scare you off however! It is a great trail for recreational runners and walkers all the way up through the pros.
Forest Service Roads
If these paths are too mainstream for you and you want to get off the beaten path then you should seek out a forest service road. There is an extensive system of dirt roads that run through forests and up the various mountains in Flagstaff. Depending on which one you pick you can get a relatively flat run or a 6 mile climb from 7000 ft all the way up to the 12000 ft peak of the San Fransisco Mountains. For these runs you just need to get creative and drive your car out to some road, park on the side, and head out for your run. Be very careful and run with a phone and companion out here however as these roads have a lot of turns and alternate paths where it is very easy to get lost.
Once you get to know the layout of Flagstaff you will understand why it attracts so many runners of all skill levels. It truely is one of the best places to train and reach your full potential as a runner. Whether you are out there running for fun or trying to make a payday, the community of flagstaff will accept you and give you all it has to offer.