Plenty of people hit the trails to chase their runner’s high instead of plodding along city streets.

Trail running is popular in Seattle and Washington state, with an abundance of runners, parks, green spaces and trail races, including classics like the Chuckanut 50k and new races such as the Teanaway Country 100.

But you don’t have to race to get into the sport — trail running is easy to take up, and fall is the perfect time to give it a try (and give yourself an excuse to get out of the house to exercise). Here’s what you need to know.

Gearing up is simple

One difference between running on trails versus paved surfaces is the added traction needed to run on trails. Trail running shoes have more aggressive and stickier rubber on the bottom of the shoe, helping to prevent you from slipping and sliding on slick, rocky or rooted trails.

Seattle-area running stores like Seven Hills Running Shop in Magnolia (which is dedicated to trail running), Fleet Feet Seattle (Ballard and Capitol Hill) and Super Jock ‘n Jill (Green Lake and Redmond) stock a variety of trail shoes to try, from popular brands like Brooks, New Balance and beyond.


As you get more technical with your trail running, pushing your distance and time spent on the trail, gear becomes more specialized. To extend your run at Tiger Mountain, Cougar Mountain or Mailbox Peak, you might consider a running-specific backpack. They can hold water, food, a jacket and emergency gear close to your back, feeling more comfortable than a traditional backpack.

Lightweight trekking poles provide extra oomph when tackling heavily inclined trails. Headlamps that bounce less, hats that wick moisture, and energy gels and chews that can be consumed on the go are all extra items to consider.

Find a run buddy

If you don’t want to run alone, there are lots of options.

A great way to learn about trail running and meet other runners is to join a free group run, such as the weekly run Wednesday evenings at Seven Hills. Attendees meet at the store in Magnolia and typically dash off to Discovery Park, one of Seattle’s premier parks for trail running.

Brian Morrison, who owns the Fleet Feet outposts on Cap Hill and in Ballard, operates a trail running camp once a year at Moran State Park on Orcas Island, which has a stellar network of trails.

The camp gathers trail runners, novices and experts alike, for three days of trails, shared meals, and shared knowledge and stories from past adventures in the mountains.


“We have a biological craving to be in nature. There is something very fulfilling to be out in wild places,” Morrison said, “I can go for a run and get to this awesome alpine lake. That’s pretty cool.”

Enjoy the fall … and prep for ski season

When the gray, wet fall comes on, mountain trails nearby get softer. Red, yellow and orange leaves pop up in the woods, creating vibrant scenes for trail runners, while lower temperatures provide a more comfortable atmosphere for breaking a sweat and getting outdoor exercise. (Remember those sticky shoes!)

Though many outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest rue the shoulder season between summer hiking and winter skiing, trail running is a perfect bridge to keep active outside while getting in shape for winter activities.

Running up and down steep, winding trails can mimic a day on the ski slopes, and developing leg muscles while running trails will help build up stamina and strength for winter powder turns.

How hitting the trail can help

Not all trail running requires a Cascades trek. In addition to Discovery Park, Carkeek Park, Seward Park and Lincoln Park are all great places to find single-track trails that feel a world away from the busy streets of the city.

And running on trails may even be better for your body than pavement.


Mandie Majerus is a Seattle-based physical therapist, founder of the Alpine Training Project, and an avid trail runner. She said running on trails can reduce impact on the body compared with concrete and asphalt.

“Ground reaction forces are less on trail,” Majerus said.

She added that some runners are doing some strength training as well to build up muscle strength and stability.

Beyond the physical benefits, Majerus loves trail running because it’s easy for her to live in the moment.

“You kind of forget you’re running, and then all of sudden you are on the summit,” she said.