Running is a great excuse to see the world. You can travel light, go far, and access places others only dream of visiting. For ultrarunner Scott Jurek, the opportunity to connect with the land and local people and cultures is one of his highlights when it comes to running destinations.
Between his Appalachian Trail speed record, seven consecutive wins of the rugged Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, the U.S. record for the 24-hour road run (165.7 miles), two 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon victories, and adventures all over the world, Jurek, 46, of Boulder, Colorado, has probably packed in more miles than just about anyone. So we felt it was high time to reach out to him to hear about his favorite running destinations.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel around the world,” he says, “but I like to remind people that you don’t have to go a huge distance to find adventure. There’s great stuff out your back door.” You don’t need to be a professional ultrarunner, either. Whether you choose to run or hike, bag fifty or five miles a day, fly around the planet for a trip of a lifetime or just lace up the shoes and go, the journey is what you make of it.
Khumbu Valley, Nepal
“The Himalayas were one of the most amazing places I’ve been. The scale of the mountains blew me away. You’re running at 16,000 to 17,000 feet—well, maybe not running, because of the altitude, but more of a jog—and another 10,000 to 15,000 feet above you are the peaks.”
“This was one of my favorite trips, because it wasn’t a race environment and I wasn’t trying to do anything crazy. My wife was climbing Ama Dablam, and we stayed at base camp, about a day’s hike from Namche. I did some training days with her, then I was able to do some three-, four-, and five-day solo trips from base camp, running on established trekking routes and staying in teahouses along the way.”
“We trekked in from Lukla, which allowed us to adjust to the altitude, but the first three to five days can be pretty tough. I recommend renting an altitude tent ahead of time to help with the adjustment, especially if you’re going for ten days or less. If you don’t, plan on a longer buildup to acclimatization. You might be hiking more, and there’s nothing wrong with that—everybody starts to feel it at 16,000, 17,000, and 18,000 feet, even if you’ve done some altitude training or tent time.”
“Fall is the best time of year to go, since that’s when the weather is the most stable. Some people go in the spring, early summer, but then you might be dealing with more snow.”
Tour du Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc Massif, France/Italy/Switzerland
“The Alps aren’t as big as the Himalayas, but Europe is more accessible for most people, and the scale of the mountains from the valleys still gives you an appreciation of just how immense the terrain is and how the mountains are embedded in the local culture.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Mont Blanc area for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB). Being able to run through three countries over 100 miles is a neat aspect of the route. Some people wait years to do this iconic race, but you can run or hike the Tour du Mont Blanc anytime on your own, even if you’re new to trail running or not used to ultra distances.”
“The European hut system is amazing, and most stretches between huts are only 10 to 15 kilometers [six to nine miles]. The beauty is that you have a warm, dry place to sleep at night and don’t have to set up a tent in the rain or carry much gear. Some offer full amenities, and you could be sipping a glass of wine and eating a great pasta dinner after each day of running. You can essentially do the route with only a credit card, but you’ll want gear to contend with the weather, which can turn fast. A dry change of clothes for inside the huts can make things a lot more comfortable as well. I’ve done it carrying only a hydration pack that has extra storage room. Most huts take reservations, and I would recommend calling ahead at least 24 hours, especially at the peak of summer. But if you’re willing to take some chances and wing it, you might be running to the next hut if you come up to one that’s full.”
“Don’t rule out les gîtes, or cottages, in some of the little towns. I’ve stayed at them when we’ve decided to stop earlier for the day. Sometimes they’re owned by a family and have five beds—that sort of thing—so it’s more of an intimate situation, but a lot of fun, too, because you can have dinner with the family, versus a hut where you’re most likely with a bunch of tourists. I’m a big believer in doing an adventure run, staying in the huts or the teahouses, and really connecting with the culture. That has always been one of my highlights with running destinations.”
Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico
“If you want a wild adventure, Copper Canyon is the place. It’s remote yet still accessible and set up for tourists. The magic and beauty of the area is that the terrestrial reverse happens—you drop into the canyon instead of going up into the mountains—and you just feel these canyon walls towering thousands of feet above you.”
“As much as I’m a believer of go explore on your own, Copper Canyon is one of those places where it’d be best to have a local with you as a guide. Sometimes you can even get a [indigenous] Tarahumara guide who can show you stuff that you’d never see otherwise. Navigation in the canyon is tricky. There are trails all over the place—a mix of roads, wider trails, and faint singletrack—with no signage. So you definitely want recommendations from the locals on where it’s safe. Or go down in March during the Ultra Caballo Blanco race, when other gringos, hikers, and runners are in the region. You can also stick to dirt roads for a fun adventure run. I think some trail runners are like, Oh, I only want to be on singletrack, but there’s a lot of beauty on the dirt roads and getting into these remote villages.”
“Even though I feel like Mexico is a safe place, you do have to be on your toes a bit more and be smart about traveling. Creel is the jumping-off point before you drop into the canyon towns of Batopilas and Urique, where the race is held for Born to Run fans. I’ve based out of both towns, and I hiked from Batopilas to Urique each year I did the race. You start in one valley on the canyon bottom, go over the top of the rim, and drop back down to another canyon bottom. It’s pretty spectacular.”
“February and March are beautiful. April starts getting warm, and heat can be an issue. Springtime temperatures reach 90 to 100 degrees, so it’s a good idea to carry lots of water. There are water sources along the canyon floor—that’s the fascinating thing with the Tarahumara, they know where all the water is—but not as many flow during the dry season. They are hard to find, so plan ahead. There are no gear shops, so you definitely want to have everything you need.”
Tenth Mountain Division Hut System, Rocky Mountains, Colorado
“There aren’t a whole lot of hut systems in the U.S., but you can do some cool routes using the Tenth Mountain Division huts in the Aspen-Leadville-Vail triangle. The huts were mainly designed for winter ski touring, but they’re open in the summer, too, and are great for hut-to-hut runs.”
“My buddy Ricky Gates hosts a six-day, 100-mile running adventure called the Hut Run Hut, which gives people the opportunity for a more catered, guided experience. You get to run all day, then stay in a mountain hut each night, and your gear is brought up for you.”
“If you do it on your own, it’s not like Europe, where there’s bedding or meals in the huts. You need a sleeping bag, provisions, and more gear than what you’d be able to get away with in the Alps. Some huts have caretakers and others don’t, so it’s worth making reservations ahead of time, because you might need a code for the lock, for instance.”
Presidential Traverse, White Mountains, New Hampshire
“I’ve always felt northeasterners are a special ilk of runners. They’re super tough, because the mountains and trails are tough. We forget that out west, and rarely end up going east to run. I’ve mainly been on the Appalachian Trail, so I haven’t explored a lot, but the Presidential Traverse, a good chunk of which is essentially on the AT, has definitely got to be on the bucket list, or getting to the top of Mount Washington. I’d also recommend seeking out some of the less popular routes—you’ll be on your own and won’t see as many people.”
“The Appalachian Mountain Club has a great hut system with full-time caretakers. These huts are not as cheap as the Tenth Mountain huts, but they’re a great way of exploring the White Mountains. They provide bedding and meals, at least for part of the year. It’s a way where you can go super lightweight, if you’re willing to pay. The other option is to bring your own tent and sleeping setup.”
Smoky Traverse, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
“The Smoky Traverse, a section on the Appalachian Trail, is a great one, just from the immensity of it. You’ve got two 35-mile chunks—it’s 70 miles across—and you cross only one road the whole time. That, to me, is an epic run-hike that you can split in two days. The terrain is super hilly. You’ve got 6,000-foot peaks—a lot of people forget that the biggest peaks east of the Mississippi are down in the Southeast—so you get 3,000-plus-foot climbs. You’re doing a lot of that in the trees, and it’s a different atmosphere than, say, high-alpine country in the Northeast or out west but something I’d highly recommend. I think it has its own beauty and ruggedness.”
“There aren’t huts, like you have in the Whites, but if you’re on the Appalachian Trail, you do have shelters. You also go through these trail towns where you can grab food or amenities along the way. That’s pretty unique compared to the trails out west, where everything is spread out. Because the AT has become so popular, there are all kinds of bed-and-breakfasts and hostels along the way, so if you’re a trail runner who wants to do a five-day run, you can with some planning. When you have reception, you can call ahead to get a room or a bed, and they’ll sometimes shuttle you to and from the trail. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the European experience, but it’s a little closer to it in the sense that you’re not just out in the wilderness. You can do 10, 15, 20 miles day, then stay in a warm bed. The shelters are your other option, whether you’re in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or the surrounding areas. Bring a sleeping bag and bug net, and you can hunker down in a shelter easily and keep your runs lightweight.”
“I think people sometimes feel like, Oh, I’ve got to go somewhere remote for an adventure, when in reality you can find adventure only an hour or two from home. I’m a big believer in finding journey runs. That might mean getting dropped off by a bus an hour or two beyond your surroundings and running back home or hitting a nearby trail that goes for 40 miles. Picking a route and doing an adventure run through small towns can give you a cultural experience as well.”
“I’m based out of Boulder, and one of my favorites is getting up in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. That area is just a 45-minute drive from Boulder, or a 30-something-mile run, if you want to run all the way from town. There’re different options for loops. I’ve done 50-mile loops up there. Rocky Mountain National Park also has good routes.”
“You don’t need to fly halfway around the world to have a unique experience. There are cool adventure runs out your back door.”
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