Northwest Trail Running: Trail Ideas & Beginner Tips

Editor’s note: We urge you to use caution and maintain physical distance while on the trail. Please also recognize that the outdoors have not always been welcoming for all people. Do your part to be welcoming and inclusive.


Tired of pounding the pavement?

Why not ditch the concrete for a change and give trail running a try.

“Trail running is very different than running on the road,” says Shawn Bostad, a Portland triathlon coach and a co-founder of the TrailFactor PDX trail running club. “You’re out there and it’s just you and the trail. It’s beautiful.”

Tips for Beginner Trail Runners

Here in the Northwest, trail runners are blessed with beautiful scenery —towering forests, coastal beaches and startling mountain views. Before you trade in your neighborhood run for a trail, consider these three tips:

1. Adjust accordingly — You may run an 8-minute mile in your neighborhood, but trail running is a different story. “Always be prepared for a longer effort on the trail,” Bostad says. “You’ll be climbing more and descending is slower, too.”

2. Tell someone — Whenever you venture out for an adventure in the woods, always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Also, consider hooking up with a local running club. Not only is there safety in numbers, but more experienced members can help lessen the intimidation factor.

3. Shift gear
 — For most short, summertime trail runs, Bostad says standard running gear works just fine, though it’s wise to bring a map for trails you’re not familiar with. When the rain sets in, shift your shoes to trail runners with lugged soles for better traction. When you graduate to longer runs, you’ll need to hydrate and refuel; think handheld water bottles or a hydration pack for water and a pouch for food.

Northwest Trails to Try


  • Tryon Creek State Natural Area — Located in a forested pocket of Portland, this natural area is home to soaring firs and a winding network of trails. Grab a map, string a few routes together and hit the trail. The interconnectedness of the trails here makes it easy to run four miles or 15.
  • Forest Park — Portland’s classic urban park is home to more than 70 miles of trails that course through the trees. The Forest Park Conservancy offers great maps and trail information. A couple of good runs include the northern section of the Wildwood Trail (5 miles) and the Balch Creek and Wildwood Loop Trail (4.8 miles).
  • Powell Butte — A great option for two- to three-mile runs with mountain vistas or hoof it six miles roundtrip to Warrior Rock Lighthouse on Sauvie Island.


  • Discovery Park — Seattle’s largest park overlooks Puget Sound and has incredible mountain views. It also has a great trail run. Hop on the Loop Trail for three miles of natural splendor.
  • Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park — Located just outside Seattle in Issaquah, this popular park runs wild with 36 miles of trails. One classic: the six-miler that goes up to the top of Anti-Aircraft Peak and back.
  • Tiger Mountain — Also in Issaquah, Tiger Mountain is one of Seattle’s most popular destinations for trail running. If you’re up for a challenge, try the loop trail to West Tiger 3. You’ll quickly gain 2000 feet of elevation on this tough 5.2 mile run.
  • Watershed Preserve — Located east of Seattle in Redmond, the Watershed Preserve offers well-groomed trails and a few hills to challenge beginner and intermediate runners.

Photo Credit: RyanJLane