There’s just something about running National Park races. Getting to experience an American icon from a completely unique and different perspective than the ordinary tourist. Participating in National Park runs is the best way to not only get the most intimate experience in a National Park, but also achieve an incredible personal goal in many of the best backdrops in the country. I’ll never forget the 1st National Park half marathon I ever completed – the Yellowstone Half Marathon. It was an eye opening way to see parts of this National Park I know I would have never seen otherwise. It was so good, I have gone back to run it multiple times! These are the top 12 destination races to experience if you are looking to run in National Park marathons or National Park half marathons.
- Zion Half Marathon
- Death Valley Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10k
- Crater Lake Rim Runs
- Yosemite National Park Half Marathon
- Bryce Canyon Half Marathon and 5k
- Grand Teton Half Marathon and 5k
- Yellowstone Half Marathon and 5k
- Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5k
- Glacier Half Marathon
- Mount Rushmore Half Marathon
- Bar Harbor Bank and Trust Half Marathon and 5k
- Joshua Tree Half Marathon
Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!
Table of Contents
The 12 Best National Park Races
Luckily, no matter what your distance goal is, whether that be a marathon or a half marathon or something less, organized National Park runs offer full marathons, half marathons, and shorter distances such as 10k’s and 5k’s. No matter which ones you go with, all offer the challenge, diversity, and the views that come from a National Park race!
#1: The Zion National Park Half Marathon
Location: Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is simply stunning to run through. The burnished bronze walls are so mesmerizing that you might just forget you are running 13 miles. Plus, running this National Park half marathon in March equals a more ideal running temperature and an escape from the brutal summer heat in Zion! Some years have even been run in snow, and a snow laden Zion is a landscape not to miss!
From a technical standpoint, the Zion National Park Half Marathon is considered moderate. Not super easy, but not too technical or challenging. And this half marathon is actually run on a road surface, but don’t worry, you won’t be robbed of any of the best sights while running this race! Landmarks like “the Watchman” will grace your horizon!
It also does not hurt that there are loads of other National Parks relatively nearby, if you have the extra time to explore the region more after your National Park run! Check out a day trip to Arches National Park, the other worldly formations at Bryce Canyon National Park, under-rated Canyonlands National Park, or maybe even a longer jaunt to goliaths like Grand Canyon National Park. Coming south from Utah, you would actually be closest to my personal favorite area of the Grand Canyon, the more remote and forested North Rim and its amazing wealth of hikes!
#2: Death Valley National Park Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10k
Location: Death Valley National Park, California
Run the National Park race that is held entirely below sea level! Multiple distances and multiple terrains are offered during this event, both paved and trail courses. No matter which you choose, you will discover a run enveloped in the surrounding desert mountain range, dotted with characteristic flora and fauna found only in this unique region of California. It might be the desert, but temperatures for this race are mild n February, the ideal time to visit Death Valley National Park.
There is also a wealth of outdoor adventures to partake in before and after your race. Multiple National Parks, including Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Sequoia, are within a day’s drive.
#3: Crater Lake Rim Runs
Location: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
When you hear of famous “Rims”, you may initially think of the Grand Canyon’s hike-able and run-able rims, but this race actually takes place along the crater rims of Crater Lake National Park. This National Park race boasts astounding views of Crater Lake from the rim, and also the added feature of higher altitude running between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. That higher elevation naturally means some lengthy ascents and descents along this course.
There are a range of different Rim Runs offered, including a 6.7 mile, half marathon, and full marathon, as well as a 6.7 mile option geared just at walkers. All courses are run on pavement, with the exception of the last couple of miles of the full marathon course.
#4: Yosemite National Park Half Marathon
Location: Yosemite National Park, California
One of the grandest National Parks in the state of California is the host to this epic half marathon race. There are so many iconic landmarks to see in Yosemite, so running here makes perfect sense. Forested trails, lakeside running, and waterfalls – it’s all here!
The Yosemite National Park Half Marathon is considered to be on the easier side of moderate, and is run on a mixed terrain of road and trail. The balmy springtime California temperatures in May are ideal running conditions!
And sticking to a common trend among National Park half marathons and National Park marathons, this race is in close proximity to a wealth of other outstanding outdoor attractions, such as Half Dome, Inyo National Forest, Kings Canyon National Park, and Lake Tahoe, if you have the time to add on to your destination race itinerary!
#5: The Bryce Canyon Half Marathon and 5k
Location: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This National Park race incorporates several idyllic canyon towns along its course, with the highlight being the passage through Bryce Canyon National Park. This race is exhilarating in many ways besides the obvious scenery – there’s also the net elevation loss and majority downhill course that may be a welcome sight for many long distance runners! The other is the chance to witness in person the spectacular and other worldly red rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park. This annual race is held in July.
And you can’t mention running a National Park run in Utah without mentioning the close proximity to the other National Parks in the region, making this a perfect chance to not only achieve an epic destination race, but to tag on visits to several other amazing National Parks in Utah!
#6: The Grand Teton National Park Half Marathon and 5k
Location: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
This event in National Park races could be considered slightly more molded to beginners, those looking for a gentler course, or those experienced runners looking for a PR in a National Park run. This race is considered easy, and is run entirely on a paved surface, with the exception of a small portion of hard packed dirt road. And the addition of a 5k option serves as an additional appeal to a whole other category of runners.
What endears this race is the charming surroundings of the Wyoming countryside and the towering peaks of the Tetons. Make sure to explore more of Grand Teton National Park after your race!
The Grand Teton National Park Half Marathon and 5k is in close proximity to the quaint town of Jackson, Wyoming, as well as Yellowstone National Park itself. If you have time to check out both National Parks, here’s a comprehensive guide to planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park, as well as recommended Yellowstone National Park itineraries.
#7: Yellowstone National Park Half Marathon and 5k
Location: Yellowstone National Park, Montana
Much like its nearby neighboring National Park run at Grand Teton, Yellowstone offers both a half marathon distance and a 5k, which is an appealing offer to many runners. The Yellowstone National Park Half Marathon and 5k is more challenging than its Grand Teton sibling, and is fully trail running. There are large portions of relative flatness, but one major hill and one minor hill that will be encountered.
Beginning just outside the gates of Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone, this trail half marathon and 5k winds through remote portions of Gallatin National Forest, incorporating narrow trails and open pastures, while offering a glimpse of this region that many visitors will never have the chance to see. The Yellowstone National Park Half Marathon was my first National Park race experience, and it completely changed my perspective of running, and crafted a new definition of active travel and destination races for myself personally.
***Want to run a DOUBLE National Park race? Or even a QUAD race?
You’re in luck then! The Grand Teton Half Marathon and 5k and the Yellowstone Half Marathon and 5k are actually run on BACK to BACK weekends in June! Sign up for a double, or, sign up for both 5k’s and both Half Marathons run during these two back to back weekends, and score the Grand Quad!
#8: Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5k
Location: Canyonlands National Park, Utah
In a slightly ironic twist, the Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5k is actually held adjacent to Arches National Park. But it is still an ode to the region whose lands are known for their canyons, as well as the stunning cliffs and vibrant hues that characterize Utah National Parks.
Run on road surrounded by red rock panoramas, this race is a bucket list on its own, but it has the obvious added bonus of being in such close proximity to Utah’s other National Parks!
#9: The Glacier National Park Half Marathon
Location: Glacier National Park, Montana
Looking for one of the more challenging National Park runs? The Glacier National Park Half Marathon may be your candidate. It is run on road, but there is no shortage of challenging aspects to this course. You’ll be climbing for almost the entire first half, but the good news is it’s pretty much downhill after that. Running through the Montana backcountry past prairies, mountains, and lakes, in the warmth of a northern mountain summer, cannot be beat!
#10: The Mount Rushmore Half Marathon
Location: Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
This National Park run may just take the prize for most challenging! You will be climbing on this one with plenty of uphills! If you need to up your uphill game beforehand, check out these 7 tips to conquering uphills confidently!
The Mount Rushmore Half Marathon also has the reward of running with a view of one of the most grand sights and iconic landmarks in the country! It is a unique setting that can only be found one place in the world! Be prepared for mixed terrain of both trail and road, and a challenging course that will push your limits.
When you have completed the Mount Rushmore National Park Half Marathon, be sure to check out the vast diversity of outdoor experiences close by, including cherished Custer State Park that contains the state high point hike at Black Elk Peak, the surrounding Black Hills, as well as a trio of National Parks including Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here’s a perfect itinerary for checking out both of South Dakota’s National Parks!
#11: Bar Harbor Bank and Trust Half Marathon and 5k
Location: Acadia National Park, Maine
You may not know it from the name, but this National Park race hails from the northeast, from Maine’s Acadia National Park! Full of craggy coastlines and cliffs, dense forests and granite bridges, and boasting mountains and seas. It’s a rare glimpse of this side of Maine’s secluded National Park, during its beautiful fall season in September.
This National Park race is run on old carriage roads and hard packed dirt trails. Courses start in picturesque coastal Bar Harbor, then divert into the National Park for truly untouched scenery and peaceful running serenity.
#12: The Joshua Tree National Park Half Marathon
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California
No list of epic National Park races would be complete without highlighting the best of desert running, the Joshua Tree National Park Half Marathon. Running in this environment will expose you to the almost alien-esque landscape that exists here, which is definitely a rewarding sight while checking off those 13 miles. But here’s the real treat – those 13 miles occur at night!
California’s Mojave Desert can be enchanting during the day for sure, but it is even more mystical at night! This is the only National Park race on this list to be held under moonlight, which is in large part its best claim to fame. But it also offers another unique challenge – running a course on sand!
The combination of being able to complete a National Park run on a different terrain in a different setting make this unmissable!
Insider Tips: Due to the sandy conditions, both gaiters and buffs are recommended for this race! Check out my gear recs below!
Gear Recommendations for National Park Runs
There are several basic essentials you should have with you for any of your National Park runs.
- footwear! Depending on your National Park race, you may encounter terrain ranging from paved road, to dirt trails, to sand! The type of surface you are running on should determine the type of shoe you run in! If you are running an all road race, my favorite road runners are these Brooks Glycerins. I’ve run every road race in these shoes for the past decade, and they’ve stood up to completed half marathon races now in the double digits. The cushioning is my favorite part of these road running shoes.
- THIS WOMEN'S SHOE IS FOR: The Glycerin 19 is perfect for runners who think there is no such thing as too much cushioning. The plush internal fit and soft transitions keep runners surrounded by softness. This Brooks Women's Glycerin 19 is a certified PDAC A5500 Diabetic shoe and has been granted the APMA Seal of Acceptance.
- On the other hand, if you will encounter all or part trail running, it is probably more ideal to invest in a good trail runner shoe with enhanced traction and grip, like these HOKA One One Speedgoats. I like these shoes because they have better “teeth” than my regular road running Brooks, which means I won’t lose my footing on terrain that might include less predictable components like loose dirt, rocks, jutting roots, or shifting sand. Also, you can’t beat a HOKA’s cushioning, and they have an unmatchable reputation in the trail running world!
- Breathable mesh upper with seamless synthetic overlays
- gaiters! These nifty accessories are particularly beneficial during a trail run. There’s nothing worse than getting stray bits of gravel or sand in your shoe when you are trying to run a National Park race at your best pace! Gaiters are relatively cheap investments that go a long way in maintaining your comfort during a run. To keep out the debris, check out these Soloman gaiters that I trail run in.
- Ease of Use: when the trail becomes more of a rubble pile, simply slide these gaiters over your shoes and Velcro them closed.
- footwear again! It is important to take care of your feet with the proper socks! Something that is moisture wicking and quick drying to prevent blisters is especially critical. These are the best brand of performance socks to active travel in, whether you are running, hiking, or walking. It’s the “twin” skin layers that help to prevent blisters! I used to be very prone to blisters before discovering these socks, and now I haven’t had a single blister since, even on the 24 mile long Rim to Rim hike in the Grand Canyon, or the 21 mile hike to the highest point in the lower 48 states at Mt. Whitney!
- Hilly Women's Twin Skin Anket, Magenta/Grey Marl, Medium
- FlipBelt! It’s super nice to be able to have an easy, convenient, and un-obstructing way to keep track of small personal belongings during a run. These FlipBelts are unobtrusive and not bulky, but make it easy to store Chapstick, keys, ID’s, cash, gels, or small snacks that you may need to have on you for a National Park race.
- COMFY ZIPPER RUNNING WAIST BELT: The FlipBelt Zipper is a secure upgrade on our Classic exercise running belt. It adds a zipper pouch to the pocket belt to safely carry small, vital items. Designed to pull on and lay flat on your hips without slipping, it is a light alternative to bulky running bags and armbands.
- make sure to invest in a water transportation system! My favorite for longer distances like half marathons is this Camelbak hydration vest, which is water bladder compatible and has plenty of storage for personal items and snacks! It makes hydrating on the go easy to do while running through the backcountry! I use this Platypus 2 liter water hydration bladder paired with my Camelbak hydration vest. I love this model of the Platypus because the wide mouth makes filling, cleaning, and drying much easier! For shorter races like 5k’s, I like this handy water bottle belt that can carry a water bottle and my personal items, while being comfortable and unobtrusive! It is so quick and easy to utilize!
- RUNNING HYDRATION VEST FOR WOMEN: The infusion of 3D Micro Mesh, ultra-lightweight materials, and reflectivity make the CamelBak Women’s Circuit Hydration Vest the preferred choice of trail and ultra runners looking for a minimalist running vest.
- Buffs! I like to keep my ears warm when running, especially in windy or chilly conditions, and these Buffs do just that! This is arguably the best accessory I ever discovered that I have added to both my running and hiking inventories. It’s an added bonus that not only are Buffs snug and warm, but they also double as headbands to keep hair in place, while coming in a range of fun colors! And if it’s super cold, you can always use Buffs as neck gaiters or baklavas for additional protection – they are that versatile!
- MULTIFUNCTONAL NECKWEAR: Soft and cozy natural benefits of Merino Lightweight can be worn 12+ ways for ultimate outdoor versatility, from cap to balaclava, neck gaiter to headband
A Few Other Tips on National Park Races
- If you are unfamiliar with the differences between road running and trail running, now might be a good time to get acquainted as there is a good chance you will encounter some trail running when completing a National Park marathon or National Park half marathon. As you can see in my gear recommendations above, the terrain you plan to encounter should drive some of your decision making when selecting gear, particularly footwear.
- Consider your lodging carefully. Many National Parks are a bit out of the way or remote. If you are not planning to camp or otherwise stay directly in the National Park for your lodging, consider where a ideal home base might be for your destination race. Make sure that your lodging logistics make sense and are convenient enough to not impede your race day morning.
- Check out these additional tips and tricks for pulling off a “week before race day” checklist, as well as a morning of race day routine for your big National Park marathon or National Park half marathon!
- Consider buying an “America the Beautiful” pass to save money on multiple National Park visits!
***Need a training plan for your upcoming National Park runs? Download your own training calendars HERE!
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Last update on 2023-08-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API