If you’re at all familiar with North Cascades National Park you might think that it’d be a fairly difficult place for a new trail runner to visit. Its rugged landscape and jagged peaks mean the trails are often at several thousand feet of elevation and deep in the backcountry. However, there’s more to this park than meets the eye. We’ve highlighted five great reasons (i.e. five awesome trails) why every beginning trail runner should visit North Cascades.
The River Loop Trail is a great first run for the newbie trail runner because at 1.8 miles, it’s short, and (except for a few sections) is fairly rock- and root-free. It’s also well marked which means you can focus on running through the forest rather than stressing about getting lost.
In addition, this trail is located near the Visitor Center where you can buy a map and fill your water bottles. Bonus: This trail can even be picked up from inside the Newhalem Campground which makes it a great basecamp.
The Thunder Knob trail is another reason North Cascades makes a great place to visit for new trail runners. At 3.6 miles (out and back) this run offers a couple great opportunities for skill development – That’s code for working on your footwork on several rocky, technical sections and accelerating through a bunch of tight switchbacks.
Like it or not, trail running doesn’t always mean smooth, groomed paths. In fact, some of the most epic runs require you to dance over jagged rocks and there’s no better place to learn than here.
This trail makes our list as a great one for the beginning trail runner because it gives you experience running on several different surfaces, as well as offers up some magnificent scenery. There’s a few soft and loamy sections with twisty singletrack, a wide and hard-packed gravel road, some steps and even a wooden suspension bridge. Plus, you’ll get to see a gorgeous waterfall. If this run doesn’t make you fall in love with trail running, we don’t know what will.
The Happy Panther Trail is perfect for the runner who’s looking to push themselves a bit with the distance and wants to be in the mountains, but isn’t looking for endless hill climbs. It’s especially great for the seasoned road runner who is new to running on trails. Out and back will get you just under 12.5 miles with about 500 feet of elevation gain.
The Diablo Lake Trail has a good bit of climbing (just under 1000 feet for 3.7 miles) but your reward for your efforts – in addition to the views along the trail – are the clear-blue green waters of the lake which waits for you on your return. The parking lot is fairly large, there are bathrooms close by and there’s even a little beach nearby which is great for hanging out post-run. What more could you ask for?
• Though some of the trails listed above are well-marked, it’s a good idea to bring a detailed map as well as a compass. Learn to use them rather than relying solely on signs and cell phones for navigation.
• Consider bringing a hydration vest and practice drinking on the move. Most vests have additional pockets on them for storing car keys and credit cards.
• North Cascades National Park is located in bear country so be sure to bring bear spray with you on your run and know how to use it.
• Make a practice to let someone know where you’re headed and about how long you plan to be out on the trail.
• Stay on the trail to prevent erosion and damage to fragile plants.
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