Something we often hear from people who want to start trail running is “where can I run?” If they’re a runner that predominantly uses the road, they can probably tell you how far it is from A to B or tell you a 20 mile route around their local town/city. However, they often no idea of where the local trails are. This all comes from experience. If you are wondering how to find trails to run in your area, the good news is that are many tips we can share with you.

In this article we take a look at how to find running trails including the following: 

  • Using route apps
  • Building routes on Strava/Garmin
  • Exploring – I wonder where that goes
  • Asking friends/running buddies
  • Local trail races
  • Using waymarkers
  • Local running clubs
  • OS maps
  • Google Earth

Let’s take a look at each of these in a bit more detail and help you enhance your trail running experience. 

Use Route Apps

Using a trail running app such as All Trails, you can find local hikes or trail runs in your area. It is a great tool if you are new to trail running and considering how to find trails to run.

There are some great routes available. If you allow the app to use your location, it will show you the closest “Top Trails”. Simply swipe across to see various trails.

As you scroll down the page you will also see trails categorised by the following titles

  • Best views nearby
  • Weekend worthy
  • Best waterfalls
  • Top moderate trails nearby

It’s a great app with so many different routes, distances and features.

When you click on a route, you can see much more info including elevation, route type, description and more.

While this is geared heavily towards hikers and used predominantly by them, we love it for ideas and inspiration which then give us a base to build longer routes.

Build Routes on Strava/Garmin

With Garmin Connect you can build routes for free but you need to have a Strava subscription to do this. While you can zoom in and discover the trail paths (represented by broken white lines), as well as the elevation of your route and an estimate of how long it will take you at your usual pace, you can’t always see the little cut through and short cuts that might exist.

We’ve often tried to plan routes where it’s not allowed us to cross over a path that we know is there. You also can’t see the quality of the paths either. We prefer using these apps when we are trying to calculate mileage for our longer runs. When we know where we want to run but we need to know how far it is.

If you do choose this option, the beauty is, if you have a GPS maps watch, you can easily upload the map to your watch by connecting Strava to Garmin, or simply straight from Garmin by syncing your watch. We have a Garmin Fenix and we love building routes and heading out to explore them. 

I Wonder Where That Goes – Explore the Trails

I smile as I write this. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve said this. It became a lockdown favourite back in 2020, when you had to stay close to home and only had limited time. All of a sudden, people were exploring their local areas and places they had never seen before, despite them being on their doorstep.

We used the opportunity to follow those signs that we’d often wondered about. “I wonder where that goes” was often followed by “let’s see shall we”. It opened up so many new trail running routes and made us appreciate what was right on our doorstep.

Safety First

While this is a wonderful way to explore, there are a few safety points to remind you of here:

  • Don’t follow an unknown path alone
  • Make sure you can find your way back
  • Take a phone
  • Make sure someone can track you from another device
  • Tell someone where you are going and how long you are going to be out
  • Don’t go out exploring too close to it getting dark

Exploring is great but you must put safety first – you also need to be careful of local wildlife. In the UK that might be cows, sheep and horses, maybe even the odd adder. For our stateside followers, snakes such as Copperheads, alligators and bears have to be a consideration.

Ask Running/Hiking Friends

Ask a friend to show you. This is how I discovered trail running. I was road training for a marathon when I was shown an off road run for a change of scenery. After my marathon, my first run was back on that trail and I haven’t looked back.

Friends that are regular trail runners are such a great way to discover local beauty spots, find amazing views and also enjoy a great run. They know the routes and have recce’d them before. I’ve lost count of the times that a friend has introduced me to a new trail and now I love doing exactly that with people.

Look for Local Races

Entering local trail races is a great way to discover trails that are safe and well-marked. We have found variations of local trail runs by entering races, not to mention meeting like-minded runners that are brimming with local knowledge. There are so many different races to choose from, sometimes they will be right on your doorstep. I once found a cracking Bristol race called the Purdown Pursuit and hadn’t ever considered there would be a local trail there. 

Look for Waymarkers

You may be surprised to learn just how many waymarked running trails there are near you. I certainly was. Who knew that the Butcombe Trail was literally a mile from my house? It took me 5 years to find this out. Exactly one mile from my front door this way marked trail is 50+ miles.

trail markers

Another mile on from that is the West Mendip Way which goes from my home town to Wells City and beyond. There’s the Lime Link the Mendip Ring and more. All of these are miles and miles of marked and well-kept trails that offer outstanding views. some decent climbs and a chance to lose yourself in nature. Not sure where your nearest one is? A quick Google search for “how to find way marked trails near me” will return sites like this.

Join a Local Running Club

Many people in our club have discovered local running trails through other club members, usually during local group organised runs. While most of the year our club sticks to well-known routes, in the summer there tends to be more organised off road runs when the nights are lighter.

Many local running clubs have both road and trail groups. There are clubs that are specifically trail clubs too. They will run trails all year round however, it’s quite hard to discover trails and remember them in the dark, not to mention the views aren’t quite the same!

Use an OS Map

I find that OS maps are a really good way to start looking for new trails to run. I have those that cover my local area – Bristol, the Mendips, Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury and the Somerset levels, and will often get them out to look for footpaths that will take me to interesting areas that I have not yet explored.

os maps

Discover OS maps

Once you start collecting OS maps it can become addictive as you seek new areas to run – I now have maps covering most of South Wales, the North Yorkshire Moors and the Quantocks. There is something special for me about starting to plan a long run using an OS map – creating a circular route by tracing the green dotted lines on the map and evaluating the 2D contour lines in my head so I don’t plan anything too brutal!

Word to the wise – be sensible when self navigating using an OS map, especially if you are new to it and not familiar with an area. We have written an in depth article about self nav running here. 

Use Google Earth

While we haven’t used Google Earth ourselves to plan a run, we were prompted to add this after a reader suggested it as a good solution to how to find trails to run. We downloaded the app and started examining the local routes and trails that we know. Apart from the forest/heavily wooded areas, we were able to clearly see paths marked out.

While we can’t use this method to check if new paths are indeed public footpaths, what we did notice is paths that we didn’t know existed. It has now given us new routes to check out when we are back out on these particular trails. It is definitely worth using to help with route planning.

use google earth to plan trails

How to Find Trails to Run

For those considering how to find trails to run, it doesn’t have to be difficult and there are so many different options. We hope that we have given you plenty of ideas that will help you get the most out of trail running. If you think we’ve missed anything, just drop us a comment below.