I thought about doing a Fave5 (as made famous by Charles Barkley and Dwayne Wade with the T-Mobile commercials) list of trails but there's no way I could only pick my 5 favorite trails. So instead, I broke it down into sub categories. I like this better:
Favorite Trails from Races
My trail racing "career" is still relatively short so I could easily put all the trails I have run a race on and get away with it. But I didn't include them all. I chose the top four and ranked them (with "1" being my fav). Here they are:
4.) Rocky Ridge County Park - Home of On the Rocks Trail Run - this county park contains a variety of trails, some of which are flat and runnable while others are hilly and rocky. If I lived closer to this trail system I would certainly be running there a good deal. There are some nice views, and the trails are easily accessible. The only time I have run these trails was during the On the Rocks Trail Run. I can imagine these trails being fairly popular because of the accessibility.
3.) Rothrock Trail System - there are numerous trails in the Rothrock State Park area. I don't know them by name. Running on these trails as part of the Rothrock 30k trail challenge, I got to experience the intense climbs, steep downhills, some beautiful runnable "bike trails" and a gnarly boulder scramble that seemed endless.
2.) Hyner View - the trails of the Hyner Trail Challenge are truly epic. I do not know all the names of these trails but they are simply amazing. I ran the Hyner 25k Trail Challenge on my birthday - April 16, 2011 - a day I will never forget. Despite the day being quite miserable with cold, rainy and windy conditions, the views from Hyner View were amazing. But I have to see it on a nicer day. With three distinct climbs that would bring most anyone to their knees, these trails are difficult. The downhills are quad busters. The hollows are gorgeous. This could become my number one come April 2012 when I run the Hyner 50k - a new trail event.
1.) Conestoga (MDT) - this trail was site to my first official trail race. It was September of 2010 and I had the bright idea that the Conestoga 10 miler (which was billed as arguably the hardest 10 miler on the east coast) would be equivalent to a half marathon. And since I was in my half marathon training cycle, why not implement something new? This event turned out to be the hardest run I ever had up to that point in my life. The RD said to expect twice your "normal" 10 mile run time. That's exactly what happened - 2 hours 41 minutes of pure hills: small hills, large hills, rolling hills. I don't think there was one ounce of flat running as part of this trail. The hollows were deep, the peaks were high, the views unbelieveable. This portion of trail is used as part of the Keystone Super Hike - a 28.4 mile ultra run or for some or a really long day of hiking for others. I was signed up for 2011 SuperHike but thanks to some SuperFlooding, this SuperHike was cancelled. Maybe 2012?
Favorite Training Trails
The trails to choose from for this list certainly is longer than the races I have run. They are all pretty much local trails relative to me so if you are not from southcentral PA (or familiar with it) then this list might be obsolete to you (that is unless you choose to visit me someday....)
Darlington Trail - this is for sure my favorite trail. First of all it is the closest trail to me. A quick 7 minute drive and I am at a nice trail head and can go two different ways on this "darling" of a trail. The trail itself is only 7+ miles from the west end (merges with the AT and the Tuscarora) and the east end (terminates at Tower Road north side of blue mtn). This trail has a nice variety making it a good trail for training purposes. It has hills (nothing huge but enough to feel it), rocks, flat, and nice views (mostly in winter when the leaves are gone). It follows Blue Mtn on top of the ridge (check out this video that someone else shot), just below the ridge and then dips to it's lowest point into Bryson Hollow. This hollow is a hidden gem - a creek lined with 100 ft trees that reach for the sky. It helps that the Darlington links to other trails making it easy to do loops. I have gotten out for quick 5 milers on the Darlington and also used the Darlington to link to the AT for 3+ hour runs. I have to admit though, at first I didn't give the Darlington the time of day. I used to run a section of the AT (see below) that met the Darlington and never seemed to think that it "looked" like a good trail. So I never bothered with. Finally one day my curiosity got the best of me and - well - I fell in love. Sorry Darlington, but better late than never - right?
HorseShoe Trail - this is a fairly new trail to me. I discovered it when I stumbled upon the Buzzards Trail Marathon site. The Buzzards are a bunch of trail runners that get together for a crazy marathonish distance in March every year. They use a series of trails that includes the HST, AT and a few other connector trails. It includes killer hills that simply climb the mountains straight up - no such thing as switchbacks here. The part of the HST that I have run is the western most section. The Horse Shoe Trail is about 140 miles long stretching from the AT in Dauphin County to Valley Forge National Park in Chester County.
Water Tank Trail - this is one the above mentioned connector trails used with the HST and the AT as part of the Buzzards Trail Marathon. It's probably no more than 2 miles in length but simply climbs up Third mountain on each side. It is one of the steepest and most difficult trails I have been on. Not much "running" on this section. It follows a beautiful cascade of water (I am sure at certain times of the year this cascade is rushing waters) that makes its way down the mountain towards Stony Creek. From the picture below you can see the trail going down - this picture really doesn't do the descent justice. You must see it for yourself to understand.
Boyd's Big Tree Preserve - I discovered this 12 mile series of trails in the middle of 2011. Boyd's Big Tree Preserve is a beautiful area nicely kept. Beautiful tall trees, nice variety of wildlife, and some good hills. It even has some nice views at the powerline clearing. But watch for snakes!
Trail System of Pinchot Park/Lake - Pinchot has a series of trails around the lake. Some of these trails are very well groomed and runnable, while others are a bit more technical. Depending on what time you of year you go, you may find very muddy trails or dry trails. Some sections seem to always have mud pits going on. This series of trail connects with the Mason Dixon Trail System.
Appalachian Trail - One of the more famous trail systems in the world, I feel lucky to have the Appalachian Trail in my own back yard. I started my trail running on a stretch of the AT about 15 minutes from my house. In all, I have only hiked and/or run from just north of Duncannon, PA on the AT to a few miles south of Boiling Springs on the AT (in sections). I consider myself to be very familiar with these sections. My first (and for a while my favorite) section of trail I ran was a 5 mile out-n-back from Rt 850 (in Perry County) to the top of Blue Mountain and back. I continued to challenge myself to run this section more efficiently and faster. It was my favorite section of trail to run until I found the Darlington (see above) which ironically intersects with this 5 mile section of the AT at the top of Blue Mtn.
Green Belt - Harrisburg, PA - So if you know what the Green Belt is in Harrisburg, PA, you are probably scratching your head and wondering why I would include this as a "trail." It really isn't a trail - or at least it's not in comparison to the above. But I included it becuase it is a trail of sorts that the city uses to encourage exercise in an urban setting. This green belt stretches about 19ish miles and does include some dirt trail albeit only 5-6 miles of the 19. Otherwise it contains paved path and some road connections. I have run sections of the green belt many times and on two occasions the entire 19ish miles. The Harrisburg marathon uses some of the green belt for it's course. The green belt also runs through a nice "natural setting" in Harrisburg called Wildwood Park. Wildwood is a 5k distance that makes its way around a beautiful lake with an assortment of wild life. I run Wildwood every so often and love the rolling hills.
Favorite Trails Yet to Run
I know what you are thinking. How can a trail be a favorite if I have yet to run it? Let's just say I think these will be some nice trails to do - ones I want to do. Some may be more "bucket list" options but none the less, I still think about doing them someday.
Flat Rock Trail - I have read this is a nice climb to a gorgeous view. Got to try it. It also connects with the Tuscarora so could get in a nice long run. One of these days...
Appalachian Trail - I need to branch further out and run sections my feet have yet to find...
Victoria Trail - located in Northern Dauphon Co. and conects with the AT
And others as I find them...
Western States Endurance RunTrails
R2R2R at the Grand Canyon
Appalachian Trail - ALL of it
Trails of the Presidentials - sometimes called a Presi Traverse this includes traversing over some of the highest peaks in New Hampshire (including one George Washington)
Anything in Yosemite National Park
Anything through Redwood or Sequoia in California
Trails at Leadville, Colorado
Trails I am not so fond of
Mason Dixon Trail (near Pinchot Park) - I tried running out of Pinchot Park area on the MDT and it just kept following ROAD. No thanks!
Tuscarora Trail (near where it intersects with the AT) - I have only been on a 3 mile stretch from where it connect with the AT and Darlington on top of Blue Mtn. Wasn't impressed.
Conewago Rail Trail - Elizabethtown, PA I am not a big fan of rail trails mainly because they are flat. I would definately pick a rail trail over road anyday but it doesn't help that my 2 or 3 runs on the Conewago were not "good" runs.
Maybe time to post a "Bucket List" of Races???....????