North Carolina is one of the most amazing states in the country for getting outside and enjoying great runs since it has four seasons but it doesn’t have the extremes like many other states. The winters aren’t too brutal and while summer running is hot and humid (tips for that here!), it’s nothing like Florida or Texas!
When I first moved to NC, I was sad to be leaving Utah and the easy access to trail running and hiking, but I quickly grew to love the charm of North Carolina and have found so many great running spots across the state. We have access to mountains and beaches and plenty of running route options in between.
I live in Winston-Salem so I have the most insight into that area, and I had a running friend from Charlotte provide details on routes there. Since I visit the Boone and Blowing Rock areas a lot, I know that area fairly well too, but I’m not much help on Raleigh and the North Carolina Coast. But Is hared what I know and I’ll continue to add to this as I learn more from my own experience and from learning from you! So if you live in NC, please share your favorite running routes in the comments – it’ll help others who find this post!
Okay, let’s get running!
Best Places To Run in North Carolina
This info is LONG overdue since I get asked on Instagram almost every week from people who have moved to Winston-Salem about where to run! And I know I struggled with that when I first got here too. Strava is a great place to start to find routes and I’ve outlined some other popular options below.
Salem Lake is beloved by runners and bikers alike in Winston Salem. A trail circles the lake, making a 7 mile loop. The surface is a soft trail, covered mostly in dirt and some gravel. There are portions with rolling hills but overall, it’s pretty flat terrain. The mile markers on Salem Lake Trail go counterclockwise starting at the Point parking lot, located near the playground and picnic areas.
Where to park: There are three options – (1) the parking lot near the playground and restrooms, (2) in the large parking lot near the marina or (2) at the small parking lot on Linville Road. I’ve linked google maps for each!
See more details about Salem Lake here.
Muddy Creek Greenway
The Muddy Creek Greenway runs nearly 3 miles along Muddy Creek from Country Club Road, through Jamison Park, under Robinhood Road, and ends at the bridge to the Summerfield Development across from Jefferson Elementary School. It’s a paved path and makes a perfect out-and-back route. It’s great for beginning runners given the flat, paved trail.
See more here.
Downtown Long Branch Trail
The Long Branch Trail runs from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, through Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, under Business 40, to Salem Creek Greenway. (Or you can go right on Rams Drive and venture over into Old Salem!) It’s a concrete trail, which isn’t my favorite for running, but it keeps you safe from cars. Don’t forget you’ll be climbing a hill to get back to your starting point!
There is lots of parking along the trail so park anywhere near the roundabout at Research Parkway and Third Street. Or if you’re lucky you might snag one of the few spots in front of Black Horse Studios. If not, just drive past Black Horse Studios, going down the hill, until you see the roundabout and go right onto Research Parkway to park.
This is a great starting point for beginning, intermediate or veteran runners since you can do anything from 1/2 mile to 10 miles starting from here!
There is a track at Hanes Park so you could loop that for a short run (or speed session!). Or, you can loop the park itself for about a 1 mile loop.
For more mileage, park at the Hanes Park tennis courts or the William G White YMCA across the street. Then, run up the hill towards Glade Street, then turn right to run down the hill. You’ll veer to the right to stay on Hawthorne Rd. From there, stay straight (crossing Northwest Boulevard) and go under the bridge. Go left on Runnymede Road and run up Runnymede. You can turn around and head back or cross Reynolda Road to get into Buena Vista and pick up the BV route outlined below. Runnymede has gorgeous azaleas lining it in the spring and spectacular leaves in the fall. The Mistletoe half marathon runs along this road!
Buena Vista Neighborhood
This is one of my favorite neighborhoods to run in. The best advice for running in Buena Vista is to make your run an out-and-back until you learn the area more. There are lots of roads with somewhat steep hills, but if you stick to Oaklawn, you won’t have to fight too much elevation. You can run wherever you’d like here, but if it’s your first time, I’ll give you a basic route to follow since it’s easy to get turned around in there.
Park at PNC bank here. From PNC Bank, start on Country Club Road going left towards the fire station. At the fire station (not far from the parking lot!), turn right onto Arbor Road. Run on Arbor for 3 blocks until you reach the intersection of Arbor and Forest Drive. Make a right onto Forest Dr, run for a short block, and then take a left onto Oaklawn Ave. Then run 5 blocks straight on Oaklawn until the intersection with Arbor. You can turn around here and trace your steps backward for a great out-and-back route.
If you want more mileage, head down Oaklawn passing the Arbor Road intersection, cross Coliseum and head into Graylyn Manor (where we got married!). Run to the guard house at the end of the Manor’s property on the opposite side that you entered (stay to the right on the road as it curves). Turn around here and head back.
OR, you can get even more mileage if you cross Reynolda Road and head into the Reynolda House property.
You can circle the meadow in front of the house (a wood chipped trail to the right as you enter) or run into Reynolda Village (stay on the paved road to the left). There is also trail that connects from Reynolda Village to Wake Forest University for even more mileage.
You could also park at Reynolda Village and work your way back in the opposite direction, following the same route.
It’s hard to get in a lot of mileage in Ardmore without winding up and down streets, but at least it’s all beautiful. (Even if it is very hilly!) A good place to start exploring without getting lost would be to park at Ardmore Baptist Church and cross Miller Street, staying on Elizabeth Avenue. You can run down Elizabeth to Miller Park, loop around in there and head back up on one of the parallel streets to get back to the church.
In the spring, you’ll be treated with LOTS of pink blossoms at Ardmore Baptist Church and in the surrounding streets.
Home of the famous “Festival of Lights” around the holidays, Tanglewood is a great place to run (or bike). Once you pull into the park, take your first left onto Campground road and you will find a free parking lot. From the gravel lot, you will see well marked and maintained dirt trails as well as pavement paths.
For Charlotte’s running spots, I’ve asked a Charlotte native to join us since it’s been a few while since I lived there!
In the middle of 2017, I made a big move across North Carolina from my small hometown in the eastern part of the state to the city of Charlotte. Running has always been my activity of choice, but it’s also how I meet people. The second I arrived in Charlotte, my search for runner friends and good running routes began. Two things stood out immediately: there are way more places to run, and oh-my-gosh, it’s hilly!
Most importantly, the Charlotte running community welcomed me with open arms. If you just arrived in the Charlotte area, are new to running, or finally decided to switch up the same route you run every day, check out my recommendations below.
Around the Queen City
Little Sugar Creek Greenway: Brandywine to 7th Street starts behind Park Road Shopping Center and passes through Freedom Park. I have run countless loops around the pond at Freedom, but I also enjoy the greenway that runs along the side of the park and takes you all the way to Uptown. If you want to get away from traffic and enjoy a little bit of nature, this is a great route. There are several water fountains along the way, and you’ll find public bathrooms on the back side of the park near the jungle gyms.
**I do not recommend running any part of the greenway in the dark morning hours or evening. Otherwise, it’s a safe place to exercise, but always bring your phone and try to run with friends just in case!**
If you’re looking for a shorter loop through a shady neighborhood with plenty of sidewalks, look no further than the Booty Loop. This loop is exactly 3 miles and takes you through the gorgeous Myers Park neighborhood. There are a couple of water fountains along the way, but some have been turned off due to COVID.
My newest favorite route is on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway: Tyvola Road to I-485. This part of the greenway starts at the edge of the South Park neighborhood and takes you almost 5 miles south. I love the wide path, shady trees, and zero traffic. It’s like candyland for runners.
You want to get out of the city and dirty up your sneakers, you say? Look no further than the National Whitewater Center. The Whitewater Center covers over 1,300 acres of woodlands with over 50 miles of trails for running, hiking, and mountain biking. The best part is rewarding yourself with a cold brew or kombucha from the restaurant and bar that overlooks the whitewater course. So much people watching!
Another favorite weekend activity is to hike or run Crowders Mountain. Crowders is about a 40 minute drive from Charlotte, but totally worth it. The trails vary in distance and difficulty. One time, I took the wrong trail and ended up hiking most of the way, but we still reached the summit, and it was so worth it.
If you want to get the feel of trail running but don’t want to drive too far out of the city, check out McAlpine Creek Park. Don’t expect trails longer than a couple of miles. McAlpine is the home of the 5K Championship Cross Country Course. If you’re willing to run laps, McAlpine is a beautiful spot!
I cannot write about Charlotte running without mentioning the Charlotte Running Club. If you’re trying to connect with other runners, you should absolutely start here. Charlotte Running Club will connect you with people, events, and group runs. Every Saturday, you will find runners from various pace groups congregating at the back entrance of the Dowd YMCA in Dilworth. This is a great way to meet people and explore new routes around town.
I hope you enjoy the many running adventures Charlotte has to offer. See you out there!
I don’t know the Raleigh area well, so please share your favorite spots to run in the comments!
American Tobacco Trail
The American Tobacco Trail is just over 22 miles long in the Research Triangle Area. The path is paved and wide making it a great spot for long runs. Trail information here.
Umstead State Park
There are over 20 miles of trails in the park and it’s a really gorgeous, peaceful spot. I’ve run there once and the section I ran was VERY hilly with pretty loose gravel. But, there was lots of shade! Trail info here and here.
Blue Ridge Mountains – Boone and Blowing Rock area
If you want to run during your vacation, you should consider the Zap Endurance Running Camps up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The gravel path that circles the lake is about a mile and very flat and very pretty. There are great trails that run above the lake up towards Moses Cone Manor for longer runs too. Plan to get there before 8 if you want parking! The parking lot starts to get full by 9, but you can also park above the parking lot in small gravel lot, just before you turn down into the parking lot. There are usually about 4 spots there.
Main parking lot directions here. There is a bathroom and water fountain. (Although, when I was there in mid-August, the drinking fountain was covered due to COVID.)
Moses Cone Manor
This is a great option since you can run down or run up to start, but don’t expect much flat terrain!
You can run down to Bass Lake or you can run up to the Fire Tower (more on that below.). Or, you can still head down, but skip the lake and hit the Black Bottom trail instead. Or do both! The entire park has almost 20 miles of trails! You’ll often see the Zap Fitness elite runners out there too.
Directions to the Cone Manor parking lot here.
Flat Top Fire Tower Trail (AKA Flat Top Trail)
This is a great trail for a fast finish! You’ll run up to fire tower, about 2.2 miles and then enjoy the easy run down! The tower at the top has incredible views and you’ll pass the Moses Cone grave marker on the way up (to your left when you hit the first big meadow).
Park at the Cone Manor and head down the stairs and left from the parking lot. Go under the Blue Ridge Parkway and head straight up. The trail is marked as the Flat Top trail.
Trail Information here! There are bathrooms with a water fountain as well.
This running loop is an easy 1.2 – 2.7 mile loop, depending on which loop you do. You can connect to longer trails (Fire Tower, Moses Cone, Rich Mountain) or just circle the lake.
This is a paved, mostly flat greenway that runs through Boone. It’s a little less than 4 miles end to end, but it’s nice because you can avoid any cars in a busy part of town. More trail info here.
North Carolina Coast
This is hard to cover since the coast is such a broad area! But, I’ll add places as I learn about them! So if you have favorite North Carolina coast running spots, leave a comment and share!!
Gary Shell Trail – This 15 mile trail runs from Wrightsville Beach to the town of Wilmington. You will pass many active runners on it at just about any time of the day. There is even a church that passes out water on really hot weekend days. It is charming and convenient. And you will smell the ocean breeze every step.
Trail information here!
Happy North Carolina running!!
Ready to run?
Join my FREE mini Running Bootcamp and I'll send you advice to help you get started! I'll share my favorite running shoes, advice on what to eat before a run, tips to run faster and more!