The 10 Best College Towns for Running in the United States

If you’re a running enthusiast, finding the perfect city to pursue your passion can make all the difference. Ideally you’ll want a location with well-maintained running trails, a supportive community, and a fitness-oriented environment. Luckily, numerous university cities check all these boxes.

Global Running Day is celebrated on 7 June this year. Running is a great way to keep fit and be out in nature, either by yourself or with your friends. In this article, we will explore the top 10 university cities that offer exceptional running opportunities, scenic routes, and a culture that embraces an active lifestyle. Whether you’re a student looking to maintain your fitness routine or a dedicated runner seeking a runner’s paradise, these cities will inspire you to lace up your running shoes and hit the pavement.

City #1: Boulder, Colorado – Embracing Nature and Excellence

Boulder, Colorado is a runner’s paradise, ranked among the best university cities for people who like to run. With over 300 days of sunshine each year, breathtaking views of the iconic Flatirons, and an extensive network of trails, this city offers a truly unparalleled running experience. Home to the University of Colorado Boulder, which boasts a world-class track and field program, Boulder combines natural beauty with a vibrant running community.

A trail outside Boulder, Colorado with Flatirons in the background
Boulder has many great running trails, such as this one leading towards the famous Flatirons.

City #2: Ithaca, New York – Running Amongst Scenic Beauty

Nestled in upstate New York, Ithaca provides a dramatic setting for your running adventures. Surrounded by mountains and lakes, Ithaca is considered one of the best university towns with great running trails for runners of all abilities. Cornell University, located in Ithaca, has a strong running tradition, contributing to a supportive atmosphere for fitness enthusiasts.

The McGraw Tower at Cornell University
Ithaca has beautiful surroundings for running (photo credit: Wikipedia)

City #3: Madison, Wisconsin – Active Living in the Heartland

Madison, Wisconsin, situated in the heart of the state, is renowned as one of the best cities for student runners. As one of the best fitness-oriented university cities for runners, it is known for its active lifestyle and dedication to fitness. With the University of Wisconsin-Madison at its centre, the city features a large and vibrant running community. Madison’s beautiful parks and lakes offer diverse running routes, ensuring that you’ll never tire of exploring this runner’s haven.

A view of Madison, Winconsin
Madison is a great city for runners (photo credit: Wikipedia)

City #4: Ann Arbor, Michigan – Running in a Quaint College Town

Ann Arbor, Michigan, exudes charm and a sense of community that runners will appreciate. As one of the runner’s paradise university cities, it is home to the University of Michigan, which boasts a strong running program and fosters a supportive environment for runners. Ann Arbor’s bustling downtown area, coupled with its numerous parks and trails, provide ample opportunities for scenic runs in this fitness-oriented university city.

The University of Michigan campus
The University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor is a great place for runners.

City #5: Bloomington, Indiana – Nature and Fitness Combined

Bloomington, located in southern Indiana, offers a blend of natural beauty and an active running scene. With a strong running program, Indiana University contributes to the fitness-oriented character of Bloomington. The campus itself and the surrounding parks and trails offer stunning landscapes for runners to explore.

Indiana University campus in Bloomington
Indiana University in Bloomington has a strong running program.

City #6: Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Running in the Piedmont

Chapel Hill, situated in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, is a runner’s paradise. Home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the city provides a thriving running community and a plethora of scenic routes. With its stunning campus and well-maintained parks and trails, Chapel Hill offers a welcoming environment for runners.

Paths at the University of North Carolina campus
The University of North Carolina campus has many paths that are good for running.

City #7: Charlottesville, Virginia – Running through History

Charlottesville, Virginia, is a city steeped in history and natural beauty, giving it some of the most scenic running routes in university towns. It is an ideal destination for runners seeking diverse routes amidst a fitness-oriented university city. The University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, has a strong running program and it’s easy to maintain an active lifestyle. Charlottesville’s historic charm, beautiful campus grounds, and numerous parks and trails make it a great city for runners, whether you like to run out in nature or on city streets.

The Shenandoah National Park near Charlottesville, Virginia
In addition to the good running in Charlottesville itself, the city is also very close to the gorgeous Shenandoah National Park.

City #8: Berkeley, California – Running in the Bay Area

Berkeley, situated in the gorgeous San Francisco Bay Area, offers a vibrant atmosphere for fitness enthusiasts. The University of California, Berkeley, boasts a beautiful campus and an array of parks and trails in and around the town provide ample opportunities to explore the diverse terrain while staying fit. If you want some big city running, it’s hard to beat San Francisco, located right across the bay.

A view of Berkeley from above
Berkeley is a city with a lot of greenery, right across the bay from San Francisco (photo credit: Flickr – pedrik)

City #9: Eugene, Oregon – Track Town, USA

Eugene, Oregon, holds a special place in the hearts of runners worldwide as one of the best university cities for running and staying fit. As the home of the University of Oregon’s world-class track and field program, as well as the famous Oregon Track Club and the sportswear company Nike, this city has earned the title of “Track Town, USA.” With an abundance of beautiful trails, Eugene offers a perfect blend of scenic running routes and a supportive running community.

A Track Town, USA sign in Eugene, Oregon
Eugene is known as Track Town, USA (photo credit: Flickr – andrechinn)

City #10: Portland, Oregon – Embracing the Runner’s Lifestyle

Portland, Oregon, is known for its health-conscious culture and commitment to an active lifestyle. The city’s mild climate and numerous parks and trails make it an excellent choice for runners of all levels. In addition to its natural beauty, Portland is home to various running clubs and organisations, fostering a sense of community and support for runners.

A view of the Portland waterfront
Portland is famous for its health-conscious culture.

Last Thoughts

These 10 cities stand out as some of the best university cities for running and staying fit, catering to student runners and fitness enthusiasts alike. Their scenic running routes, excellent university campuses with running trails, and fitness-oriented environments make them ideal destinations for people who like to run.

However, it’s worth noting that many other university towns across the United States also offer exceptional running opportunities and a culture that embraces an active lifestyle. Consider exploring options like Athens, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; College Station, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Gainesville, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and San Diego, California for additional fitness-oriented university cities.

Remember that staying fit as a runner is not just about the location, but also about your dedication and passion. With proper planning, research, and a commitment to your fitness goals, you can turn any university city into your personal runner’s paradise. So, lace up your shoes, hit the pavement, and embark on an exciting journey to discover the perfect university city for your running adventures.