Poet Robert Frost famously wrote of taking the road less traveled and many local runners are heeding his advice.
In the Flathead you don’t have to go far to find a trail. They wind alongside streams and rivers, snake through meadows, switchback up and down mountainsides and chase train tracks out of town. On these worn paths, coated in dust and sweat, you will find runners like Danni Coffman, who prefers trail running over road running for a number of reasons.
“It’s better on your joints,” Coffman said. “It requires more balance. (Trail runs) help to make you a better runner.”
According to Flathead High School Cross Country coach Paul Jorgensen, runners choose trail runs to get away from cars and traffic.
“You get a variety of terrain, a more picturesque environment,” Jorgensen added.
Along with road running’s cardiovascular advantages, trail running’s uneven terrain can help to strengthen legs and ankles more than running on a flat surface.
“There are unlimited places to go. You can get there in 15 minutes and run for an hour,” said Jandy Cox, a trail runner and manager at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.
Looking for a place to try it?
Even with the seemingly limitless number of trails across the valley, the following trails are some Flathead hot spots.
One of the most accessible spots in the Flathead is Rails to Trails, which sits on the former Great Northern Railway bed running from Meridian Street in Kalispell to Kila. Composed of loose gravel with a few paved sections, the trail is an excellent choice for newcomers to trail running.
Another easy to find trail is the Lone Pine Trail located within Kalispell’s park of the same name. The trail runs along the north face of Lone Pine, so be prepared for steep switchbacks with an 800-foot elevation increase.
The popular Herron Park trail system can be found just outside Kalispell. Trails extend from Herron Park across public use timber lands to Blacktail Mountain, and offer a wide variety of terrain. Be prepared for winding, sometimes narrow, trails ascending Blacktail Mountain.
For those willing to drive to a trail, Bowser, or what many refer to as the “Pig Farm,” is on state land about 15 minutes northwest of Kalispell. This extensive trail system offers the widest variety of terrain, with some of the most treacherous and challenging trails in the valley. It also has wider, flatter trails for beginners. Private property in the area is marked and fenced off.
Some other good trail running areas across the valley are: Spencer Lake and Big Mountain in Whitefish, and Strawberry Lake and Jewel Basin near Bigfork.
Unlike sidewalks, Trails are often studded with sharp protruding rocks, branches, roots and other debris that can make trail running exciting but also hazardous.
Jorgensen suggests always watching the trail ahead of you and picking your feet up higher than on a road run to avoid catching a toe.
Cox recommends those running in wilderness areas pack a jacket, first aid kit, and in some cases bear spray and a map.
Mark Guest, owner of the Athlete’s Foot in Kalispell urges trail runners to invest in a good pair of running shoes.
“When running, your feet absorb the impact of anywhere between five and six times your body weight,” Guest said.
Good running shoes should be stiff with cushioned soles. You can find a pair for $70 to $110 or more for elite shoes. Shoe companies often offer running shoes specifically engineered for trail running.
Trail running offers a unique experience that runners can’t see on the road.
“The great thing about trails is the varied terrain, the sun, the shade, the hills,” Jorgensen said. “Time seems to go by faster on the trail.”
Coffman agrees, adding: “You don’t have to worry about traffic, just animals.”
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