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Scenic US Half-Marathons You Won’t Want to Miss

July 18, 2019


There’s more to a half-marathon than the sense of achievement at the finish line. Particularly if you’re a regular competitor, the scenery makes a huge difference. Each course takes its character from the surroundings, influencing the type of competitors who register. In some cases, the scenery nudges the race towards the fun end of the scale. In others, it inspires endurance and resilience. Whatever your jam, check out these national favorites for half-marathon runners. 


The Coasts With the Most

A course that takes your breath away might not be ideal for posting a fast time, but California’s Big Sur Half Marathon is one that runners will want to savor. Sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean as it rolls into the rugged, dramatic coastline are the reward. 

For a gentler run, head to South Carolina’s Atlantic shoreline for the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon, which features 5 miles of running alongside the ocean. These beaches are packed in summer, but they’re the source of lungfuls of fresh sea air come race time in October. 

San Diego’s La Jolla Half Marathon takes runners from the Del Mar Fairgrounds to the summit of Torrey Pines State Park before finishing at La Jolla Cove, a beautiful spot surrounded by striking sandstone cliffs. 

There’s more SoCal coastal beauty in plain sight at the OC Half Marathon, which starts near Newport Beach before heading past the famous Newport Harbor Yacht Club, then up onto the bluffs overlooking the estuary.

Run the Surf City USA Half Marathon and treat yourself to one of the fastest courses in the country. It takes you through Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, and Bolsa Chica State Beach via a prime stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. The race draws a big crowd, which usually translates into a huge party afterwards. 

The Key West Half Marathon rampages through Old Town as well as skirting the Atlantic Ocean along the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. They like to kick back and relax in these parts, but it’s also a great place to kick on and post a personal best. 


Best Desert Half-Marathons

Take one of America’s prettiest cities, the pleasantly dry heat, and mesmerizing red rock formations of Arizona’s Coconino National Forest District and you have three good reasons to add the RunSedona Half Marathon to your bucket list. The canyons backdrop makes for a majestic setting.

The Twilight Red Rock Half Marathon starts just before sunset, sending a stream of headtorch-wearing runners into the magnificent Red Rock Canyon. That means stars above, canyons bathed in the last light of the day, a scattering of Joshua trees, and the twinkling lights of Las Vegas in the distance. 


Along the Trail

Washington State’s Hillbilly Half Marathon is for mud-lovers. Rain is almost guaranteed, but so are spectacular glimpses of the mountains. Run in early March, the course threads through the trails of Capitol State Forest towards Rock Candy Mountain and back.

There’s some deep woods running on offer at the Cook Forest Half Marathon in Pennsylvania. The course follows the Clarion River on a gentle USATF-certified course. Fun fact: you’re only 30 miles from Punxsutawney of Groundhog Day fame. 

Another Bay Area run is the Oakland Redwoods Half Marathon, this time with a loop around Redwoods Regional Park. Running among the giant Redwoods is a humbling experience, however fast your time. 

Ice Age Trail Half Marathon is the gentler counterpart to the illustrious 50-miler held here in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest. It takes you through pine woods and open meadows, with quite a few hills thrown in. This area used to be a glacier (thus the name). These days, it’s the setting for what Trail Runner magazine called one of America’s most scenic trail races. 


See the Other Side of a City

Miami might be oppressively humid in summer, but the Miami Half Marathon in February falls at the perfect time of year for running. The course is pleasantly flat and takes runners over the bridges from Downtown to Miami Beach for a finish at Bayfront Park. 

As you might expect in an outdoors-loving city, San Diego’s Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon attracts a big crowd. The course leads runners from Balboa Park to downtown, accompanied every step of the way by the sound of live music and bands.

There’s so much to see in San Francisco that runners have a choice of two courses to follow on the same day. The First Half focuses on the Bay Area and Golden Gate Bridge before finishing at Golden Gate Park. The Second Half leads runners over a gentler course through the city streets. Views along the way on both courses are consistently amazing.

Lake Shore Drive shuts down for the Chicago Half Marathon, giving runners a unique opportunity to take in the city landmarks from the South Shore, along Lake Michigan. The race starts in Jackson Park and finishes at the golden Statue of the Republic. 

There’s hardly a better way to see the famous Las Vegas Strip than during the Las Vegas Half Marathon in November. This is what scenic looks like with neon highlights, passing one landmark after another along the boulevard. It’s the only race to shut down the Strip at night, too. 


Immerse Yourself in Nature

If you like your wine tours to be leisurely, you’ll have to raise your game for the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, which takes runners through a string of famous vineyards and historical sites, starting at Cuvaison Carneros Winery. Whether you’re a wine buff or not, this is one of the most stunning landscapes in the country on anyone’s scale. 

Kauai is Hawaii’s fourth largest island, known as the ‘Garden Island’ for its dramatic landscape of volcanic peaks and lush rainforest. Runners in the Kauai Half Marathon can fully immerse themselves in nature, from the Tunnel of Trees to spectacular views of the ocean before finishing in a blaze of hula dancers at the Kukui’ula Resort.

Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Vermont takes you through the famous bridges and countryside of this peaceful corner of New England. Along the way you can enjoy the quaint villages and rolling farmland clustered around the location of the Suicide Six Ski Resort in winter. 

Whether you’re working your way up from a 5k or rolling things down from full marathon running, these scenic half-marathon courses will put a spring back in even the tiredest feet. 

Written by Nick Marshall for Knockaround.

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