Fitness Travel: The Best Running Vacations for Families

Lace up for these fun “runcations”

When families share a love of running and take it on the road, they have an opportunity to bond step by step while exploring cityscapes and natural wonders. Running vacations — which can easily translate into walking vacations or hiking getaways depending on fitness levels — bring adventure to life for families looking to create memories while pursuing their fitness passions. So pack your family’s running shoes and head out for one of these “runcations.”

Go to Chicago …

If your family loves to run along a lake with city views

Chicago is famed for its music, comedy, food and skyscrapers, which were the first erected in the U.S. The city is also popular for its close proximity to natural wonders — including the expansive Lake Michigan (one of the largest in the world) and green spaces (such as the 1,200-acre Lincoln Park) — that can be observed when running or walking along the outdoor Lakefront Trail. The 18-mile paved path follows the shoreline on the city’s eastern edge and winds by a number of must-sees, including the Lincoln Park Zoo (free and open every day of the year), Navy Pier and the Adler Planetarium. From the underpass at Randolph Street, it’s about two-thirds of a mile over the BP Pedestrian Bridge to Millennium Park, the city’s architectural jewel, where works of art are on display.

Getting there: 

  • Drive 11 miles northeast from Chicago Midway International Airport.
  • Drive 18 miles southeast from Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Staying there: The Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown Riverwalk is conveniently located near the city’s museums and theaters and iconic tourist attractions like Willis Tower. The hotel is only about a four-block run to the Lakefront Trail.

Other Great Midwest Running Destinations

  • Tour Columbus, Ohio, while running on a new riverfront path that follows the Scioto River, also friendly for walkers and cyclists. Close to the path are the newly built National Veterans Memorial and Museum and the COSI science museum, where exhibits help families understand why fitness is important.
  • In Wisconsin’s Door County, which becomes a runner’s mecca after the winter, run along lakeshores, through state parks and by lighthouses.
  • Head to Madison, Wisconsin, where The Edgewater hotel hosts the Frozen Assets Festival, featuring a 5K run/walk in February on (yes, on) icy Lake Mendota.
  • Minneapolis, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, is one of the fittest places in the U.S. and has 180 parks within city limits for running, walking and biking.
The Lakefront Trail in Chicago treats runners to views of the downtown skyline and hundreds of acres of green spaces, all easily accessible by a series of bridges and walkways.


Go to Kanab, Utah …

If your family loves to run in nature while doing a good deed

The dogs at Best Friends Animal Society in southern Utah are always up for a run. Call ahead to reserve an active canine to join your fitness vacation on nearby trails, including Tom’s Canyon and Cottonwood. Both are just a few minutes’ drive from the animal sanctuary. While running, be on the lookout for panels of petroglyphs, red rocks and Arizona views. Bryce Canyon National Park (75 miles north) and Zion National Park (30 miles northwest) are not far away, should you decide to extend your trip in this scenic countryside.

Back at Best Friends, the staff rely heavily on volunteer support to help feed, clean and play with the nearly 1,600 animals in their care — so when you’re not exploring the area, consider dedicating a few hours or a whole day on-site, playing with kittens or grooming horses.

Getting there: 

Staying there: Enjoy an overnight stay with your four-legged running buddy — either your pet vacationing with you or one from the sanctuary — at the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile. Its 40 rooms are designed specifically for guests staying with pets and include nightstands with little cubbies for smaller animals and beds with pullout trundles for larger breeds.

Other Great Southwest Running Destinations

  • The Greater Zion region near St. George, Utah, features cliffs, canyons, diverse plant and animal life, and four running-friendly state parks. Among them is Snow Canyon, known for unique geologic features such as ancient lava flows, sand dunes, petrified dunes and deep-red sandstone cliffs.
  • Salt Lake City is home to City Creek Canyon, which includes a 1.2-mile path that climbs alongside the creek and then extends an additional 5.8 miles up the canyon. Just to the east is Red Butte, featuring trail loops of varying lengths (up to 4 miles) and panoramic views of the city. For a longer run, cruise the Bonneville Shoreline Trail — choose your own distance, as it stretches for approximately 13.5 miles in the city proper.
  • In Mesa, Arizona, have fun and burn calories on the trails at Lost Dutchman State Park or at the Granite Reef recreational area inside Tonto National Forest.
  • In Scottsdale, Arizona, hike or run the trails at McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the fourth-largest urban preserve in the world, with more than 225 miles of trails that meander past Sonoran Desert plants, including the giant Saguaro cactus.
The area around Kanab, Utah, includes many miles of trails to run among red rocks and petroglyph panels.


Go to Miami …

If your family loves to run in the sun

From beaches to national parks and unique neighborhoods in between, the Miami area is a runner’s paradise. For some of the best views of the city, check out the hard-packed sands of South Beach. Start at 23rd Street and run south about 2.5 miles all the way past First Street to Government Cut, the man-made shipping channel where you might spot a giant ship pulling out of the Port of Miami. Another way to see Government Cut — and get in a longer run — is by breezing along the Miami Beach Boardwalk, which begins at Indian Beach Park and continues about 4 miles south to South Pointe Park, overlooking downtown Miami, Fisher Island and the turquoise Atlantic waters of Biscayne Bay. About 3 miles north of downtown, you can appreciate the arts by running past sculptures, murals and other artistic displays in the creative Miami Design District.

If you’re up for a different kind of adventure, drive about 45 miles south to Everglades National Park. There are many nice spots within the park for a run, including the Long Pine Key Nature Trails — more than 22 miles of connecting paths that wind through pine forests, with plenty of opportunity to spot wildlife, maybe even the endangered Florida panther (don’t worry, park officials say the panthers are timid and there have been no incidents with human visitors).

Getting there: 

Drive about 6 miles east from Miami International Airport.

Staying there: The Gabriel Miami is across the street from two of the city’s most popular museums: the contemporary Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. The Bayside Marketplace shopping center is a half-mile from the hotel, and South Beach is about 5 miles away.

Other Great Southeast Running Destinations

  • Make running memories at St. Andrews State Park near Panama City, Florida. A run on the park’s Gator Lake Trail ends with panoramic sights of the area and birdwatching opportunities at an established rookery.
  • In Gulf Shores, Alabama, explore 28 miles of paved trails in Gulf State Park or take a running tour of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, which has trails of varying lengths and views of migratory songbird habitats.
Near its southern end, the Miami Beach Boardwalk meanders through Lummus Park, which is dotted with towering coconut palm trees and offers views of the famed Ocean Drive art deco buildings to runners passing by.

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About the Author

Ever curious, Chicago-based travel journalist Lisa Davis loves to scout the best vacation experiences, especially ones that offer a chance for fitness. Her travel discoveries also appear in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and American Way. Follow Davis on Instagram @lisadavismedia.