Every state has a number of iconic running or cycling races that have stood the test of time. With a little help from our friends, we went through them all and listed our top in each state.
Our list was compiled with input from a number of outdoor and active enthusiasts. The key factors were a unique, memorable setting, as well as the ability to endure as a go-to race year after year. Longer was not always better — while you will see some ultra-endurance races on the list, you will also see several 5Ks that, in our estimation, are worth going out of your way to experience. Sometimes it is the ambience, history, or setting of a race that makes it special.
It probably goes without saying, but in most states there is more than one “iconic” race. It was hard to choose! The good news is that the U.S. is full of great, iconic races worthy of making a destination during your race season. Let’s get to it — here is the list!
Our Favorite Race in Each State
Alabama: Xterra Oak Mountain Trail Run. Set on the lush trails of Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, AL, this scenic—yet ultra-challenging run—will not disappoint. Long-distance runners can choose to complete in the half-marathon (20K) course, and 10K and 5K distances are an option as well. Ranked by Trail Runner magazine as one of the top 25 “Crown Jewels” of running trails in the U.S. in 2011, its gorgeous scenery will surely keep your heart pumping!
Alaska: Iditasport Bike Race. Heralded by Bicycling.com as cycling’s “hardest and coldest competition,” this race is not for the faint of heart. Competitors race through the Alaskan snow on bikes equipped with fat tires at distances of 100k, 100 miles, or 200 miles. Bikers often form teams to tackle the race in chunks—as it’s a punishing race to do solo.
Arizona: Rim to Rim Run – (Grand Canyon). What’s a better workout motivator than the wondrous backdrop of the Grand Canyon? Embarking on a rim-to-rim run can range from 20.6 miles to 22.5 miles, depending on what route you take. The popular ultra-route is the Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R). While there are many organized events, it is more of something that you schedule, train for, and do. It makes our list because, although it is not a large single event like some of the others, it is an established route that attract thousands of destination runners each year. Though a rim-to-rim run is marathon-length, experts advise completing your run over a number of days due to the Grand Canyon’s high elevation…. but for many the whole point is to do it in one stretch. Train well and know the risks, this is a self-supported (and spectacular) run. Consider a hydration pack given the elements you will encounter.
Arkansas: Arkansas Marathon – Booneville. We were tempted to go with the larger, springtime Little Rock Marathon, but we opted for the older Arkansas Marathon. One of the oldest and most unique marathons in the South, the Arkansas Marathon is a great October race option in a laid-back setting. The out-and-back route places you right next to Mt. Magazine—the tallest mountain in eleven states—as well as near the borderline between the Ozark National Forest and the Ouachita National Forest. There are a couple notable hills, but otherwise is a nice, gently rolling course. And as the race’s start and finish lines are just a couple hundred feet apart, your day of running will surely be hassle-free.
California: Malibu Half Marathon and 5K. Choosing a single race in a state as large as California is very difficult — there are so many iconic ones. But who can turn down Southern California’s classic coastline views? Set along the famed Pacific Coast Highway, sand and surf will be your backdrop as you inch towards the finish line. Celebrate your finish by cooling off in the crisp, blue ocean!
Colorado: Bolder Boulder Run. The Bolder Boulder Run epitomizes the Colorado Front-Range culture of fitness. A 10K race, it attracts over 100,000 spectators each year! The Bolder Boulder is the A-Race for many Colorado runners every season. Always held on Memorial Day weekend, its finish line is set in the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field stadium, so runners enter the venue to deafening cheers and an Olympic-esque setting. This is a great race for those who have been training for years, or those who are just starting running and need something to shoot for.
Delaware: Wilmington Grand Prix Bike weekend. Celebrating its eleventh anniversary in 2017, the Grand Prix is one of the premier biking races in the nation. As a part of USA Cycling’s National Race Calendar, its entrants include those vying for USA Cycling medals in the individual and team categories. Held in May, the weekend includes three main cycling events ranging from the main event criterium to rides that take bikers through Delaware’s pastoral Brandywine Valley and other prized cultural attractions.
Florida: Walt Disney World Marathon. What’s not to love about a marathon that winds through all four Disney theme parks in Orlando, Disney characters on the race course, and thousands of other runners who are die-hard Disney fans? The marathon weekend is scheduled for the first weekend of January, and given that 2018 will be the event’s 25th anniversary, there’s sure to be much more fanfare than usual.
Georgia: Peachtree Road Race. The largest 10K in the world, the Peachtree Road Race is held every July 4 and will be entering its 48th year in 2017. With over 60,000 participants each year, it’s somewhat of a patriotic tradition for many runners. Whether you’re a runner or a walker, the American spirit certainly permeates the Peachtree Road Race each year. While July temps in Atlanta and be warm, this race is in the morning so should be tolerable. Still, have your water bottle ready at the finish line, and wear cool attire. Additionally, it is a great way to experience the city of Atlanta, as it takes you on a tour of many unique neighborhood and concludes in the venerable Piedmont Park.
Hawaii: Cycle to the Sun Bike Race. Ride the longest, steepest paved road on the planet—if you’re up for the challenge, that is! One of the most challenging bike climbs on the planet, the ride reaches a punishing 10,000 feet over 36 miles. But to lift your spirits, you simply have to glance at Hawaii’s untouched scenery to remember why you entered the race in the first place. This ride takes place in June, which in Hawaii means a likely high of around 85 and sun. Remember your sunglasses and drink plenty of water.
Idaho: Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. Sponsored by the Idaho Potato Commission, the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon is a great race for first-time marathoners—as the course is completely flat! If the entire family wants to join in, half marathon, 10K, and 5K courses are also options. Once you finish up, you’ve definitely earned a basket of hot, crispy fries.
Illinois: Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a runner just starting to run marathons, the Chicago Marathon is undisputedly one of the top marathons on the globe. Ranked as the fourth-largest race in the world by the number of finishers worldwide, the race is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2017—which will surely draw more entrants and spectators than in 2016. And as one of the six World Marathon majors (alongside the Boston, New York, London, Berlin, and Tokyo Marathons), you’ll be sure to spot some world-class runners!
Indiana: 500 Festival Half and 5K. The OneAmerica 500 Festival Half-Marathon and 5K is the ultimate blend of competition and camaraderie. The early May race weekend celebrates the legacy of the legendary Indy 500 car race. Tens of thousands of Families, Olympic runners, and first-time runners all come together in Indianapolis to partake in the event—and the excitement is palpable! 2017 marks its 41st year—so it’s been a hallmark of the city of Indianapolis for over four decades.
Iowa: Ragbrai Bike Ride. An acronym for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, this west-to-east bike ride draws avid cyclists from around the globe. Organized by the Des Moines Register, it began in 1973—making it the largest bike-touring event in the world. The event spans a week from start to finish and averages over 467 miles, so it’s certainly not an event for casual riders—but is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. One of the things we love about RAGBRAI is that the route changes each year (via an annual “Route Announcement Party”) allowing riders to experience different parts of the Iowa landscape in each year’s ride. Given that it is a 7-day ride, you will need to plan ahead with multiple sets of cycling shorts and shirts, and enough gear for whatever the weather sends your way.
Kansas: Spring Fling Criterium Series. A series of cycling races that take place at Clinton Lake each year, the Spring Fling is one of the longest running crit series in the U.S. and the longest in the Midwest. They typically span five Saturdays between February and March—though conditions can get a bit chilly, the flat racecourse tends to make up for any icy temperatures.
Kentucky: Bourbon Chase. Slated for mid-October each year, the Bourbon Chase celebrates the best of Kentucky’s culture—from its historic bourbon distilleries to its charming small towns. A 200-mile relay race, runners typically tackle the race course in teams of ten. Whether you’re a die-hard racer, a new runner, or a spirited spectator, there’s undoubtedly a place for you at the Bourbon Chase.
Louisiana: Crescent City Classic. For 37 years, the Crescent City Classic has combined elite runners, amateur racers, and a passion for the indomitable spirit of New Orleans. A 10k road race, it’s run through New Orleans’ historic French Quarter as well as other gorgeous areas of the city. In step with the fun-loving spirit of New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to see someone walking the race course with a cocktail in hand or sporting a bunny suit throughout the duration of the race!
Maine: Sugarloaf Marathon. Maine’s oldest continuously run marathon, 2017 will mark the 35th year for the Sugarloaf Marathon. As the course is primarily downhill, marathon runners regularly record personal-best times at Sugarloaf—as the race wraps up with a gradual sixteen-mile descent. Boasting stunning views of surrounding mountain ranges and the occasional moose sighting, it’s no wonder the race consistently draws top runners from around the world.
Maryland: Across the Bay 10K. In its fourth consecutive year, the Across the Bay 10K course was designed to highlight the natural beauty of Maryland—and it doesn’t disappoint. Runners make their way across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge during the race—which is about 10K in length—offering them stellar views as they find their pace. The bridge doesn’t allow pedestrian traffic at any other time of the year, which adds to the race’s appeal.
Massachusetts: Boston Marathon. The legendary Boston Marathon needs no introduction. The oldest annual marathon in the world, it’s unlike its peers in the World Marathon Majors category in that entrants must have at least one certified marathon under their belt before running. (An exception to this rule are runners who are sponsored by charities). The revelry and amped-up crowds that line the Boston streets on Marathon Monday only add to the fun of the event.
Michigan: Charlevoix Marathon. Named as one of the top running events in the U.S. by Serious Running magazine, the Charlevoix Marathon is a coveted combination of natural beauty and a healthy competitive spirit. The June race begins in downtown Charlevoix, which is located between Lake Michigan and Round Lake—offering runners unspoiled water views. The course will also take runners through residential tree-lined neighborhoods, which is an opportunity to see some gorgeous mansions.
Minnesota: Grandma’s Marathon, Duluth. Grandma’s Marathon has become an institution not only for Minnesota runners, but for some of the top marathoners from around the world. The event has become more of a running weekend, with the William Irvin 5K and Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in addition to the headliner Marathon. The Marathon itself takes you on a one-way route along the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior, and finishes in Duluth’s fun Canal Park. It takes place in June.
Mississippi: Mississippi 50 Trail Run. Currently in its 21st year, the Mississippi 50 Trail Run is set on 12.5 and 6.1 mile loops through the piney woods of the DeSoto National Forest. With distances of 20K, 50K, and 50 miles, there’s lots of variety in the event. A unique feature of this race is that if you start out on the 50K or 50 mile course and decide it’s too tough, you’re able to switch to the 20K race without penalty.
Missouri: Ozark Trail 100 Endurance Run. A point-to-point ultramarathon set on the Ozark Trail in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, the Ozark Trail 100 Endurance Run attracts the fiercest runners from around the country each year. Race highlights include several water crossings and nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain. Throughout the 100-mile race course, the level of difficulty shifts from a smooth, flat dirt trail to a hilly trail covered with leaves, something that runners need to be prepared for.
Montana: Missoula Marathon (and Half, 5K, and Beer Run), Missoula. Once featured as Running World’s Best Marathon in the US, this race weekend offers not only a great Marathon, but also a 5K and a Half for those who are not in Marathon shape. The race, in July, takes place in an around Missoula but takes you on trails that follow the scenic Bitteroot River Valley. Missoula is situated just above 3,000 feet of elevation, high enough to create some challenge for flatlanders. It is an entire weekend of racing, starting with a casual 3-mile beer run on Friday evening, and ending with the main event Marathon on Sunday.
Nebraska: Nebraska Marathon (Omaha). Like the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon, the Omaha Marathon is a great race for runners to get a taste of the marathon world, as the course is completely flat. Runners race through Nebraska’s most vibrant city and get to see some of its most beloved landmarks—so it’s a marathon and a city tour all rolled into one. 2017 marks its 42nd year of operation, so become a part of the legacy.
Nevada: Rock N Roll Marathon. You may not think that running and the Las Vegas Strip are the most ideal match. However, they come together beautifully in the Rock N Roll Marathon, which has runners from all around the globe running the famous Las Vegas Strip each November. No shades needed for this one — the races start in the early evening and you do much of the running at night. Bands line the race course to cheer on the runners and entertain spectators, embodying Vegas’s party-centered spirit.
New Hampshire: Reebok Ragnar Reach the Beach. Though the Ragnar relays—sponsored by Reebok—take place across the nation, the Reach the Beach relay in New Hampshire is particularly notable because of its breathtaking course views. From its start at the Bretton Woods Ski area to winding through the state’s White Mountains and finally finishing up at Hampton Beach, it’s a comprehensive look at New Hampshire’s gorgeous scenery. Runners can enter in teams of twelve (regular) or take it to the next level and enter as a team of six runners (ultra).
New Jersey: New Jersey Marathon and Half. The New Jersey Marathon and Half is a family event through and through. With relay, 5k, and kids’ races offered in addition to the marquee events, it’s many kids’ first foray into the world of running as their parents complete the half or full. The picturesque Jersey Shore and boardwalk are incorporated into the race course, crashing waves distracting from the difficulty of your last few miles.
New Mexico: Santa Fe Run Around. Dating to 1979, the Santa Fe Run Around is Santa Fe’s oldest road race. A 10K course, the current race course is a double loop of a 5K course—but may vary in the years to come. Though the course is flat, runners are challenged by Santa Fe’s elevation —yet delighted by its picture-perfect scenery. Santa Fe is perched at over 7,000 feet, which is most definitely a factor when it comes to running a 5K.
New York: New York City Marathon. Running a World Marathon Major race in the greatest city in the world is undeniably on more than one runner’s bucket list. A winding course through the city’s distinct five boroughs—Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx—the diverse city comes together on race day to cheer on nearly 50,000 runners. The sense of camaraderie at the NYC Marathon is truly like none other—pride for NYC as well as the running community is in full force.
North Carolina: Asheville Marathon. One of America’s hidden treasures, Asheville has become somewhat of a running destination in recent years. Scheduled for June 3, 2017, the summer is the best time to experience the beauty of Asheville, with the rich foliage of the hills in full bloom. Half marathon and 10k courses are also offered—but all lead runners along the serene French Broad River.
North Dakota: Maah Dah Hey 100 (bike), Medora. This very well may be the most deceivingly difficult race on the list. Many people have never been to North Dakota, and the Western third of the state has some of the most rugged and scenic landscape in the US, and the Maah Dah Hey trail is challenging for all skill levels. This race, in August, is on a single track trail with nearly 12,000 feet of elevation gain, and actually features 106 miles of riding.
Ohio: Tour de Grandview. Ohio’s premier cycling event, the Tour de Grandview attracts nearly 800 professional cyclists each year. Racers make their way through suburban Grandview as they’re cheered on by thousands of spectators—which only push them closer to the finish line. Designed with an exciting spectator experience in mind, the course’s sharp turns and blisteringly fast pace will keep fans hooked.
Oklahama: OKC Memorial Marathon. The OKC Memorial Marathon has grown tremendously since its inception in 2001—from 5,000 local participants to 24,000 runners hailing from around the globe. As the marathon is a Boston-qualifying event, be on the lookout for the world’s top runners. Run entirely on paved surfaces through the streets of Oklahoma City, runners pass by OKC’s most notable buildings and sights as they approach the finish.
Oregon: Hood to Coast Relay. Hailed as the “mother of all relays,” Oregon’s Hood to Coast Relay truly earns its name. A team-centered event, 1,050 teams of up to twelve runners set out on the 199-mile race course. If you want to enter, act fast—the race has been filled on the opening day of registration for nineteen years straight!
Pennsylvania: Rocky Balboa Run. Who doesn’t love Rocky? Pay homage to the beloved movie by entering the Rocky Balboa Run in the City of Brotherly Love. Of course, the 10-mile and 5k runs both begin on the iconic Rocky steps, making for a great photo opp and memory. Set in November each year, the racetime temps are often in the 40s. Watch the weather, as you might need a light layer of cold weather running gear, but for many those crisp temps will make for a fast, comfortable run.
Rhode Island: Jamestown Classic. The largest bicycle road race in Rhode Island, the Jamestown Classic’s race course hints at the old-world charm of Rhode Island. The course completely circles the island, incorporating landmarks such as the historic lighthouse at Beavertail, Newport Bridge, and the East and West Passages of Narragansett Bay. A 19-mile race, the Jamestown Classic is short but certainly scenic.
South Carolina: Cooper River Bridge Run. An annual 10-kilometer one-way run across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, the Cooper River Bridge Run certainly showcases the city’s natural beauty. It’s the only competition in South Carolina certified by USA Track and Field as an elite event. Plus, it’s the third largest 10K and fifth largest road race in the U.S. by the number of race finishers.
South Dakota: Black Hills 100M. With finish rates of 35% and 40% for the race’s first two years, the race’s organizers warn that South Dakota’s low elevations are more challenging than racers know. 50M and 30K distances are also offered for racers who don’t want to take the 100M plunge. The old Western theme of the race pervades the feeling on race day as well, so be prepared to spot a few cowboy hats and horses.
Tennessee: St. Jude Memphis Marathon. The single largest one-day fundraising event for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the St. Jude Memphis Marathon is a blend of family fun, charity, and of course, some top-notch racing. A Boston-qualifying race, the race course passes through the St. Jude campus as well as through Overton Park, Overton Square, and other Memphis historic areas. Half marathon, 10K, 5K, and kids’ marathon distances are also part of the day’s celebrations.
Texas: Statesman Cap 10K. The oldest annual city race in Austin (that’s also celebrating its 40th year in 2017), the Statesman Cap 10K is a hallmark of spring in the city. Racers always don bold attire, so whether they’re sporting a superhero costume or a custom shirt they designed with friends, it’s an expression of the fun spirit of the race. It’s easy to see why this race breaks the top 10 list of the best 10Ks in the nation!
Utah: Mid Mountain Marathon. With a course rolling through aspen and evergreen forests, the Mid Mountain Marathon embodies the essence of mountain trail running. The course also cuts through the Utah Olympic Park trail system and finishes at the bottom of the Nordic jumps at the Utah Olympic Park. Voted the best trail marathon in Utah, we encourage you to experience the course’s rising elevation and forest backdrop for yourself.
Virginia: Marine Corps 17.75K Run. You won’t see a 17.75K distance anywhere else, as the unique race course length commemorates the year that the Marine Corps was founded. Set in Prince William Forest Park, racers emerge from the trees as they finish up the race—mirroring the Marines at the Battle of Belleau Wood. An added bonus—entrants who successfully complete the race automatically become eligible for the Marine Corps Marathon.
Vermont: Vermont 100M Endurance Run. A grueling 100M course set over Vermont’s steep hills, this race comes with an unexpected twist—horses (and their riders) complete the course alongside you! Each year, about 300 runners attempt to finish the race in the allotted 30 hours, while an elite few finish within 24 hours. A 100K distance is also a part of the course.
Washington: Shore Run, Seattle. For 40 Years, the Shore Run has been a fixture of Seattle’s summer running scene. Run in June, it offers a 5K, 10K, and kids run. The route takes you from Madison Park through some of Seattle’s most scenic routes, with great views of the waterfront as well as Mt. Rainer. You and thousands of other runners can stick around for a great party afterward.
West Virginia: West Virginia 5K Championships. A fast 5K loop course set in downtown Huntington, the course is mostly flat with long straight-aways. As a USA Track and Field certified course, it’s the perfect place to start for an amateur racer. Spectators are ever-present at the race, as the start and finish lines are less than 300 feet from each other.
Wisconsin: Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival, Cable. When we think Wisconsin, we think the Chequamegon (proncounced “Schwom – e – gone”) bike race that attracts racers from across the Upper Midwest and country. Run each September, the race is in its 35th year and is often sold out, so you need to register early and perhaps hope for your name to be drawn. The course, near Cable WI, is focused on the 40-mile route, but also offers the “Short and Fat” 16-miler as well.
Wyoming: Jackson Hole Marathon. A Boston qualifying race, the Jackson Hole Marathon is widely believed to be one of the most scenic races in North America. The untouched beauty of the region is certainly a part of the race course, as runners race through grassy plains and make their way up steep, tree-lined trails. Entrants can also choose to register for a 5K or half marathon rather than commit to a full marathon.
Our list is updated each year, so we welcome your input on races that we should consider ranking higher. There are so many great races in the country, it is hard to choose just one from each state but we do our best.
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