A man is running at the beach on a boardwalk with beach gras and dunes in the background.

America’s Top Seaside Runs

Head to these 5 protected coastlines to experience some of the country’s most scenic, shoreside runs.

Aaahh, there’s nothing better than running on the beach, or at least next to other large bodies of water. There, the Wild Blue Yonder absorbs your thoughts and imagination. Thankfully, 10 protected national seashores and three lakeshores are operated by the National Park Service (NPS) and federally designated as being of natural and recreational significance. Seven of the seashores are on the Atlantic Ocean, two are on the Gulf of Mexico, and one, Point Reyes, is on the Pacific Coast; while the lakeshores are all on lakes Michigan and Superior. Most also extend inland to include wetlands, marshes, forests, lagoons, dunes, and more, offering even more room to run. 

How popular are they? Very. Together, they see more than 21 million visitors annually, led by Cape Cod, with more than 4 million visitors per year. Here’s a sampling of the five best, destination-worthy routes to knock off your running list. 

Assateague Island, MD/VA 

A refuge of beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and coastal bays, Assateague Island is located 10 miles south of Ocean City, Md., where the lengthy barrier island stretches south over the Virginia border into the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Running options include the beach itself, designated paths, and unpaved trails. One favorite is the Verrazano Bridge/Bayberry Path, a paved route which leads 4 miles from the Visitor Center, paralleling the bridge to Assateague Island through dunes and grassland. Want more? Add loops on the Life of the Dunes, Life of the Forest and Life of the Marsh trails. For pure beach, try the northern end of the island for 2 miles of smooth sand administered by Assateague State Park and the NPS.

Cape Cod, MA 

Founded in 1961, the Cape Cod National Seashore spans 68 square miles of ponds, woods, marshes and beachfront that highlight the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecoregion. For runners, it includes nearly 40 miles of beaches and seashore, paralleling such towns as Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, and Chatham, as well as trails leading to lighthouses, cranberry bogs, the 1,950-acre Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District, and even the glacial erratic boulder known as Doane Rock. Paved trails that you might share with bicyclists include the Nauset Bike Trail in Eastham, Head of the Meadow Trail in Truro, and Province Lands Trails in Provincetown. Purely after a beach run? Try Race Point Beach in Provincetown, which leads to a historic lighthouse first illuminated in 1816 as well as Eastham’s Coast Guard Beach (on the ocean side of the Cape).

 An ariel view of south padre island

Padre Island, TX 

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the barrier islands. The state’s largest, Padre Island (also the world’s longest barrier island), is located along its southern coast, separating Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Its national seashore is known for its white, sandy beaches, which are firm for long stretches, making them perfect for runners. Mustang Island State Park is a popular starting point, but anywhere along the Gulf Coast is a great spot to stretch your legs. Nearly 18 miles of beach exist between Port Aransas and North Packery Channel Jetty, with 75 more miles of beach on the other, south side of the jetty (note: the lone park road south ends after the first 15 miles). Also protected is the lower part of the island’s Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Wherever you go, prepare for big country; Padre is also the second-largest island by area in the contiguous U.S., after Long Island. History note: Meaning father in Spanish, it was named in the early 1800s after Father José Nicolás Ballí, who owned the island and served as a missionary priest and dues collector for area churches. 

Pictured Rocks, MI  

Designated by Congress in 1966, Pictured Rocks was the first national lakeshore to be protected in the country. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the region extends for 42 miles along the southeast shore of Lake Superior, offering 114 square miles of picturesque rock formations, waterfalls and sand dunes between Munising and Grand Marais. Of special interest to runners and other visitors are its 15 miles of colorful sandstone cliffs, which give the park its name, reaching up to 200 feet above the water and sculpted into caves, arches, and turrets. From short to long, favorite runs include the 2.4-mile Mosquito Fall Trail to the leg-burning, 21.3-mile Grand Island Loop, which gains 792 feet of elevation. For something in the middle, try the 10.6-mile Chapel Loop, which traverses the edges of the cliffs and affords sweeping views of their colorful pastels, coves, arches, waterfalls and beaches, not to mention the lake beyond.

Fire Island, NY

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore protects a 26-mile section of 32-mile-long Fire Island, a thin, barrier island separated from Long Island by the Great South Bay. (The other 6 miles are protected by Robert Moses State Park.) Only two bridges lead to it and no public roads lie within the seashore itself. For runners, this means it is car-free, except for access via Robert Moses Causeway on its western end and William Floyd Parkway on the east. The best running spots are on the western end on a series of boardwalk trails and dirt pathways. The beach is also good for running, save for a few soft spots.The Fire Island Lighthouse route is a 2-mile, round-trip boardwalk trail; Sunken Forest serves up 2 miles of paved trail through one of the only preserved maritime forests on the East Coast; and Watch Hill offers some nice boardwalk running around a salt marsh, near the Watch Hill Visitor Center. Also, at the western end is 5 miles of shoreline in Robert Moses State Park, featuring multiple nature trails and sand trails. Interested in running through history? A small section of the seashore protects the home and estate of William Floyd, an American Revolutionary War general and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.