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).