Why Minnesota Is a Top Destination for Running

By Erica Wacker

Grandma's Marathon in Duluth
Grandma's Marathon in Duluth

Running and walking are the purest—and most portable—forms of exercise. Just pack your shoes and you’re ready to go, whether you’re headed to the North Shore of Lake Superior or southeast Minnesota’s beautiful Bluff Country.

Throughout Minnesota, countless trails wind beneath towering pines, past rolling farmland and around glistening lakes, making running one of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to experience Minnesota’s great outdoors.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous here,” says 2004 Olympian and Minnesota native Carrie Tollefson, who has run all over the world, but prefers to train here. “Our lakes, trails, the River Road in Minneapolis-St. Paul; you can go anywhere and find some beautiful running.”

Minnesota terrain runs the gamut from rugged wilderness paths to paved trails to city sidewalks, with many destinations offering all three. Jog along Lake Superior on Duluth’s 7.5-mile Lakewalk, circle Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes on the 51-mile Grand Rounds, or choose from more than 85 miles of paved trails in Rochester. No matter where you run in Minnesota, you can be sure your miles will come with a view.

Minnesota Marathons

Twin Cities Marathon - Twin Cities in Motion
Twin Cities Marathon / Twin Cities in Motion

While you can find a race in Minnesota any weekend of the year, fall is many runners’ favorite time to race thanks to the cooler weather. The granddaddy of them all—the Twin Cities Marathon—attracts thousands of runners from all 50 states and dozens of countries to take part in what Runners World named one of the “most iconic American races” in 2019.

Whether you dream of qualifying for Boston, beating your own personal record, or simply crossing the finish line after months of hard work, running the Twin Cities Marathon is an experience for the bucket list. And this accomplishment has no age limit: In 2018 alone, registrants ranged from 12 to 80.

Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon_Michael Finnegan
Bemidji Blue Ox Marathon / Michael Finnegan

The course is laid out to showcase the best of the Twin Cities. Runners start outside U.S. Bank Stadium, hug the shores of four Minneapolis lakes, follow the Mississippi River to St. Paul, and continue down the tree-lined Summit Avenue to the finish line outside the State Capitol. Along the way, more than 300,000 spectators come together to cheer on their friends, family members and complete strangers—a true expression of Minnesota Nice if there ever was one.

In the spring, Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth is another bucket list race, thanks to its beautiful views of Lake Superior, fantastic crowd support, and an excuse to spend a weekend in one of Minnesota’s most popular destinations. The concurrent Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon is so popular that it usually fills up the day that registration opens.

Smaller, but still popular and Boston qualifying, marathons are held in the fall in Mankato, Bemidji and Ely, where runners have the (insane) option of portaging a canoe for 26.2 miles. Each event brings an entire weekend of fun to the area, ranging from race expos to kids races to multi-race challenges.

5Ks, Trail Races & Fun Runs

Autumn Woods Classic race at Elm Creek Park Reserve_Three Rivers Park District
Autumn Woods Classic at Elm Creek Park Reserve / Three Rivers Park District

If fewer miles are more your speed, you’ll find races from one-milers to half marathons and every distance in between. The most common distance is the 5K (3.1 miles), and the most popular day of the year to run one is Thanksgiving. Often called a Turkey Trot, Gobble Gait or other catchy name, Thanksgiving Day runs take place in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Park Rapids, Preston, Willmar and many other cities. They often incorporate a food drive or other charitable component, and are a memorable way to kick off the holiday.

Uff-Da Mud Run East Grand Forks
Uff Da Challenge / Greater Grand Forks Convention & Visitors Bureau

While some races are more serious than others, many are just plain fun. Popular themes include run/walks with dogs, runs at wineries and breweries, holiday-themed runs and relays like Ragnar, where teams of 12 converge to run 200ish miles. Several races raise money and awareness for important causes including breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, suicide awareness, clean water and local scholarships.

Those who prefer trails to roads will also find plenty of options. For experienced trail runners, the Superior Trail Races on the North Shore are a badge of honor, featuring rugged, rooty and rocky terrain with frequent climbs and descents for distances up to 100 miles. For shorter distances, check out the Run the Landmark trail run at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park (12K or 6K), the Surly Trail Loppet at Theodore Wirth in Minneapolis (half marathon, 7 mile or 5K) and Runnin' in the Ruff along the Rum River in Milaca (10K or 2 mile).

Whether you run for your health, for charity or just for fun, you’ll be in good company—and surrounded by beautiful scenery—in Minnesota.

Find upcoming races in our extensive events calendar.