This is hardly an exhaustive list, but these are just a few of my favorites. Please share your favorites in the comments if not covered in here. And feel free to share your own perspective on any that I did cover!
Reid Park – Definitely the most popular run spot in town. The main loop is the nearly three mile loop around the golf courses, which is marked every quarter mile and has the full three mile mark shortly past the “Start.” Definitely a good spot for all types of workouts, both measured as well as fartleks. Overall fairly flat, with a slight incline from mile 0.5 to 1.0 and 2.0 to 2.5-ish. Generally is well guarded from the wind compared to other flattish trails in town. No bathrooms right at the start of the main loop but plenty of bathrooms scattered throughout the park. Along with the main loop, there is an additional paved loop that continues around the baseball/zoo/park areas. You can also make a grass/dirt run through the middle of the park. During cross country season, there’s actually a marked course that you can follow. Finally, although the track is locked to the public outside of organized training groups, the 800m loop around the baseball field warning tracks is one of the best “tracks” you’ll find for workouts! Throughout the year you can find several races that utilize part of the path and the surrounding area.
Rillito River Trail – Now that The Loop has been completed, this trail covers A LOT of ground. That said, much of it is best suited for cycling rather than running, though you can certainly run along the entirety (but I wouldn’t recommend it around the southern leg where it briefly takes to the main road). For the best dirt areas, you can find them along both the north and south sides starting at Craycroft and continuing for most of the way up to Alvernon. At Alvernon, the trail shifts toward the north side only with a nice wide dirt path adjacent. The trail then splits to both north and south sides but the dirt shifts to the south around the Tucson Racquet Club area and continues basically a little past Campbell. From there, you can still find some dirt but it is less consistent. Decent amount of bathrooms and hydration points along the trail though in some areas the spacing is more suited to cycling rather than running distances. If running any sort of timed workout along the trail, be warned that the wind can seem VERY amplified down here, and can make running uphill and into the wind a real grind. There are no big hills but the long gradual rises definitely get your attention.
Sabino Canyon – Popular spot not only for runners but also for hikers and nature lovers. Unfortunately, the place has been closed for much of the summer due to the fires. The most well-known runs here are the main road (3.7 miles to the top) and the Phoneline trail that runs along the eastern rim of the Canyon. In the lower areas, you can find some short to moderate dirt paths that are true “runs” though as you get into the higher areas, the runs start to resemble hikes. Another popular route is through Bear Canyon up to Seven Falls. Though it does get fairly technical in spots, you can still run most of it, unless its “in season” and you find yourself going around many hikers. Overall good bathroom and water facilities here, but some are closed during the offseason (summer). Also a good spot for spotting wildlife…deer, javelina, bobcats, roadrunners, jackrabbits, gila monsters…and also snakes and the VERY occasional mountain lion!!
Saguaro East – hilly road course approximately eight miles around, with restricted one-way vehicle traffic requiring paid entry into the park. Though the road is best known of this area, the real gem out here is the dirt section connecting the Broadway trailhead to the center of the loop. The dirt trail is mostly single track and popular with mountain bikers but still a true run (not a technical hike). Definitely a long enough trail to get in a long run, and you can tack on some extra distance along the dirt adjacent to Broadway. If you want to spot a mountain lion on your run, this is the place!!! Note though that the Broadway trailhead has limited services (no real potties) but there is a very primitive outhouse about a mile into the trail.
Pima Community College – Fastest track in town with its Mondo surface, though some people find it a little too firm for their liking. As of this writing, it was closed for renovation, but that will change at some point. Great location with beautiful dirt trails for your warmups and cooldowns. Best of all is free parking and no locked gates. There are also bathrooms that are typically open but I can’t promise anything. Only downside is that its so darn far from the east side.
University of Arizona – The mall on the U of A campus has hosted many races (running and triathlon) and can be a great place to do interval or fartlek work if it isn’t too crowded with students. Very small and gradual inclines/declines, just enough to notice, but not enough to disrupt your rhythm. There is also ample amount of grass on within the mall, so that is an added bonus if you are seeking soft terrain.
Udall Park – Plenty of parking here for the circular loop covering a little less than a mile. Excellent place for a fartlek or interval run (you might see Bernard Lagat out there doing the same!). Some dirt and grass to the side of the paved trail that you can hop onto throughout much of the course. There’s also a stretch of trail that cuts the full loop in about half into a figure 8 so if you want a little change to the big loop you have that option too. In addition, the park less than a mile to the Pantano Wash portion of the The Loop, giving you access to that entire network of trails as well.
Allan Phillips, PT, DPT is owner of Ventana Physiotherapy