Best trail races and events in Colorado for beginners and adventure seekers

We are fortunate to live in a state with so many beautiful trails and a myriad of trail races to choose from.   If you are new to the state or just getting into trail running and looking to take on your first trail race, choosing the best one compatible with your fitness and ability level can be a daunting task.

Our 2018 lineup has been broken down into four categories including our favorite races and events for beginners and also those seeking a little more adventure and/or quad busting action.  Check out our recommendations below and happy training!


Xterra Phillip S Miller Park,  August 5th:

  • Includes a 5k/10k and 20k course options.

The 5k course contains just 300 feet of climbing, enjoy rolling hills with short climbs and quick descents, perfect practice for those new to the trails.   The trails are smooth and wind through bushes and brush with occasional scenic views of Pikes Peak and Castle Rock.
There is plenty to do for the entire family at this venue post run.  The Philip S. Miller Park’s outdoor space includes a playground with 60-foot slide, a 200-step challenge staircase, a turf field, and the Headrush Towers—40-foot and 80-foot towers that kids can climb up, repel down, or even free fall from.

Elk Meadow trail race, June 2nd:

  • Includes a 5k and 10k option

The trails at Elk Meadow park are relatively tame and any climbing is done gradually through a series of switchbacks winding through the thick evergreen forests.  The 5k course will mainly keep runners along the base of Bergen peak where you will run through beautiful open meadows filled with yellow and green grasses and wildflowers.  The elevation here is the greatest challenge so make sure those lungs are ready for the higher altitude (around 8000 feet).

Mountain Ridge Trail Half Marathon and 10K, June 23rd:

This race produce by the Endurance Race series group offers 100% dirt trail and single track courses, featuring manageable elevation gains.   The trails are smooth with rolling hills and some of the best views in the front range- perfect for those seeking an good intro event for their first trail half.

Bear Chase trail races, September 29th-30th:

  • 10k, half marathon and ultramarathon distances included

This event combines a variety of distance events at Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood, CO.    The 10k course includes rolling hills, single track trails through woods and open meadows, mostly smooth, rock free trails with minimal climbing and depending on the year possible creek crossings.  This course is fast, fun and so close to Denver!

Adventure seekers:

Lake Dillon SUP triathlonJuly 14th:

The event entrails a 2 mile standup paddle board across lake Dillon, 12k mountain bike and 3.5 mile trail run.  The course is simply gorgeous with views of the surrounding snow capped peaks through evergreen forest and fields of vibrant wildflowers.

Ragnar Trail relay, June 8-9th:

This epic event in Snowmass CO is an adventurous introduction to a trail relay event through beautiful single track terrain through the heart of the Rocky Mountains.  The 24 hour relay entails team of 8 taking turns running loops on the mountain trails through lush forests, fields of wildflowers and epic views.  The loops range from just 3-6 miles that are minimally technical with small elevation changes.   Between laps, enjoy smores by the campfire, take a nap, grab a brew, catch a movie and enjoy the camaraderie of new friends in the camp.

Moab trail adventure 5k, 1/2 marathon and marathonNovember 3rd and 4th:

There was no better way to describe this event then to take the copy directly from the website:  “This adventure 5k run/walk features natural and manmade obstacles including running under an arch, through a cave,use of hand-line to go up and down a small cliff, up two ladders, two creek crossings, running through a two gigantic culverts, crossing a sand pit,over a rock maze, completing an obstacle course, and other FUN and Exciting obstacles.”

The half marathon course sounds just as fun and adventurous, “you will travel through narrow canyons with spectacular vertical walls on both sides and along the rim-tops of deep canyons with spectacular vistas every direction. The terrain changes frequently to keep the miles clicking and includes narrow single-track, rugged jeep trails, sandy washes, ‘Moab-style slickrock’, a short section of dirt road, a few sections of no-track, a very old mining trail and a couple sections of fixed line traverse.  In the distance are the beautiful 12,000 foot La Sal Mountains. You’ll pass by several arches, lots of lizards, some really cool and funny looking rocks, possible eagles and hawks, some neat ancient pictographs, a couple small creeks and springs.”

The weekend event line-up also includes a kids adventure 1k!

I don’t know about you but I am tempted to go out for both the 5k AND half marathon and bring the kids to participate in the 1k too!


The Leadville Marathon and Heavy Half, June 16th:

You know you’ve signed up for a tough race when the elevation at the start line is over 10,000 feet.  Run through the historic mining district on challenging old mining roads and trails.  Both the distances include a “summit” of 13,185 feet at Mosquito Pass.  The course includes many tough, steep climbs and rocky roads, complete with baby doll head sized rocks and plenty of loose gravel to keep you on your toes.

Fear the Deer trail half marathon, May 19th:

You never know what you will encounter at this event: a foot of snow, rushing water or 85 degree temperatures!  You will gain over 2800 vertical feet in this rough and rocky trail race on the beautiful trails in Deer Creek Canyon Park, Littleton.  The course winds through scenic pine forests, fields of wildflowers and when you get to the top you are awarded with an amazing view of Denver.

A foot of snow blanketed the trails at last year’s Fear the Deer trail race.

Pikes Peak ascent 1/2 marathon and marathonAugust 18th -19th:

Each year, Coloradans take on the grueling endeavor of hiking up a 14,000 foot peak, but running up one is an entirely different animal.
This event takes runners 7000 feet up the gorgeous and challenging Barr trail to the summit of Pikes Peak, one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks.  Celebrate the accomplishment in the thin air at the summit and catch a ride back down or for the overly ambitious, sign up for the full marathon and run back down the mountain.  Your legs and lungs will thank you later.

Camps and other events:

Trails in Motion film festival, June 20th:

A social night of drinks and inspirational trail running and mountain films!

Active at Altitude running camps:
Multiple camps spring-fall
You will find out why when you experience trail running in the majestic Rocky Mountains!  This camp includes six days focused on trail running, with expert coaching, interactive group trail runs, workshops on physiological training and mental training, floor or yoga session, video of running form, great food, camaraderie, and more…
The Estes Park area is an incredible area for trail running; challenging, inspiring and breathtaking.  Miles of trails with choices varying from easy to extremely challenging.

Becoming Ultra trail running camp:
September 13th-16th

Join local Colorado coaches, trail/ultra runners and a panel of expert guest speakers for a weekend in the high Rockies for clinics, epic training runs, 14er AND 13er summits, yoga/pilates, gourmet chef prepared food, luxury cabin accommodations, drinks and other activities.
– Run untouched trails
– Meet new friends from all over the globe
– Push yourself…..or don’t. Your pace!
**Shorter run options will be available for those not interested in ultra running distances.

At the top of Mount Bierstadt with the Becoming Ultra camp.

Training programs and groups:

Looking for some help training or want the camaraderie of training in a group?   Check out some of the local options below!

Denver Trail runners:
Local co-ed group that meets weekly at different trails across the front range for social trail runs

Life’s 2 Short Fitness women’s training group
Weekly coached runs at trails across the front range to train for a summer trail race

Happy Trails Run Club:
Led by the folks over at Berkeley Park Running Co, this social group meets monthly at different trails for a variety of distances/levels.  They typically invite out a shoe, gear or apparel company to demo products too.

Women’s Beginner trail running course:
5 week program that includes coached runs and clinics with expert guest speakers

Our women’s trail running group getting silly on the trails

Additional resources:

These sites have great event calendars where you can find a database of most all trail races in Colorado and across the world plus additional information on training, gear, nutrition and more!

American Trail Running Association (ATRA):
Trail race calendar, newsletter, community advocate and annual trail running conference.

Trail runner magazine:
Articles with info on training, races, gear and more.

Trail Run Project
Discover new trails where you are!  Articles + trail database, trails ranked by difficulty with reviews from local trail runners.

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