a woman runs through an East Texas forest trail

A runner takes on the Mission Tejas Trail Run. Photo by Jeremiah Justis

As fall brings cooler temperatures, opportunities for getting outdoors abound. One way to experience Texas’ natural beauty is by signing up for a trail race. Unlike road races, which typically emphasize race times and personal bests, trail races offer a different experience, one that gets you off the beaten track and out into nature.

“Trail running is community-based; it’s not competitive,” says Rob Goyen, the race director of Trail Racing Over Texas, a trail race management company. He adds that the term “trail running” is deceptive, as participants are encouraged to run, hike, or walk at their own pace. “Come into the community however you are, and do the distance however you want.”

Trail races, with their expansive and diverse courses, also lend well to maintaining a 6-foot social distancing between participants. To help ensure participants’ safety, race organizers have implemented additional precautions, which include staggered start times, contactless packet pickup, and mandatory masks at the start and finish lines.


Mission Tejas Trail Run

October 24, 2020, Mission Tejas State Park

Mission Tejas State Park is a small park next to Davy Crockett National Forest with structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Often overlooked for its next-door neighbor, Mission Tejas is a hidden treasure you’ll want to return to even after race day has ended.

This race offers distances ranging from 5K to 50K, with a course that features narrow trails and steep climbs, set against the backdrop of loblolly pine trees. There is also camping available at the park.


The Barrier Island Ultra

November 7, 2020, Port Aransas

The Barrier Island Ultra, which features an out-and-back beach course with distances ranging from 5K to 50 miles, is part of the Texas Eco race series. As race organizer Jason Gates notes, Texas is home to some of the most diverse ecological regions in the world, which prompted the creation of a race series to highlight each one.

Gates says the Port Aransas event is a good race for people new to trail running, as the hard-packed sand is similar to road running, while the sea breeze and ocean views are a nice bonus.


Running the Rose Trail Run

January 23, 2021, Tyler State Park

This race offers distances ranging from 7K to 108K at Tyler State Park, about an hour and a half east of Dallas. You’ll want to bring the family and stick around after the race so you can enjoy the park’s swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities.

Goyen’s suggestion? Make sure to stop at the convenience store at the park entrance, as it has some of the best homemade gelato around.

The Border to Badlands Ultra

February 27, 2021, Seminole Canyon State Park

This race offers distances ranging from 5K to 50 miles on a course that features desert terrain. Runners will enjoy views of Mexico on one side, and canyons on the other. The race course has significant elevation gain changes. Half the course is on jeep trails and half on single-track trails.


The Southwest 100

March 27-28, 2021, Fort Davis

Based in Fort Davis, the Southwest 100 is set to a gorgeous mountain backdrop with distances ranging from 5K to 100 miles. This is one of the harder trail races, as it features steep climbing, technical single track trails, and ample elevation gain—the 100-mile course features around 15,000 feet of uphill.

If you are up to the challenge, this race is well worth your time. It’s nestled in the Davis Mountains, with a course that starts and ends at the Fort Davis National Historic Site. At night, the view of the stars is sure to take your breath away.

So pick your race, chart out your training plan, and start running. Just be warned: “For many people, this becomes a lifelong passion,” Gates says.


The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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