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URBAN PATHS AND SCENIC TRAILS: BOSTON’S BEST RUNNING SPOTS

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Elyse Andrews

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It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people run in Boston. Ever hear of a little race called the Boston Marathon? Exactly. We’re on the move and we pound the pavement, beach, and sometimes cobblestones all year round.

But don’t think you need to be an elite race-runner who has conquered Heartbreak Hill to take to the streets — there are open roads and running routes all around us. Now all you need to do is pick a spot, lace up your kicks, and hit the road running.

Are you one of those runners that gets all your best ideas in motion? Or maybe you run to clear your head. You get all that and a side of views at Walden Pond in Concord. Made famous by being a favorite of writer/poet/philosopher Henry David Thoreau, lose or find yourself during a jaunt around the two-ish-mile loop around the lake.

While Franklin Park is also part of the Emerald Necklace, it’s so big that it deserves an entry all its own. Franklin is the site of the premier cross-country course in New England and hosts races nearly every weekend during the season. It’s even home to Harvard’s cross-country team. And if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. There are three major loops to follow in the park: the Stadium Loop, which goes around the back of White Stadium; the Bear Cage Loop, which tackles the sizeable Bear Cage Hill (thankfully, no bears); and the Wilderness Loop, which winds through wooded paths. Once you get going, you won’t believe that some of Boston’s busiest neighborhoods are nearby.

Never run the Mystic? It’s time. Take the Orange Line to Assembly Square in Somerville and lace up your sneakers for a long run along the Mystic River. Start your route in Sylvester Baxter Riverfront Park, then cross the bridge over the Mystic to continue on the other side. You’ll feel worlds away from the city as you run the meandering paths in Torbet Macdonald State Park. Reverse your route to end back at Assembly. There, we suggest doing some shopping or grabbing a bite to eat before you hop on the T to head home.

If you’re looking for a paved path to do your long runs, the Minuteman Bikeway is the place to go. If you live nearby, you can run there, and if not, just hop on the T and get off at Alewife, which is where the path starts. From there, the Minuteman goes for 10 miles and travels from Cambridge to Arlington and Lexington before ending in Bedford. The trail is beautiful in all seasons and you’ll almost never be alone out there. And to that point, on a nice day, expect the Minuteman to be packed with runners, cyclists, and tons of people just out for a walk.

Many runners in Boston focus on logging miles along the Charles, and, obviously, we love it too. But if you’re looking to mix up your routine, head to South Boston to run along Boston Harbor for some different water views. Start at Castle Island, which has a loop that’s a little over two miles. Then hit the path that runs next to William J. Day Blvd. to add some distance to your route. Fitt Tip: if it’s a hot day, take a dip in the ocean at Carson Beach or the L and M Street Beaches to cool down.

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Broadly, we need to just state that running around, through, and between the parks in the Emerald Necklace is arguably better than Central Park. The Necklace links many of Boston’s green spaces, from the Boston Common all the way to Franklin Park. With so many miles of paths to choose from, there’s almost an endless number of routes to tackle. You could do the Fenway route, looping through the gardens and around the Back Bay Fens, hit the Riverway for miles of quiet, shaded trails, explore the Arnold Arboretum, OR take on the nearly 1.5-mile loop around Jamaica Pond. Better yet, do a combination of these to log miles in some of Boston’s most scenic and historic areas.

This spot might be obvious, but it’s certainly not overrated. Thanks to 23 miles of run-, bike-, and walk-friendly paths and water fountains, the Charles River is lined with runners from sunrise to sunset. If you cross any bridge, you’ll stumble onto Cambridge’s Memorial Drive, which has equally great running paths and even better views of the Boston skyline. You can easily create loops from three miles to 20+ based on bridges alone. And get this: in the winter, local companies set up shop to fuel runners as they pass by. Awesome!

Since looping around the reservoir is only a mile and a half, you’re going to have to get creative if you want to get a solid workout in. Lucky for you, this spot is situated a few steps from the campus of Boston College and Commonwealth Ave. And that, friends, is where the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” is located. So, here’s what you need to do: Plan on running the flat reservoir loop, enjoying views of the Boston skyline on a clear day. Then, add some mileage and a serious challenge to your workout by heading through BC’s campus to Commonwealth (and Heartbreak Hill) for some hill repeats.

Just north of Boston is the Middlesex Fells, a 2,500-acre reservation that’s a go-to spot for hikers, mountain bikers, and dog walkers. And it’s one of the best local trail running destinations too. There are tons of routes of choose from depending on the length and difficulty of your run. Try the Reservoir Trail for moderate terrain and a path you can cut short if you don’t want to tackle all 5.2 miles. Though, if you’re looking to really test yourself, you can’t beat the Skyline Trail, which consists of about 6.4 miles of difficult terrain…and spectacular views.

Yeah, we’re going back to the Emerald Necklace for a quality run. This one’s a sneaky six-mile loop perfect for that post-work run. Start at Pleasant St. or St. Paul St. Green Line T-Stop at the end of BU’s campus. From there, head towards Back Bay via Commonwealth Ave. until you hit the Public Garden. Run along the edge of the Garden until you get to the Common. Enter the Common, running along Boylston St., and follow the path to the left. You can run up the hill for some serious legwork, then go left and down the hill (hello, calves and quads!). Exit the Common and run along the opposite edge of the Garden. Two turns, a left, and followed by a right will put you back on Commonwealth Ave. Make your way back to your starting point to put this run in the books.

If you live in Somerville, chances are that the Community Path isn’t far from your door. The new expansion that opened in the past couple years pushed the paved trail all the way to Lowell St., so you can now run from there to Davis Square and beyond. The path continues on the other side of Davis and eventually meets up with the Alewife Linear Path and the Fitchburg Cutoff Bike Path, letting you stretch it out a couple of miles, or as many as six if you do an out-and-back.

Maybe you’re looking to get faster, or simply want to do some interval work. Either way, we know sometimes you just need to sprint. And for that, you’ll want to hit the track at Emmanuel College. Clemente Field, in the Back Bay Fens and across the street from Emmanuel’s campus, is free and open to the public. Fitt Tip: you should know that the track itself runs a little long (a full lap is more than 400m), so be sure to pay attention to the hash marks. That way you won’t sell all of your hard work short.

If you tire of running the Charles, Fresh Pond should be your backup. Just know that lots of runners think the same, so it can get a little crowded if you’re running here after work. Still, the 2.25-mile loop around this Cambridge reservoir—complete with dirt paths, water fountains, and some peace and quiet—is a must. Plus, if you like to sweat with your pup, this run is dog-friendly, and your four-legged friend will love frolicking about in the water.

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Fitt

Get Fitt delivered to your inbox.

Stay up to date on what’s happening in Boston’s health and fitness scene.

Get Fitt delivered to your inbox.
Fitt

Get Fitt delivered to your inbox.

Stay up to date on what’s happening in Boston’s health and fitness scene.