Ten of the best: Australian Trails
If you’re a trail runner, half the motivation for plonking one foot in front of the other on dirt is the scenery. You’re amongst it for the wild geography as much as to race the stopwatch, right? But which trails are the best for cross-country running? Here’s an Aussie Grit guide to ten of Australia’s best trail running routes.
TASMANIA – Freycinet Circuit
Curved white-sand beaches; an epic climb to a breathtaking summit viewpoint over the entire peninsula; a fast downhill bomb to an isolated bay – this running route’s got the lot and then some. The Freycinet Circuit on Tasmania’s east coast is a prime day-long outing. Clocking in at just over 30km, the trail running loop takes in famous Wineglass Bay, before climbing Mt Graham with an optional if knarly out-an-back to the Freycinet peak for an extra pinch of pleasurable pain. It’s then a flowing drop down technical singletrack back to sea level and a final sprint along Hazards Beach. For those not up to the longer outing, you can cut across the isthmus for a shorter 10km round of Hazards Circuit which still takes in the highlights of Wineglass Bay and its lookout.
TASMANIA – Overland Track
Yes, this one is even more obvious than Freycinet, but it’s also a bigger undertaking at 65km (or 82km if you go the long way), so it’s not for leisurely Park Runners. The Overland Track is, however, quintessential Tassie trail running territory and makes for one helluva run. The terrain can be alternately tough (think super technical underfoot, rocky, rooty and sometimes muddy) to super silky (ah the relief of those boardwalk stretches) but always stunning. It’s a fair undertaking as a one day ultra, multiday run if camping or making use of the hut system, or for safety try for a slot in the Cradle Mountain Ultra event.
VICTORIA – Great Ocean Walk
The Great Ocean Walk earns its name as of the most well-known hiking trails in Australia. It also makes for fantastic coastal trail running. The trail undulates constantly – but at least you know there are never any serious mountains to face. Rather it’s a good middle range technical singletrack on the coastal parts with a mix of dirt road and single track whenever diving inland to explore hinterland forests – including the grand and fabulously ferny Otway Wilderness. Highlights include the wild and remote Milenesia Beach with awesome clifftop views before diving down to the beach; and, of course, the famed Twelve Apostles basked in dusk sunglow (if you time it right) as you saunter westward. Run it as part of an event at the Great Ocean Walk 100, every October.
VICTORIA – Mount Buller
Usually known for its ski season shenanigans, Mount Buller has fast becoming a mini mountain Mecca for trail running in the ‘green season’ months, with lots of options direct from the mountaintop village. Choose from running routes like a beginner’s 3km on the tight twists of Gang Gangs, or try a leisurely run around the Nature Trail and up to the Buller summit on a fine day. Better yet, go a bigger hog and take on the Stirling Summit cross country running loop, taking you across to Buller’s sister mountain and back again on some of the finest trails you will ever run. Recreational running routes are found at Run Buller. Of course, if you are up for something a little beefier, try the Hut 2 Hut 100km loop, a feature of the Oscars100 Hut 2 Hut run-trek challenge every February, offering a quintessential Australian Alpine experience while raising money and awareness for autism www.hut2hut.ocsars100.com.au.
NEW SOUTH WALES – Blue Mountains
NSW has so much awesome trail running territory it could whack ‘the trail run state’ on its vehicle registration plates. But we’ll choose the trails in and around Katoomba in the Blue Mountains as being a great and eminently accessible playground for trail runners being only a few hours’ drive west from downtown Sydney. Try the 14km return run that tracks Furber Steps-Ruined Castle and Golden Stairs or have a crack at running a marathon along the famed Six Foot Track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. The terrain can be brutally technical but does include lots of fire road options and the scenery is mesmerising enough to make you forget you’re running, the Megalong Valley being a highlight. Hook up with the Six Foot Track trail running event, one of the granddaddies of Australian trail running events, or join the carnival that is Australia’s biggest trail running event, Ultra Trail Australia, each May.
NEW SOUTH WALES – Coast Track
Tracing the coastline of the Royal National Park to the south of Sydney is the Coast Track, a 27.4km route from Otford in the south to the delightful village of Bundeena in the north. A serene run with good mildly technical running in parts mixed with some big clifftop sections, a smattering of boardwalk and groomed trail, small coves and beaches. Highlights include the coastal rainforest of burning palms and palm jungle and the historic shack communities. The trail is also host to the annual Coastal Classic trail running event.
QUEENSLAND – Thorsborne Trail
Queensland is brimming with trail options from the positively tropical options in the far north to the stunning hinterlands of the Gold Coast in the south and the Granite Belt interior in between. We’ll highlight the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island as a must do iconic running route. A 32km coastal track, it explores the eastern side of the island which harbors cloud-covered mountains, fragile heath vegetation, lush rainforest, tall eucalypt forest and mangrove fringes. You’ll need to time your run so you pick up the ferry at the end.
NORTHERN TERRITORY – Larapinta Trail
On first thoughts, NT is a difficult hunting ground: the weather not is conducive to trail running (too hot) and in places it’s not wise to take on croc-infused river crossings (in the north). Yet it hosts one of the best running trails to be enjoyed in Australia: the Larapinta, a 223km route that traces the West MacDonnell Ranges out from Alice Springs, in Central Australia. Its ancient landscape features technical going underfoot as you drop into gullies and canyons only to rise repeatedly above the desert, along soaring ridgelines before plunging back into, of all things, a series of lush oases. Such is the dichotomy of this arid zone wilderness. For a short ‘taster’, try the accessible 10km Ormiston Pound Loop – pound for pound perhaps the best run in Australia! For a competitive jaunt, sign up to the five-day multi stage Run Larapinta.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA – Cape to Cape
A lighthouse-to-lighthouse run…what’s not iconic about that? The Cape to Cape trail from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste is a beautiful if challenging run with plenty of beach stretches to work the legs. No mountains to scare, but a decent 135km distance with a few dune pinches to keep you honest. The route features spectacular coastal and forest scenery, a fascinating geology of cliffs, caves, headlands and rock formations and an ever-changing display of vegetation and wildflowers. The headland views are bold and its all you can do to resist the urge to head inland to the multitude of wineries you know are waiting come running route’s end..
SOUTH AUSTRALIA – Adelaide Hills
Ah, trail running and wine. Brilliance. Start in the Adelaide Hills where you’ll find plenty of trails crisscrossing the ranges. For iconic, it’s hard to go past the Hills’ Yurrebilla Trail, on which the Yurrebilla Ultra is held annually. A 54km route, it ranges from narrow single-tracks to the odd fire tracks, and passes top attractions the likes of Waterfall Gully, Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, Mount Lofty Summit and Cleland Wildlife Park. Yurrebilla Trail connects directly with another iconic trail worth the run, the Heysen Trail, for 12 kilometres, joining between Mount Lofty and Third Falls in the Morialta Conservation Park.