6 Running Vacation Destinations to Explore in 2024

6 Running Vacation Destinations to Explore in 2024

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When you’re in San Diego and a friend tells you to head south and meet him across the border, the first images that come to mind are those of the raucous tourist experiences available in Tijuana, Mexico.

But my friend promised pristine, high-desert running trails, a relaxing, secluded vibe and an exquisite dining just a stone’s throw south of the U.S.-Mexico border, so I knew he must have had another destination in mind. I took his word for it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

After driving about an hour southeast of San Diego to an international border crossing at Tecate, I arrived at Rancho La Puerta, a family owned wellness resort and spa that dates back to the early 1940s.

For much of that time, the resort focused on the promotion of healthy living with regular fitness and organic food connected by an ethos of personal and planetary wellness and sustainability. But in recent years, the remote ranch in the valley at the base of Mount Kuchumaa has engaged guests with trail running retreats. The 4,000-acre property, which backs up to the U.S.-Mexico border, has more than 40 miles of both smooth dirt trails and a few rocky, technical routes that weave around the resort’s organic farm, peaceful oak groves and robust vineyards, as well as semi-wild mountainous terrain.

Rancho La Puerta / Mexico

Rancho La Puerta Mexico
Rancho La Puerta Mexico (Photo: Scott Draper)

For four days, I ran twice a day in what was essentially my own personal training camp, typically making loops from 3 miles to 15 miles on the ranch’s 10 designated trails—often with the resort’s expert-level guide, Martin Ruiz, leading the way. I watched the sun rise on several early morning runs, dug deep into the grind of a challenging session of hill repeats, then rejuvenated myself with daily yoga, strength, stretching and other holistic wellness classes. (I even dabbled in meditation and tried a sound healing class.)

But mostly I just immersed myself in the natural goodness all around me, relaxing at the hot pools, getting treatments at the spa, and refueling on the resort’s scrumptious lacto-ovo pescatarian fare—which, in addition to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, included dairy, eggs and seafood but no meats or poultry—at both its main dining hall and La Cocina gourmet cafe and cooking school.

Most of the locally inspired delicacies come from the Northern Mexican roots of chef Reyna Venegas—including Mexican corn chowder, ranch tamales, chile rellenos, and zesty Tecate-style Halibut—but equally memorable were the savory, yellow split pea soup, fresh spinach lasagna and homemade pasta with porcini mushrooms. (I didn’t imbibe any alcohol on this trip, but happy hour for many ranch guests included enjoying a glass of artisanal Guadalupe Valley chardonnay while watching the sun drop toward the horizon from the Bazar Del Sol outdoor dining area.)

Although my trail running stint at Rancho la Puerta was relatively brief, it was enriching and transformative. I left the resort feeling healthy and rested, and I continued to embrace the “siempre mejor” vibe that it has celebrated since its inception. That slogan translates to mean “always better,” although ranch co-founder Deborah Szekely, who is now 101 and still active at the resort, has always interpreted it to mean “always changing,” and that’s certainly something any trail runner can relate to.

Visit: Rancho La Puerta Running Vacations

The Chamonix Tour
The Chamonix Tour (Photo: Kim Strom)

Related: Discover other travel adventures at Outside 

Other Running Vacation Destinations to Explore

Run the Alps / Chamonix, France

If you’re an intermediate to advanced trail runner with an adventurous mindset at a passport, you need to consider putting a multi-day run around the Tour du Mont-Blanc (TMB) high on your bucket list. That’s the 103-mile route that circumnavigates the Mont Blanc massif—the highest mountain in Western Europe—while sending runners from Chamonix, France, through parts Italy and Switzerland before finishing back in Chamonix. While the 15,777-foot peak is a majestic sight to behold, the trail running around its lower flanks feels like a scene out of the Sound of Music—especially when you’re doing it with a jovial group organized by Run the Alps.

The Chamonix-based tour group was founded in 2017 by American ex-pat Doug Mayer, who has been trail running in the region for more than 20 years. Run the Alps has become the premier trail running travel organization in the region, not only because it has great guides and special guests—including both Courtney Dauwalter and Mirna Valerio last summer—but because it takes pride in making sure everyone is having fun, enjoying the running and mountain scenery, and eating amazing meals, no matter what their experience level is.

Running the Alps
Running the Alps (Photo: Milo Zanecchia)

As much as the TMB route is a classic route, it’s certainly not the only spectacular tour on the Run the Alps roster. It also offers multi-day trips over the Haute Route—a summertime version of the classic backcountry skiing route between Chamonix and Zermatt, Switzerland—and a six-day inn to inn route through the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland that connects remote several mountain villas between Schwarzwaldalp and Mürren. Run the Alps has something for everyone: fully guided tours, self-guided tours, custom tours and the ability to hire private guides for single-day runs. Each one offers authentic trail running in the heart of the Alps with a distinct European flair.

Visit: Run the Alps Running Vacations

ZAP Running Vacations / Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, ZAP Running Vacations has long been connected to the ZAP Endurance elite athlete training hub. For more than 20 years, coaches Pete and Zika Rea (and more recently Ryan Warrenburg and Matt LoPiccolo) have trained postcollegiate American runners to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and other high-level domestic races. The program has helped elevate numerous national-class runners through the years, including Tyler Pennel, a 2:12 marathoner, and two-time U.S. Olympic Trials competitor (fifth in 2016, 11th in 2020) who is a top contender once again at this year’s Olympic-qualifying race in Orlando, Florida, on February 3, and Tristin Van Ord (2:25:58), who is a top contender in the women’s Olympic Trials race.

Those athletes serve as running guides and coaches at ZAP’s weeklong running vacations and weekend retreats, both of which include all aspects of training (nutrition, strength training, running form, mental race prep) plus individualized video gait analysis and small breakout groups about injury prevention. The retreats were previously hosted at the ZAP Endurance compound deep in the holler below Grandfather Mountain, but this year adult participants will stay in upscale accommodations at Chetola Resort in downtown Blowing Rock. Most of the running will still take place on the 25 miles of smooth, crushed gravel bridle paths at Moses Cone Memorial Park, an idyllic 3,600-acre getaway that features lush forests, endless wildflower meadows and placid lakes and about 600 feet of elevation gain. What makes ZAP retreats so rewarding is the sense of community that quickly emerges among running partners of all ability levels and the running-related storytelling that takes place over meals and after hours during relaxation time.

Visit: Zap Endurance Retreats

Run Wild Retreats, Moab, Utah

Elinor Fish started organizing women’s running retreats almost 15 years ago with a focus on mindfulness long before it became a trendy topic. Now Run Wild Retreats offers a wide range of running getaways all over the world (including Moab, Utah) for all levels of runners interested in mindful running, culturally immersive trips or pushing the limits of adventure. Run Wild Retreats supports participants holistically, not just as a runner, mother, friend, community member or hard-charging upwardly mobile professional. The getaways help runners find a safe space to let go of all the stress and expectations to run unburdened without pressure, creating a platform for participants to run with both power and ease, lighten their emotional load to build confidence and tap into an infinite source of motivation.

Visit: Run Wild Retreats

Trail Sisters “Run With Her” Women’s Trail Running Retreats / Boulder, Colorado

Gina Lucrezi formed Trail Sisters as a means to not only provide easier access to trail running for women, but to inspire more women to be inspired to run trails on a regular basis. The Trail Sisters “Run With Her” Women’s Trail Running Retreats are geared for all ability levels of runners. All paces are accommodated and one gets left behind. There’s no better place to hold these camps than Boulder, Colorado, one of the trail top trail running destinations in the U.S. Aside from daily runs on Boulder’s vast network of trails, participants will take part in workshops and educational sessions aimed at building trail skills, learning about gear, developing strategies for fueling and hydrating and enhancing moments out on the trails.

Visit: Trail Sisters Running Retreats

Run Mindful Trail Running and Meditation Retreats / Applegate, Oregon

Timothy Olson has earned a reputation as a competitive ultrarunner who’s earned numerous podium finishes, but what he, and his wife, Krista, are really known for with their trail running retreats are their perpetuation of mindfulness, a love of nature and a nurturing community among participants. Their retreats teach runners to live in the moment while connecting with the environment, how to bring meditation into both running and daily life, embrace a well-rounded, healthy diet of organic whole foods while also running the stunning mountain and forest trails of Southern Oregon.

Visit: Adventure Mindful Retreats

Related: The Best Health and Wellness Retreats in the World

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