Trail Running and Walking 101

Man and Woman Trail Walking

Want to try trail running, but not exactly sure where to begin? Or maybe you’re looking for a fun and easily accessible hike the whole family can enjoy. Well, consider this your Head of Trails! We’ve collected some great beginner treks near all our store locations, perfect for those wanting to test the waters (or in this case, the dirt!) of new terrain without taking on anything too rugged. Plus, check out our tips and tricks before you go to ensure “happy trails” are had by all! 

Preparing for a Trail Adventure

Prior to heading out the door, decide on your destination and get familiar with the route. A fairly flat 1-3 mile trail is a great place to start. If you’re able to find a map to download or take a screenshot of, that’s always helpful.

Next, check the weather. This will allow you to decide on a good time to go, as well as what to wear and bring (you know, just in case). It’s pretty common for trail runs or hikes to take longer than what’s expected, so be sure you have more hydration than you think you actually need. Though you don’t want to have to carry a ton, trust us: skimping on water to lighten your load is never a good idea. Which brings us to the final prep step: Packing. 

Along with hydration, it's also good to pack snacks, bandages in case of blisters or scrapes, an empty bag for trash, bug spray, sunscreen, your map, and your phone (make sure it’s charged!). Read on for a closer look at more must-haves to help you tackle new terrain like a pro.

Woman with water bottle and man with running watch on nature trail

Essential Trail Gear

Whether you aim to stroll or stride, go for a jog or a quick jaunt, having the right gear is key to ensuring your trek goes smoothly. If you are planning on taking a path in a more established area – like a local park with paved trails and drinking fountains for instance – you won’t need as much gear as you would for a more off-road adventure. With that in mind, check out (and off!) this list of must-haves before you hit the trails:

  • Trail Shoes - When taking a hike with kids in tow, on a park path or a paved or gravel  trail, good athletic shoes or sandals made specifically for hiking are all that’s really necessary. But if you are planning on running, you may want to invest in trail running shoes. What’s the difference you ask? Well…
    Trail shoes have outsoles with deeper lugs for better traction, along with a stiffer midsole and more durable uppers for better support and protection. Trails can be uneven, slippery, wet, narrow, and twisty, so you need a shoe that provides a combo of comfort, performance, and extra grip. Trail shoes also have features like gusseted tongues to keep debris out, waterproofing to keep dryness in, and rock plates to keep toes happy and safe.
  • Socks - Just as essential as the right shoes, are the right socks! Cotton absorbs sweat and can cause blisters, so it’s best to look for a pair made from Merino wool or a synthetic blend that wicks moisture away and keeps feet comfy and dry. Those designed specifically for running or hiking are especially good since they fit snug and provide cushion right where you need it. Lastly, choosing higher cut socks will help to protect ankles.
  • Layers of Performance Apparel - Like socks, it’s important that your shirt, shorts or pants, and other gear are breathable and made of wicking material that redirects sweat away from your body. This will keep you dry in all types of weather. A packable wind or rain jacket can definitely come in handy, too. Weather can be fickle (especially in Michigan!) so layers are the name of the game.
  • A Hat - Sure, you may have applied some sunscreen, but there’s nothing like a hat to keep the sun off your face and out of your eyes. It can also help keep bugs at bay, and your hair from driving you mad! 
  • Navigation - Whether you use your phone, a GPS watch, or both, having some means of navigational help offers peace of mind you won’t get lost, plus a whole lot more. Many watches and apps can monitor your health, evaluate the difficulty of your route, and count everything from miles to pace to the amount of calories you’re burning. You don’t have to be a techy to appreciate that.
  • Hydration Carrier - You need a way to carry all that hydration we mentioned earlier, and luckily there are lots of options! Handheld water bottles and waist belts are great for short excursions, while hydration packs and vests enable you to bring more water for longer outings. 
  • Nutrition - make sure you don’t run out of fuel! Bring along energy bars or gels, bananas, carrots, apples, nuts, or a pb&j. Trail mix is also a good choice– hey, they don’t call it that for nothing! 
  • Backpack - Of course, if you don’t want to actually hold things or tie them around your waist, a lightweight backpack with lots of versatile pockets can hold your extra layers, water, personal items, and safety stuff without impeding on your run or walk.  
Two women in running shoes standing in front of trail marking

Trail Safety and Other Tips

Now that you’ve got all the right gear, follow these tips to stay safe, enjoy and share the trail respectfully and responsibly, and make the most of your adventure:

Learn trail markings - Before you explore, find out how trails are marked and learn what each of the markings means. Know before you go to keep from getting lost!

Be realistic - Choose a trail that matches your fitness level and plan to build up gradually. The last thing you want to do is bite off more than you can chew and be stuck on a trail of dread!

Pack as light as possible - Nothing ruins a good trail run or walk than an excessively heavy pack. Bring only the necessities and your back and joints will thank you later!

Slow down - Don’t expect to keep the same pace as you would on flat cement or asphalt. The terrain on trails calls for a slower pace in order to safely traverse the path. Besides, taking it slow allows you to take in all the beautiful nature around you!

Be aware - Familiarize yourself with and follow trail rules, stay on the path to protect foliage, and learn the types of wildlife in the area (as well as what to do if you encounter them!). It’s also a good idea to check for ticks after your trek.

Tell a friend - Mom was right: You should always let someone know where you’re going and approximately for how long you’ll be gone. Thanks, Mom!

Leave only footprints - Remember that empty garbage bag we suggested to pack? Be sure to use it for any wrappers, peels, tissues, or other trash so you can carry it all out with you and keep the trail just as beautiful for the next person who uses it. 

Now, Take a Hike!

Okay, you’ve got the gear, know the tips, you’re packed, you’re ready, and it’s time to tackle a trail. Ah, but where should you go? Here are some of our favorite picks for easy,1-3 mile beginner trails near our store locations and you:

Kalamazoo 

  1. Al Sabo Land Preserve - Home course of our “Dirty Herd”, take your pick of two easy trails: a 1.5 mile or a 2.2 mile if you’re feeling like you have a little more in ya! Plus, there are many others to explore.
  2. Portage Creek Bicentennial Park - Here, you can start with a 3.5 mile trek and build your way up to 8 miles of scenic trail along Portage Creek. 
  3. Kalamazoo Nature Center - Choose from several easy to moderate trails taking you through fields, gardens, woodlands, and even along a river and stream.
  4. Asylum Lake Preserve - Hop on this 2.9 mile trail that winds through a beautiful preserve and along the shoreline of a large lake.
  5. Bow in the Clouds Preserve - Part gravel, part dirt, and part boardwalk, this easy 1 mile trail offers beautiful marsh views. 
  6. *Keegan and Joseph’s pick: Kleinstuck Preserve - A little less than ¾ of a mile, this flat, smooth trail loops around a small marsh. You can run as little or as much as you like!

Grand Rapids:

  1. Aman Park - Discover a 2.3 mile trail for all levels, winding through the woods of Aman Park
  2. *Rod’s pick: Crahen Valley Park - A GR hidden gem, this 3.1 mile loop winds through wilderness with varied terrain. Shorter, 1-2.5 mile loops circle a meadow with a pond, stream, and pleasant forest.
  3. Provin Park - Up for a bit more challenging terrain? Try this scenic 2 mile trail through pine forest and sand dune.
  4. *Rob’s pick: Pickerel Lake Park (Fred Meijer Nature Preserve) - Interconnected loops allow you to choose your distance as you meander through woods, wetlands, and forest. The blue loop is about 2 miles, circling the lake for water views 95% of the way!
  5. Blandford Nature Center - Explore all four of the easy, wooded trails found here, and see how much wildlife you can spot along the way.  
  6. *Thierry’s pick: Seidman Park - The red and blue loop in this park is 3.8 miles through forest and wetland, with several shortcuts to explore! Bonus: You can learn orientation at Thierry’s class held here!
  7. *Doug’s pick: Wahlfield Park - There are tons of trails to discover here with easy options that meander through a mix of woods, creek valley, and fields.
  8. *Ethan’s pick: Luton Park - With 9 miles of trails total, and loops of varying distances and difficulty, this place is perfect for beginners to start their trail experience and build upon it.
  9. Prairie Wolf Park - This beautiful little hidden gem of a park offers multiple short trails that take you through fields of wildflowers. 
  10. *Kevin’s pick: Ken-o-Sha Park- Hidden away off the walking path of this park is about 1.5 miles of trails with great views of Plaster Creek.
  11. *Shelby’s pick: Huff Park - A mix of paved trails and boardwalk take you on an easy running tour of wetland and woods.

Holland  

  1. Riley Trails - This easy 3.4 mile loop is just one of the many trails to explore at Riley Park
  2. Saugatuck Dunes State Park - Head a bit south and you'll discover trails of varying length that take you through forested areas and coastal dunes. You can even take a break on the beach or cool off in beautiful Lake Michigan!

Birmingham

  1. Linden Park and Quarton Lake Trail - Enjoy approximately 2.5 miles total on this peaceful, wooded, riverside path. Even better? Look for artistic touches along the way.
  2. River Bends Park - You’ll find several scenic trails here, including a 2.5 mile part gravel, part paved path to enjoy.
  3. Carpenter Lake Nature Preserve - Several loops offer varying distances throughout this beautiful wooded preserve with lake and meadow views.

Northville

  1. Maybury State Park - Encompassing 944 acres of forest, meadows, and rolling terrain, this park is a local favorite with tons of trails for all levels.
  2. Bennett Arboretum Trail - Take in the serene beauty surrounding this 2.8 mile trail that follows a river in Northville Recreation Area.

Gazelle Sports is happy to fit you with trail shoes and gear, answer any questions you have, and even help you find running routes as well as fun running groups, all to keep you moving. After all, we believe movement can change your life. Contact us online for more info, or call a location near you today.