If pounding the city streets on your daily run is getting a bit monotonous, it might be time to swap the pavement for the trails. The good news is you don’t need to be out in the mountains to go trail running – there are great trails right here in Melbourne.
Along with all the mental and physical benefits of running, trail running also provides the added benefits of being out in nature.
‘Trail running’ is simply going for a run on any unmade or unsealed surface. The combo of uneven ground, hills and obstacles like branches to duck under or jump over requires extra focus. Although it might be a slower run, the rougher terrain makes for an extra challenge.
To get you started we’ve put together this handy list of the best trail running near Melbourne. From the city’s parks to some more challenging trails close by the city – we’ve got you covered! You’ll have forgotten what pavement looks like in no time.
Trail Running in Melbourne’s Parks
For those new to trail running, your local park is a great place to start. The wide, well-groomed and accessible paths make for an easier run. And luckily Melbourne’s not short on a park or two! Once you’re hooked, you’ll find Melbourne’s local parks are a great way to get a quick trail-run fix in that long gap between Sunday night and Saturday morning.
Quick tip: If you’re just getting started with trail running, plan to run for a certain amount of time rather than a certain distance. This way you’ll find your own pace and learn what trail distances are going to suit you.
Here’s our choice of the best parks for trail running in Melbourne:
1. Princes Park
Trail: Princes Park Loop
Distance: 3.2km circuit
Highlight: Heading to Sydney Road to refuel afterwards
Running a lap or two of Princes Park is a great way to shake up your exercise routine. The mix of gravel and asphalt will help you ease into running on an uneven surface. Plus with plenty of trails cutting through the park, you can change up your route as you go. Best of all, it’s right by the eclectic mix of restaurants and cafes on Sydney Road – perfect for a post-run snack!
2. Royal Botanical Gardens
Trail: The Tan Track
Distance: 3.8km circuit
Highlight: Conquering the Anderson Street hill
It could be said that you haven’t actually run in Melbourne unless you’ve completed a lap of the famous Tan Track. The iconic trail loops around the city’s Botanical Gardens. Join the crowds running before and after work, or head there on the weekend for a spot of people watching as you run. Run it clockwise for a blood-pumping push up the Anderson Street hill, or anti-clockwise for an easier lap.
3. Albert Park
Trail: Albert Park Lake Track
Distance: 4.8km circuit
Highlight: Viewing Melbourne’s city skyline across the lake
Get inspired by the Formula 1 racing cars and complete your very own lap (or laps) of Albert Park Lake. The 4.8km gravel track is a great place to break away from the pavement, but is still a flat and easy run. On the weekends you’ll have to dodge other runners, dogs and people strolling by with coffees in their hand. However, the views across the lake and the surrounding parkland make it worthwhile.
4. Yarra Bend Park
Trail: Yarra Bend Park Loop
Distance: 9.5km circuit
Highlight: Forgetting you’re in the city
Head out on the flowing, dirt trails of Yarra Bend Park and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve left the city behind. A run through the natural bushland alongside the Yarra River will get your blood pumping and give you a sweet nature fix. If you want to set yourself a distance, the 9.5km Park Loop is good to follow. Otherwise, set yourself a time and get lost along the various trails around the parkland.
The Best Trails for Running Near Melbourne
When you’re ready for more of a challenge your favourite hiking trails can become an exciting run. You’ll encounter rougher terrain and obstacles such as rocks, tree roots, mud – and hills! Ah, we can feel the legs burning already. Melbournians are lucky to have some excellent hiking trails nearby, so what are you waiting for?
Quick tip: When you venture out from Melbourne’s parks to some tougher trails, you might want to consider a trail running shoe. They’ll provide you a lot more support and comfort as well as grip for the rougher terrain. Check out Tim’s review of The North Face Flight VECTIV carbon-fibre-enhanced trail runners.
Here’s our pick of the best locations for trail running near the city:
5. Mornington Peninsula
Trail: Dromana Beach to Arthurs Seat – Two Bays Walking Track
Distance: 6km return
Highlight: A post-run dip in Port Phillip Bay
The Mornington Peninsula has some great options for trail runners. While a lot of the trails are fairly flat or slightly undulating, you can give your legs – and lungs – a real workout along the Two Bays Walking Track.
The first section of this track from Dromana Beach is a 3km climb to the top of Arthurs Seat. It’s a gut-busting run if you’re not used to inclines and the descent will have your knees shaking as you return along the same trail to the beach.
6. You Yangs Regional Park
Trail: East West Walk + Flinders Summit
Distance: 4.2km circuit + 3km return
Highlight: A Rocky Balboa style ascent of the stairs to Flinders Peak summit
The You Yangs are a popular place for dog walkers, so first up – be prepared to dodge a few furry friends along the trail. If you can handle that, the You Yangs are a good place to – literally – step up your trail running. Start with a circuit of Flinders Peak along the East and West Tracks. Then take on the 450 steps to the summit for some great views – and some fist pumping at the top!
Read more: 14 Dog Friendly Walks Near Melbourne
7. Dandenong Ranges
Trail: East Sherbrooke Forest Trail
Distance: 6.6km circuit
Highlight: Fresh air and beautiful scenery
Starting and ending at Grant’s Picnic Ground, this is a moderate and accessible track for trail running. Only a short drive from Melbourne and you can find yourself amongst lush green ferns and towering eucalyptus trees. There are a few steep sections and it’s likely to be quite muddy in winter. It’s one of many similar trails in the area, so make a mental note – the Dandenongs are an awesome location for trail running near Melbourne!
8. Werribee Gorge
Trail: Werribee Gorge Circuit
Distance: 8.5km circuit
Highlight: Navigating the rocky river bank in the gorge
Werribee Gorge is a challenging trail to run. Take it slow and focus ahead on the trail for tree roots, loose gravel and bigger rocks. Running the trail in either direction will require a descent into the gorge and the hard slog back out again. The gorge also has some rock scrambling that will require you to really focus on where you place your feet.
9. Mount Macedon
Trail: Camels Hump
Distance: 9.2km return
Highlight: The post-run comparison of who’s wearing the most mud
Just over an hour’s drive from the city, Mount Macedon is a good location for trail running near Melbourne. If you head there in the colder months be prepared to take on muddy trails and potential light snow on the mountain. Apart from the mud, the trail from the Tea Rooms to the Camels Hump peak is an easy-moderate run, with a few big dips and a hill climb to get you to the summit.
10. Cathedral Ranges
Trail: Cooks Mill car park to Neds Peak
Distance: 10km return
Highlight: Views of the ranges from Neds Peak
If you’ve run a lot of the trails near Melbourne and are looking for the next degree of difficulty – head on up to the Cathedral Ranges. Most trails here have steep inclines and rock scrambling, so it’s not for the novice runner. Start at the Cooks Mill car park for a warm up run along the Little River track, before taking on the ascent of Neds Gully and Neds Peak tracks. There’ll be some excellent views waiting for you at the top.
Hopefully you’re feeling inspired to ditch the pavement and plan a trail run near Melbourne. Taking on the tougher terrain and obstacles will no doubt make you a stronger all-round runner. We’ll see you out there!
Feature photo by Jon Harris