Runners’ Guide to the Capital Region

A roundup of running events, trails, clubs and more in Sacramento, Yolo, San Joaquin, Placer, El Dorado, and Nevada counties

PUBLISHED SEP 10, 2023 10:26 P.M.
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Run to Feed the Hungry participants raise funds for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

Run to Feed the Hungry participants raise funds for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.   Karin Hildebrand Lau   Shutterstock

The Sacramento region is well suited for a wide variety of recreational activities. With convenient lake and river access for water enthusiasts and plentiful biking trails, it’s easy to get outside and play.

Another group of athletes drawn to the Capital region? Runners.

Running is an affordable and accessible activity. Pair that with Sacramento’s agreeable weather year round, and it’s no wonder that runners—both locals and visitors—take advantage of the area’s diverse assortment of trails, terrain, and competitive events.

The Capital region is best known for two main running events: the California International Marathon and Ironman California. However, there’s a lot more outside of these two events for runners to enjoy.

1. Running Events in the Region

Sacramento and its neighboring counties provide opportunities for runners of all skill levels, from established marathoners to enthusiasts who are just starting out.

California International MarathonAs a top Boston Marathon qualifier, the CIM is a big deal. Runners travel from all over California and beyond to participate in this marathon that stretches through Fair Oaks, Orangevale, Carmichael, and downtown Sacramento. The CIM is so tried and true that its point-to-point net downhill course has not been altered in almost 40 years. The CIM also has a relay option, and is a US Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier.

Ironman CaliforniaIronman California is part of the Ironman North America series and happens every October. Featuring a full bike, swim, and run route that stretches throughout Sacramento, this is where top athletes in the region go to push their bodies to the limit.

Davis StampedeA tradition for the past four decades, the Davis Stampede has 5K,10K and half marathon routes and happens every February in South Davis. There is also a 2K dog-friendly family route for those who want to get some exercise while getting the kids involved.

Donut DashOver in the Land Park neighborhood of Sacramento every March, the Donut Dash takes place with all proceeds benefiting the Child Life programs at regional hospitals. The Donut Dash is a four-mile route that also supplies you with four donuts—not a bad deal! Participants also receive a donut medal and a bottle of milk at the end of this whimsical race.

Urban CowThe Urban Cow Half Marathon happens on a Sunday in October, following the 5K and “Half Calf” kids races that take place the previous day. Urban Cow is not only a great, challenging workout, but is also upbeat with live music throughout the course, cowbell medals, and a “party pasture” for post-race fun. The proceeds from this run benefit local high school and nonprofit running teams in Sacramento and Placer counties, as well as the American River Parkway Foundation.

Big Chief Trail RunThis 50K race takes runners between Lake Tahoe and Truckee, providing a picturesque run that is worth the distance. Big Chief is a combination of single track and fire road, along with rocky summits that make it a challenging but doable route for advanced runners. All competitors start and finish at Northstar in Tahoe, and many Sacramentans make the trip to participate in this beautiful race.

Western States 100-Mile Endurance RunOrganizers call Western States the world’s oldest 100-mile trail run. Wikipedia dubs it “the oldest and one of the most competitive ultramarathons in the United States.” On top of that, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful. Beginning in Olympic Valley (near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics) and ending 100.2 miles later at Placer High School in Auburn, the course runs through the Sierra Nevada high country along Emigrant Pass and crosses the Middle Fork of the American River. Even entry to the race is competitive; hopefuls must enter a lottery to get a chance to sign up.

Run to Feed the Hungry—With 10K and 5K routes to choose from, Run to Feed the Hungry isn’t a challenging course. In fact, virtual participation is an option for supporters of this three-decade-old Sacramento tradition. But all participants help the Sacramento Food Bank meet its own challenge: serving the equivalent of 28.6 million meals annually. Held on Thanksgiving, the event features a loop course that starts on J Street, west of Sacramento State, and runs through the tree-lined streets of East Sacramento.

Two runners on a road
Auburn’s Western States 100-mile Endurance Run is one of the oldest ultra-marathons in the U.S. Photo by James Pintar/Shutterstock

2. Local Groups for Runners to Join

Sacramento Running AssociationThe Sacramento Running Association hosts various running events throughout the year, including the California International Marathon. According to its website, the association promotes fitness through running, brings international attention to the Sacramento region, and sponsors events, groups, and charities focused on healthy lifestyles. The group also has a youth chapter through its school and cross country programming.

San Joaquin RunningOutside of the main Sacramento area, but still a favorite for locals, is San Joaquin Running. Events range from 10K to 100K, so truly all levels and ages can participate. San Joaquin Running hosts the Central California Race Series, which features nine races that span the entire calendar year. It is also home to the San Joaquin Trail Runners, which is a group of outdoor running enthusiasts that meets regularly for exercise and skill progression.

9Run6—The Facebook group 9Run6 hosts early-morning running meetups twice per week for those early birds looking for some fitness partners. Located in the downtown Sacramento area, the group meets at local spots like Marie’s Donuts before taking off on runs through the city.

Arete Women’s Running ClubArete is a national running organization for women, but has a strong local Sacramento chapter. Membership registration opens every December, and members have access to training, events, and get togethers. Arete is a Greek philosophy focused upon fulfillment through being the best you can be, and that is the goal for all female runners who are a part of this empowering organization.

Buffalo Chips Running ClubThe Buffalo Chips are self-described as “the largest, oldest, and most friendly running club” in Sacramento. Anyone can participate in their events, and they also have regular evening workouts for members. Organized races are both local to Sacramento and also have spread out to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Black Men RunThis running club is focused on positive brotherhood through health and fitness. They meet for regular runs, and all ages and levels are welcome to join. They have a private Facebook group that you must join to get information on workouts and events.

Fit4MomFit4Mom is a running club especially for mothers in all stages—pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond—offering both low-impact and competitive running events. There are several chapters in the Capital region, including Placer County, Davis, Folsom Lake, Natomas, and Sacramento proper.

This is just a small sampling of the groups available to join. Since running is so popular in the Capital region, new clubs are regularly forming while well-established ones also continue to grow. The Sacramento Running Association has a complete list of all the groups currently active.

Paved running trail in Folsom, California
With its 6.5-mile loop, the Johnny Cash Trail attracts novice runners. Photo by Eric Buell Photography/Shutterstock

3. The Best Local Trails

While competing in races is fun and fulfilling, any serious runner knows that regular, consistent workouts are the key to success. Local running trails are also a great way for recreational runners and walkers to get some fresh air and exercise without the stress and expense of registering for a 5K or 10K. The Capital region is home to an extensive network of running trails, but these stand out as some favorites among locals.

Johnny Cash TrailLocated in Folsom, this trail is part running path and part art gallery. Featuring eight different art installations honoring the famous musician that put Folsom on the map, the Johnny Cash Trail is open daily to runners, and also hosts fun runs. The 6.5-mile loop trail is perfect for novice runners.

Jedediah Smith Memorial TrailOne of the most well-known trails in the area, the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail starts at Discovery Park and ends in Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake. The complete trail is 32 miles, and it has been nationally recognized for its route and natural beauty.

Sly ParkSly Park Recreational Area is located in Pollock Pines and features a beautiful route that runners of all ability levels will enjoy. With a soft forest floor and shaded tree canopy, the trails of Sly Park are popular enough that the area hosts a formal running event three times per year. Of course, you can explore this trail independently any day if you don’t feel like jumping into another organized run.

Yolo Bypass Wildlife AreaLocated in nearby Yolo County, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area features the Seasonal Wetland Loop. This novice running trail is an ideal destination for both beginner and advanced runners to enjoy a workout together, and you’re sure to see some native birds along the way.

Stagecoach TrailOver in Auburn, the Stagecoach Trail is a 2-mile stretch that rewards runners with a stunning view of the American River basin and local wildlife. Wildflower superblooms can sometimes be seen in the spring, and the trail has a gradual gradient to keep things challenging.

Serrano, Poppy, and Walker Ridge TrailsThese trails are located in El Dorado Hills and are known for being easy enough for beginners, but strenuous enough to still provide a workout to all skill levels. The trail is a combination of gravel and asphalt, and you’ll enjoy a fair bit of privacy as you run through the various trails that intersect and end at a public point.

gray shoes and a shoebox
Photo by Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

4. Running Stores Worth Visiting

Running is an affordable sport, but still requires the purchase of some gear. Properly fitting, high-quality running shoes are a given, while others prefer to also invest in apparel that serves runners well throughout the various seasons. If you are local to the Capital region, there are a few different destinations to consider when it’s time to shop.

Fleet FeetPerhaps the best-known among area runners, Fleet Feet Sacramento also has locations in Elk Grove and Davis. You can schedule an in-store appointment online, which includes shoe fitting and other custom options. Fleet Feet also hosts workout groups and can connect you to all the races happening throughout the region.

Gold Country Run + SportGold Country Run + Sport is located in Folsom, El Dorado Hills, and Rocklin. The Folsom location is an outlet center, which provides some of the best savings in town, depending upon the time of year. The Folsom and Rocklin locations also host Sunday morning runs. Runners meet at the store, receive complimentary coffee and snacks, and get a store discount after completing the run.

Auburn Running CompanyThe Auburn Running Company is a small, locally owned store in Auburn that specializes in running shoes. The store also hosts various events and refers customers to coaching opportunities. Can’t make it in during their operation hours? You can call and request an appointment time that is convenient for you.

Wild RunnersThe smaller, more boutique Wild Runners store is located in Fair Oaks. It stocks a variety of gear for trail runs along the American River, along with wherever else your feet take you. This shop also offers test run days in a variety of brands, including well-known ones like Saucony. No other store in the region will allow you to have a literal sample day before buying.

Winding paved trail in a forested area

The multi-use Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail parallels the American River from Folsom to old Sacramento. Eric Buell Photography/Shutterstock

5. Get Connected

Running is a great sport to partake in on your own, but there’s also a huge social component to it when you consider training, race days, and gleaning knowledge from those more experienced. In the Capital region, there are plenty of social media accounts to follow if you’re looking for advice or hoping to connect with a group that fits both your physical and relational speed.

Running for CarbsInstagram user @runningforcarbs balances running with motherhood, sharing her fitness, workout, and running tips. She is local to Sacramento and has competed in marathons. 

SRA EliteThis running group is for elite runners local to the Sacramento area. Their Instagram @sraelite posts running events, training announcements, and information on how to join this high-intensity group if you're ready to take your running to the next level.

Auburn Area Trail RunnersThe Auburn Area Trail Runners is a Facebook group dedicated to experiencing and sharing runs along the beautiful American River Canyon trails and other nature spots in the greater Auburn area. They also invite members to occasional obstacle course racing.

Folsom Trail RunnersFolsom Trail Runners is a Facebook group with more than 600 members. They run on trails and have something scheduled almost every day of the week in various forms: short runs, long-distance runs, hill repeats, and more. It’s a very social group, so if you are looking for some running partners in the Folsom area, this just might be the ticket.

The Capital region is truly a wonderful place to experience the world of running, whether you choose to do it competitively or just for fun. With so many resources and trails featuring some of nature’s best, it’s no wonder the running community continues to grow and thrive. 


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