Runners' Corner: Juneau is full of ideal places to run

Residents sound off on where they like to jog

Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Juneau boasts endless scenic places to run, from numerous wilderness trails to many roads with little or no traffic, as well as bike paths and parks. In fact, there are so many spectacular waterfront settings and mountain vistas that it's impossible to think of a better Northwest nirvana for runners.

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For this week's edition of Runners' Corner, I polled runners throughout the area on their favorite places to run.

When asked, most local runners choose Perseverance Trail as their favorite place, with its easy accessibility for a noon-time or after-work getaway. Andy Grossman said he runs up Perseverance every day with his dog.

Only minutes from downtown, a short run up Gold Street to Basin Road leads into the historic Gold Creek Basin, with a view of the goats and bears on Mount Juneau. Pristine Gold Creek tumbles along the trail past old gold mining ruins for about an eight-mile run. Instead of Gold Creek, a runner could turn up the Mount Juneau Trail, or onto the Red Mill or Granite Creek trails that branch off on the way up. Perseverance Trail is a place to go for inspiration, relaxation and solace.

Another popular gold-mine area known as the Treadwell Historical Trails lies across Gastineau Channel on Douglas Island, just south of the city of Douglas. Runners love the quiet, meandering trails amongst the ruins of the great Treadwell complex. The Juneau-Douglas High School's cross country team hosts races on five kilometers of these trails.

Shawn Miller, a former JDHS cross country runner, and now probably the fastest male in Juneau, said his favorite run is the newly renovated Herbert River Trail located at Mile 28 Glacier Highway.

This National Forest trail of about nine miles was key in helping Miller train for the Fargo Marathon in Fargo, N.D., in which he placed second with a time of 3 hours and 32 minutes earlier this month. Miller said he likes Herbert River Trail for its distance and smooth surface, as well as for the spectacular view of the Herbert Glacier at the trail's end.

Another Forest Service trail at Mile 27 - Windfall Lake Trail - is Marion Koelsch's favorite place to run. She said she loves to lope along past the lake, under the huge old cottonwoods, spruce, and hemlock, avoiding the devil's club and bears, and ending up at the end of the Montana Creek Trail for a satisfying 14-mile run. Due to the abundance of brown bears in the area, she prefers to run with a group.

The Boy Scout Beach Trail, also at Mile 27, is another popular place to run. This level trail goes through a canopy of trees for about a mile before breaking out into a beautiful meadow full of shooting stars, irises, violets, lupine and fireweed. At this point, runners can continue to run to the Boy Scout Camp on the left or jog to the right along the mouth of the Eagle River and continuing along the 112-mile beach for a spectacular view of the Chilkat Range.

Closer to town, the Dredge Lake area provides Steve McPhetres with numerous trails to run. Located near the Mendenhall River Bridge on the Back Loop Road, the glacier left behind a few lakes and a flattened area perfect for running. McPhetres said he likes to start at the bridge, heading past the manmade Dredge Lake and continuing on to the Moraine Ecology Trail near the East Glacier Visitor's Center. After a 112-mile loop around the Moraine Trail, McPhetres heads up toward Mendenhall Lake along trails used for cross country skiing in the winter. Then, it's past Moose Lake and along the Mendenhall River back to the bridge.

McPhetres' wife, Jan, loves to run on the Glacier Spur Road across from Gladstone Street, which leads into the Trail of the Glacier. This run crosses Steep Creek twice and goes past a glacier kettle providing a beautiful view of a waterfall and salmon spawning ponds. Ambitious runners can continue to run on the four-mile, hilly East Glacier Loop Trail and even farther on the Nugget Creek Trail for another 512 miles. Returning to the East Glacier Trail, the viewpoint overlooking the Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most spectacular in Juneau.

Cameron Clark, a Floyd Dryden seventh-grader and future cross country running star, voted for East Glacier Trail as his favorite place to run. He said he takes the back route, counterclockwise, up the many stairs in the woods.

Juneau's Smokin' Old Geezers, a group of master runners famous for their adventuring and challenging athletic exploits, gave an extreme destination to their favorite place to run.

Glenn Frick and Jerry Buckley's favorite run is one few people have ever attempted.

Accompanied by a third Geezer, Steve Davis, the three ran for 14 hours from Annex Power Station up to Annex Lake, on Thoroughfare Ridge, over Observation Peak and Cairn Peak and down Blackerby Ridge to Twin Lakes. According to Frick and Buckley, they figured the run totaled an elevation game of 8,000 feet.

In addition to the numerous trails in and around Juneau, the road system provides many favorite places to run. Douglas Highway, all 13-plus miles of it, is very popular for those who are training for long-distance races. The Frank Maier Marathon course begins at Sandy Beach in Douglas and follows the rolling, scenic hills of Douglas Highway to Outer Point and back.

A group cruise by Runners' World magazine will also use Douglas Highway for their Great Alaska Maritime Marathon this summer.

For demanding hill training, ninth grader Kendra Burger loves Eaglecrest Road, which is located about six miles north of the Douglas Bridge. She runs up the five-mile road as preparation for the second lead of the Klondike Trial of '98 International Road Relay, which she ran last year.

Monica Witter, a teacher at Harborview Elementary who is training for her first marathon, said she enjoys running on the Lena Loop Road. The combination of hills and little traffic makes it her favorite place to run.

Katie Poor, who plans on competiting with the Crimson Bears' cross country team as a freshman next season, favors the Brotherhood Bridge Trail because of the three trail options provided there. She can choose the old trail next to the river, the newly paved and handicapped accessible trail or the horse trail on the left. Each trail is a little more than two miles one-way and provides endless variety as well as a link to the Back Loop Road.

Bob Meiners, back from a five-year running hiatus, said there's nothing better than running the Back Loop Road, clockwise. At every turn there is a view of mountain peaks, the glacier, or the ocean framed in the distance. The 9.3-mile length is just right, too.

Liz Gannon, who recently moved to Juneau from Washington, D.C., chooses Thane Road for the peaceful views, steady hills and limited cars. From the downtown JRC The Alaska Club location, it is a nice 12-miler.

No matter where you choose to run, Juneau has plenty to offer in terms of variety and beauty. It's hard to imagine a better place to run than Juneau, with its smashing views, clean air and accessible trails and roads.

• Nancy Thomas is a member and past president of the Southeast Road Runners, a local nonprofit running organization. She is also a former high school cross country and track and field coach. Thomas can be reached at

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