From the lush green Olmsted Parks to the urban renewal of the Big Four Bridge, Louisville is the perfect place for runners.
A city of parks, there are plenty of places to get away from the hustle of the streets and log some miles. But there are also some wonderful urban routes, linking neighborhoods together to get longer and longer distances. As an avid runner myself, logging mile after mile while training for marathons, I’ve explored many of the city’s running options – sometimes just picking a location to start and winging it. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of ways to run Louisville, but simply a few of the highlights.
Iroquois Park is the place to go if you want a challenging course that brings the hills. The lower loop is about 3.2 miles around, with about half of it closed to traffic completely. If the hills of the lower loop don’t give you enough challenge, you can go for what many runners dub “the hard 10,” which takes you all the way up to the top of the park in a steady ascent. But the views when you get to the top and the newly renovated Overlook make the climb worth the pounding in your chest to get there.
Dan Puckett, a multi-time Boston marathon qualifier, has spent years running Iroquois Park. “First and foremost, Iroquois is a very friendly place,” he says. “The area is a melting pot of the city, so many nationalities all enjoying the park and are more than ready to give you a wave or hello as you pass.”
With an amphitheater and playground at the park as well, there is ample parking available. It’s not unusual to find high school running teams practicing. And it’s often a meeting place for marathon training, as it’s easy to run the loop and then head off north on Southern Parkway toward the University of Louisville and the Waterfront depending on the distance needed.
For many runners, the joy of running comes from dodging roots and hitting the dirt trails of an off-road path. Jefferson Memorial Forest in Southwest Louisville offers many options with different lengths for those who prefer to take their runs into the woods. Rhonda Curry, who has done many ultra-marathon events on trails, says she’s attracted to trail running “because it makes me feel like a kid playing in the woods. It challenges me and I look around me and see all this amazing beauty.”
“It is beautiful at Jefferson Memorial Forest,” she says. “This is a hidden jewel of Louisville. All seasons bring a different beauty. Even the frozen icicles on the bare trees in the winter make you feel like you are running in some type of mystical wonderland.”
Big Four Bridge/Falls of the Ohio
The completion of the Big Four Bridge as a pedestrian walkway opened up a whole new type of opportunity for the runners of Louisville. The Bridge boasts a stunning view of the Ohio and an easy way to link those running in Waterfront Park with the quaint streets of downtown Jeffersonville. One popular run is to meet on the Kentucky side of the Big Four, then cross the bridge and run west toward the Falls of the Ohio State Park.
For multiple Ironman finisher Todd Swartz, who is also the President of the Louisville Landsharks Multisport Club, no training season is complete without the Big Four and Indiana loop. As he trains for his distance events, Swartz uses this loop to get in his running miles. The route can also be expanded for longer training runs by heading south along Second or Third streets toward Iroquois Park.
“Running across the Big Four Bridge and along the river’s edge in Indiana is one of my favorite routes because you have a simple route, quiet streets, and some incredible views,” he says. “The bridges and Louisville skyline are wonderful to see, especially early in the morning when the city is just waking up.”
Parklands of Floyds Fork
The park jewel of eastern Louisville, the Parklands of Floyds Fork has plenty of places for the avid runner to explore, whether on pavement or trail. Many people can be found simply circling the oval of the Egg Lawn. But there are miles and miles of paths and trails to explore in this privately funded and maintained park.
Missy Thompson can often be found in the Parklands – both for running and cycling. “This park has been a lifesaver for me for training as it is a safe escape from car traffic,” says Thompson, who trained this summer for a half Ironman triathlon. “The scenery is amazing, keeps me interested and looking forward to what is next while on long runs.”
There are plenty of hills to get the heart beating extra fast and strengthen the legs, but there are also long stretches of flat area that can be utilized by those looking for a little less challenge. The Parklands also has the advantage of having ball fields and playgrounds so there are options for little ones to stay busy while a parent gets in some exercise.
“It is hard to pick my favorite spot,” Thompson says. “I am so appreciative to have this safe haven so close to my home. I look forward to more adventures and seeing the trees change for the Fall.”
This is my personal favorite place to run. And you can make it a road run or a trail run. There are off-road trails that link the parks along Beargrass Creek. At Cherokee, runners, bikes, and cars co-exist in a one-way loop that leaves one lane for pedestrians and one for cars. Cherokee blends the rolling hills with a couple flat, straightaways to give you a challenging workout.
A simple loop around Cherokee Park gives you just under two and a half miles. To extend it, many runners take advantage of the boundary road that links Cherokee to Seneca Park, by way of Big Rock Park. This loop gives you another couple of small hills and a run along the Seneca golf course before you get to the 1.2-mile loop of Seneca Park.
It’s a great route for long-distance training as there are water fountains in several places for hydration stops. I like this run because there are usually lots of runners and walkers out, which makes even a solo run a little more social and engaging.
Whether you’re a hardcore triathlete or casual power walker, Louisville has a running route for anyone ready to lace up their kicks and hit the pavement or trails.