If you thought a trail runner couldn’t have a better training facility than Umstead State Park, then you haven’t been on the Falls Lake portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which begins in eastern Durham County near Penny’s Bend and follows the lake’s southern shoreline to the Falls Lake dam in northeast Raleigh.

The biggest plus for this trail is that it’s pretty much as long as you could possibly want it to be for a training run (that is, we suppose, unless you’re Dean Karnazes http://www.ultramarathonman.com/web/ and 60 miles is a recovery day). The trail can also be as short as you need it to be. Broken into 24 sections, the trail can be consumed in portions of a half mile and up.

Another plus: the trail is part of the statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Eventually, that means you can hop on and take a really, really long training run: west to Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line or east to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. For now, though, the MST imprimatur means you can be assured of a trail that’s well maintained and easy to follow. Big pluses both for trail running.

And, the trail offers a surprising amount of diversity. The eastern end (near the dam) and western end (near Penny’s Bend) are flatter, the middle, especially east of NC 50, a little hillier. There are no opportunities for loop runs.

Some of the trail is on land is managed by N.C. State Parks, some by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Hunting is allowed on the latter; wear your flashiest trail shoes.

More info: Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Maps: You can find a map showing a breakdown of the Falls Lake portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, by section, here.

Getting to the Shinleaf trailhead from downtown Raleigh

Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 40 minutes from downtown Raleigh
Length: 60 miles (broken into 24 sections ranging in length from less than a mile to 5.4 miles)
Time to complete: Varies, from 1 hour up
Address: 13304 Creedmoor Road
City: Wake Forest
State: NC
Zip: 27587
Latitude: 36.0117
Longitude: 78.6888