Thrill-seeking comes in many flavors. For some people, trying an exciting new restaurant pushes the limit of your adventurous spirit. For others, you need to jump out of an airplane with nothing but a parachute (and, hopefully, also an instructor!) strapped to your back in order to feel a rush. Whichever group you’re in, adventurous half marathons provide the perfect combination of something familiar (running!) with never-before-conquered obstacles and global destinations. After all, much of the fun of racing comes from having a story to tell for years to come.
To help support your reckless, adrenaline-junkie lifestyle—or to encourage you to push past your comfort zone—we’ve compiled a list of the most adventurous half marathons you can run in the United States and beyond. If you would like to skydive and run, you can do that too.
Old Turnpike Half Marathon. May 28, 2023 | Waterfall, PA
On Pennsylvania adventure bucket lists, you’ll find “exploring the Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike”: thirteen miles of abandoned superhighway last open to vehicles in 1968. Sometimes described as “apocalyptic.” The highway is nestled between the Buchanan State Forest and the Allegheny Mountain Range – making this half marathon course both unique and beautiful.
Since the tunnel has been out of service for decades, runners will actually run a stretch of the race in the dark. (Shadowy monsters and nightmare fodder not included). For safety, runners are encouraged to wear headlamps as they traverse the 1.26 mile-long Sideling Hill tunnel and kilometer-long Rays Hill tunnel. It’s great preparation for any adventurous half marathons at night you may run this year!.
Great Wall of China Half Marathon. May 18, 2024 | Tianjin, China
If running through tunnels isn’t your “thing,” try stairs. The Great Wall of China Half Marathon takes runners along the 5,164 steps of the one of the Wonders of the World. The race is recommended for experienced runners only.
The thousands of steps also come with steep ascents and descents. This race is one of the world’s most challenging half marathons. You’ll run as part of an exclusive group, as the race itself only sees 2,500 runners annually. This is considered one of the most adventurous half marathons in the world.
Kinzua Half Marathon. July 30, 2023 | Mount Jewett, PA
The Kinzua Viaduct was built in 1882. At the time, it was the world’s longest and tallest railroad viaduct at over 300 feet high. The viaduct was destroyed by a tornado in 2003. But, it has since been reinvented as the Kinzua Skywalk, pictured above.
This skywalk serves as both the start and finish line for the Kinzua Half Marathon. Runners can take in breathtaking views of the gorge at the beginning and end, and the course itself takes runners down and back the lush tree-lined Knox Kane Trail. If you do well with heights, or if you don’t (but you’re a believer in immersion therapy), this half might be for you.
Pikes Peak Ascent & Marathon. September 16, 2023 | Manitou Springs, CO
The Pikes Peak Ascent is named for the early American explorer Zebulon Pike, who tried but failed to make it to the summit of this mountain in 1806.
Widely acknowledged as one of the United States’s most difficult marathons, American Olympian Jeff Galloway attests that it’s also “one of the world’s toughest.”
The race starts at 6,300 feet above sea level and climbs an additional 7,800 feet to the peak, which is 14,000 feet above sea level. At the start of the race, temperatures can start to rise to the mid 90’s but, as runners ascend, the temperature drops to the point that racers may experience near-freezing weather at the summit.
When running this race, train at altitude before attempting.
Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon. April 15, 2023 | Boise, ID
Race to Robie Creek is one of the toughest half marathon in the Northwest. Over the course, runners summit 2,072 feet, as the start of the race is in the Boise foothills and the end is in the Aldape Summit.
2023 marks the 44th year of the half marathon, which has become a staple in Boise culture. The race draws 2,000 to 3,000 runners each year—a huge growth from the inaugural running in 1975, which saw only 24 finishers.
Another notable highlight of this race? There’s a hairpin turn at mile 9 that “haunts your dreams,” warn race organizers.
Everest Marathon & Half Marathon. May 29, 2023 | Nepal
Mount Everest needs no introduction—but we’ll do it anyway: it’s the world’s tallest mountain. This is definitely a bucket list race for very experienced runners. Participants are asked to spend 3 weeks in Nepal prior to the race to acclimatize to significant elevation change.
In addition to the 3 weeks, the event involves an 18-day commitment to trek the mountain, race, and then return back to Kathmandu. While the other races on this list involve 2,000 to 3,000 feet of elevation change, the Everest Half Marathon boasts nearly 15,000 feet of elevation and temperatures that can hit the low teens in the evenings.
It doesn’t matter how fast you run it. If you finish this half marathon – you get to brag.
Run the Rockies. September, 2023 | Frisco, CO
The annual Run the Rockies, which celebrates its 41st running in 2023, isn’t for the faint of heart.
Frisco sits 9,000 feet into the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver. When running at altitudes like this, the air is “lighter,” which means it has less available oxygen to be consumed by your body during your run.
It’s always advised to practice running at higher altitudes before taking on a half marathon like this. Run the Rockies also covers both paved and dirt roads and is 75% downhill, making it a quad killer, too.
Glacier Half Marathon. June 24, 2023 | East Glacier, MT
Vacation Race organizers rank this among only a few four-star difficulty half marathons. The course runs along the eastern border of Glacier National Park, famous for its views of the Rocky Mountains and reflective Hidden Lake. The race is entirely paved but does have twisting roads and a bit of elevation.
We’ve found national park half marathons to be particularly adventurous, as they celebrate and explore the natural preserved landscapes of the United States.
Twilight Red Rock Half Marathon. October 14, 2023 | Las Vegas, NV
Red Rock Canyon is only a 20-minute drive from Las Vegas, and because of that, you’ll be able to see the lights from Sin City as the sun sets during this nighttime race.
Trail running is one thing; running a half marathon on a trail at night is quite another. The race starts at 5:45 PM, with the half marathon taking place as the sun sets on the canyon. You’ll run the back half of the course by the light of the moon and starlight.
Death Valley Half Marathon. February 4, 2023 | Inyo County, CA
Running a half marathon through Death Valley sounds scarier than it actually is – which is the best part. Death Valley holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth: 134° F, set in 1913.
Luckily, this race takes place in February, when the temperatures are not nearly as extreme. (You’ll see temperatures somewhere between 40°F and 70°F.) This is a hidden gem of a race, and means you can brag to all your friends that you ran Death Valley. However, you’ll only have to conquer 500 feet of elevation change alongside 300 of your newest, closest, adventurous friends.
Blue Ridge Marathon & Half Marathon. April 22, 2023 | Roanoke, VA
In the American mountain landscape, there’s a lot of talk about the Rockies, the Smokies, and the Appalachians, but the Blue Ridge Mountains deserve more credit.
Running the Blue Ridge Half Marathon is one of the best ways to experience this range. Throughout the race, you’ll see 3,600 feet of elevation change, which is par for the course when it comes to running through a mountain range. This half marathon is also one of the more popular mountain races, welcoming over 3,000 participants per year.
What makes these the most adventurous half marathons?
We have selected races that are both unique and challenging. A lot of half marathons have some elevation change to them, but seldom will you come across a race that has a starting line of a race be 40 to 50 degrees warmer than at the finish. From this particular list, we’ve also excluded traditional destination bucket list races (like Berlin or Chicago) because the courses themselves are standard city races.
How to pick an adventurous half marathon
If the race takes place at elevation, you’ll want to train at elevation. Or consider investing in products like sleeping with an elevation mask. Try to incorporate more hill workouts into your training regiment which involves running up and down steep inclines.