I’ve lived in the Champaign-Urbana area long enough to give you the best places (in my opinion) to run in town. In all honesty, it is easy to find a great place to run. I’m an optimist when it comes to C-U running. Heck, I lived here from 1997–2001, and then I came back in 2008. If you return to a place after leaving for six years, there must be something special about the place. Great running is one of those reasons. These are top places I like to run. I know there are other fantastic runs in town, and I’m happy to hear from you about what places you would recommend.
Top five places (in the author’s humble opinion) to run in C-U:
5. Campus to Urbana and Back
Some people wouldn’t be caught dead on campus, let alone running there. Nevertheless, a roughly six mile route starting from the Armory and heading east along Pennsylvania towards Cottage Grove is a great run. There is some traffic near Lincoln Avenue and again at Vine Street, but that is easily navigable. Urbana’s tree-lined streets offer shade in the summer and compliment the charm of campus.
4. East Urbana
For some of us folks who live in Champaign, east Urbana is well off the radar. We think Apple Dumpling and figure it might as well be Danville. Nevertheless, east Urbana has trees. I don’t mean along streets in quaint neighborhoods; I mean real forest. So many trees, in fact, you wonder if you’ve been transported to Michigan. There are lots of distance options in this area, but the route along the unfortunately named Brownfield Road to Airport Road to High Cross give you something to look at. High Cross is generally a road to avoid south of I-74, but to the north, traffic thins out quite considerably.
3. Lake of the Woods, Mahomet
A little further afield, Lake of the Woods is a tremendous place to see nature. There are paved trails, dirt trails, prairie trails. Did I mention trails? Forest, grasslands, deer, and other wildlife offer ample opportunity to consider your life while putting miles on your shoes.
2. Hessel Park to Centennial Park and Back
I find the run from Hessel Park along Hessel Boulevard, Armory, and through to Sangamon and Centennial Park to be a great run. You can add two mile loops to your run at Centennial to cater to how you feel. One thing that I l love about running is the ability to see things you wouldn’t normally, like how the “other” side lives by the Country Club. Two problems with this run include crossing Prospect and (more so) Mattis. It’s easy to do on a Saturday or Sunday morning as there are fewer people out on the roads, but any other time, you’re taking your life into your own hands. Think Frogger.
1. Meadowbrook Park
Hands down, there is no better place to run in C-U than Urbana’s Meadowbrook Park. The park’s planners, all those years ago when they designed the place, may have had a vague inkling of how popular and successful Meadowbrook would become, but there is no better place in the cities of C-U that I’d rather run. In a way, it is C-U’s Central Park. Deer, beaver, pheasants, butterflies, art, runners, walkers, those people on Tuesday nights with the sticks who fend off the Second Wind Running Club runners as we pass, rollerbladers, cyclists, kids, parents, grandparents, hell . . . maybe even great grandparents at Clark Lindsey Village. Meadowbrook is a runner’s paradise for long or short runs. I’ve run as much as eight miles there, and as little as one. And running to there and back from your house can add additional miles depending on where you live. Meadowbrook never gets boring, in my opinion. It is always changing, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
Honorable Mention ― Champaign to Savoy and Back
Savoy did a great thing when they created the bike path along the western edge of town that would be the continuation of Prospect at Curtis. Running this path would usually constitute an out and back, but you can make it a loop when you get to Old Church Road and take it through Savoy neighborhoods heading north. There is something peaceful about running along soybeans and corn at sunset. I’ve shown it here starting from Hessel Park and using the Boulware Trail and Mattis Park as additional places to run.
Do you have a favorite place in C-U you like to run? Up next, the five worst places to run in C-U. Having run them, I know.