The 4 best trail running spots in Dallas

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve in Dallas

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

I’ve been to Central Texas. North Texas, you are no Central Texas. But there are, in fact, a few trails (all in southwest Dallas County) where if you squint your eyes just enough, you’ll mistake yourself for being in one of the most beautiful places in Texas — Hill Country.

Here are your best bets for hiking or running on dirt trails in the Dallas area.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge is my favorite. It’s is proof that southwest Dallas County is the loveliest part of North Texas.

Cedar Ridge Preserve

Cedar Ridge Preserve, ladies and gentlemen.

There are various trails out there for various levels of proficiency. There’s even a pretty, flat, wheelchair-friendly trail near the entrance. It’s so pretty that Brian and I had a few of our engagement photos taken on it back in ’08.

Back when we were kids.


But for hiking or trail running, you’ll want Cedar Brake Trail. If you want more than the couple of miles that offers, loop in Fossil Valley Trail while you’re at it. You’ll get plenty of roots, rocks, elevation, and near-vertical climbs. At the top, there are a couple of benches, a view of nearby Joe Pool Lake in the distance, and treetops for days. If you want a less challenging experience that’s still enjoyable and scenic, go for Cattail Pond.

Notes: Good for hiking and running. Great views and well-marked trails. It’s free (donations are accepted in the box up front). NO mountain or any other kind of biking is allowed.

Cedar Hill State Park

The Dallas area’s one state park is really close to Cedar Ridge Preserve. But at more than 1,800 acres, it’s more expansive; Cedar Ridge is 600 acres. Of the four hiking trails, the DORBA trail is shared hike/run/bike. At between 10 to 12 miles, it’s also the longest. The shortest option is the .5 mile Duck Pond Trail. This park is gorgeous, and it’s where the mileage is on this list.

Trail still a wee bit muddy in places

A photo posted by Rich (@r_frohlich) on

Notes: Day use entry fee is $7. On the DORBA trail, bikers travel clockwise and hikers travel counter-clockwise. Be sure to listen for approaching bikers.

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

As you drive toward the entrance, you’ll wonder how there could be a “nature” anything in the area. If you’re not keeping your eyes peeled, you’ll miss the entrance altogether. So, this one gets a special map screenshot:

Where to turn and where to park at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

Where to turn and where to park at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

Once you find it, you’ll see an apartment complex, then the trailhead. Park there and head out. This preserve, maintained by DORBA, is primarily used by bikers, but it’s friendly to hikers and runners. It’s so beautifully wild that it’s sometimes hard to believe you’re smack in the middle of Oak Cliff.

Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

Ramps at Oak Cliff Nature Preserve

The preserve horseshoes around an apartment complex. When you’re on a perimeter trail and see residential units or hear someone on their second-story patio talking loudly on their cellphone, you’re reminded of the preserve’s urban situation. For being the closest of these four trails to downtown Dallas, this spot is still a good bet. traillllOC Notes: Listen for bikers. There are plenty of hikers and runners, but bikers dominate the trails. Please know that the series of trails are badly marked, but those of us who like getting lost don’t mind. The White trail is the longest and leads you into some beautiful, wild forest. There are NO water fountains or restrooms. Keep your eyes out for the delightful found-object artwork dotting the preserve. The maps you see out there aren’t oriented like up = north, like you’d think; they’re oriented in the direction you’re facing. Free.

Big Cedar Wilderness

Oh — you want almost-ungroomed wilderness, you say? Little to no signage? Some of the best views around? You want Big Cedar Wilderness Trail. Worth all the catchy-grass in the world. Full disclosure: I’ve only been to Big Cedar once, spring 2016. I’m putting it on this list for its quirk and for the lovely adventure I had making my way through. To get to Big Cedar, you turn into a forest and up what almost seems like a proper lil’ mountain. The road leads you up to Prayer Mountain/Mountain Creek Community Church (check out pictures in their gallery here). It’s like something out of a fairy tale, for these parts. Especially the playground, which overlooks some amazing scenery.

Follow the signs that tell you where you can park for the trail. There are several entry points, but first I walked past the transformer station in the white graveled area. I entered through a gate into another sylvan setting and was greeted by neat public art, like this:

Big Cedar Wilderness

A bigger-than-it-looks example of the public art forest at Big Cedar

For the most challenging Big Cedar trail, look around this area for the Texas Sunset trailhead: Texas Sunset trail at Big Cedar Now, here’s what I learned from my Big Cedar experience: It could have been that this trail hadn’t been groomed in a while, on purpose, to retain its glorious wildness. But be prepared to literally fight through gauntlet after gauntlet of this beautiful but grabby, catchy mess:

Does anyone know what this stuff is?

Does anyone know what this stuff is?

That stuff is still woven into my tights and top, sitting on my hearth, waiting for me to determine if I’m going to spend hours picking those burrs out or just cut my losses and trash the whole outfit.

Even still, I’d go back (wearing cheaper attire). It could be that the trail has been groomed by now. But even if not, Big Cedar gives you this glory:

Notes: Try not to park in church parking areas. Note that this is primarily a biking trail and a lot of trail stretches are narrow and deeply grooved with tire tracks. Free. And beautiful.

What caused my post-marathon knee injury

Dallas Marathon 2014 finisher's medal

It was all for this.

I’m an amateur runner who’s been at it for about a decade now. I’ve always tried to absorb as many do’s and dont’s as I can from fellow runners and industry publications, to keep myself as injury-free as possible. I try to be smart, so I can run as much and as long as life lets me. But sometimes that diligence just isn’t enough. Sometimes, you get injured and not even your doctors really know why.

The Dallas Marathon in December 2014 was my first full marathon. That was 17 months ago. After, my knees totally crapped out on me. In fact, I could feel it beginning to happen around mile 20 of the race itself.

I still don’t exactly know what happened except that it completely sidelined me. Until now. Besides an eventually-abandoned attempt at 5K training a few months after the marathon, I’m only beginning to re-emerge and, so far, only on dirt trails. My ultimate goal is to get back to running wherever I want, whenever I want.

While I work on that, maybe my peek into the possible culprits will give you, fellow enthusiastic amateur, perspective and warning.

My training

I ran my first marathon in December 2014. The training for that took up the majority of that year leading up to the event. I enjoyed every last minute, even the ones when I wanted to die. I followed a training plan, but I fully admit that I played fast and loose with it some weeks. Cross training — what’s that?

I love strength training, but each week’s miles already overtook so much of my waking hours that I decided I didn’t have time for much else on the training plan. I told myself that wearing out my legs with squats and lunges while also racking up high mileage might cause injury. I decided that achieving the plan’s miles was the only thing that mattered.

Toward the end of training, I was struggling to just meet the miles. The last two weeks of the plan, I didn’t.

My shoes

Thing is, not only was I not building a solid infrastructure to support the crazy distance to which I was subjecting my body, I chose to do something else even cuter. I decided I wanted to run my first marathon in lightweight shoes. First, Brooks PureFlow. Then Brooks PureConnect. I don’t know why. I could have been subconsciously influenced by an old 2009 story I wrote about barefoot running. It seemed to make sense at the time. I had no business being in anything but a structured shoe, though: I’m the world’s worst over-pronator. I didn’t put that together until later, that over-pronation required a structured shoe, especially for a first foray into marathon training.

2014 Dallas Marathon

All of us awesome amateurs in the 12-minute corral freaking out before the 2014 Dallas Marathon gunshot.

My pride

When friends, family and colleagues saw that I was for real-deal training for a for real-full marathon, most everyone gave me smiles, encouragement and back slaps. It was humbling and inspiring. One loved one, however, gave me a well-intentioned but uninformed word of caution: You’re 38. You’ll be 39 when the race takes place. You’d better be careful, because you’re getting a little too old for this sort of thing.

Never in my entire life had I ever thought that 39 would be too old to do anything, as long as that 39-year-old body was properly trained and ready for it. I had had the privilege of interviewing so many amateur athletes for stories who were well older than I was, and many of them hadn’t even become active until later in life. And now, they’re beasts at their chosen focus: running, cycling, bodybuilding. I at least had a foundation from high school sports, and I’d kept my body generally familiar with movement into my 30s. I’d at least somewhat strengthened along the way. Then, newspaper colleagues introduced my sitting-at-a-desk-all-day body to the joys of actually, really challenging myself physically through running. Many of them were older. I’ll always be indebted to to those interview subjects and those co-workers for inspiring me.

Dallas Marathon 2014

Before the gunshot.

Normally I’d brush off such an uninformed idea as “you’re too old to jostle yourself at your age,” but this person meant a lot to me. I politely countered her advice, but still: It stuck with me.

It stuck with me, meaning: I’ll show her.

I was blind with defiance. Whereas before I hadn’t even considered that I wouldn’t get a finisher’s medal, now it was imperative that I finish. Having to skip the race, quitting in the middle of it, or, worse, having race organizers pick up orange cones all around me as I crawl like a sloth to a finish line that isn’t there any longer weren’t options.

My name would be Google-able for “Dallas Marathon 2014 finishers,” even if it took hell, high water, and the full six hours to get there.

At mile 20 of the marathon, my knees began sending me signals that I knew were red flags. I had been running at a pace that I hadn’t trained for, because I was completely paranoid about not making the time cutoff. By the time I hit the finish line, I had barely skated in under six hours. I got the medal, but I wondered if my knees would pay the price.

A couple of months later, I headed out the door for my first post-race run. No dice. They ached. I went to a nearby sports medicine place, where the doctor said my menisci were torn. Surgery in September 2015 revealed that they actually weren’t; my cartilage simply looked like crabmeat and needed shaving down. Was it the marathon that did it? He said no, absolutely not. It’s genetics — you just have crappy knees. 

Ok. Well, I want to come back strong so I can start running again. What should I do during recovery?

Eh, do some squats.

“Some” squats. Ok. How many? How often?

Just as many as you can do. Whatever.

Injury No. 2 … or was it?

I was just about all the way recovered from surgery in December 2015. On Christmas day I played with my toddler niece, getting more physical than I had in a long time. It was great. That evening, sharp pains shot through the underside of one kneecap and through the back of my other knee.

I went back to my doctor, and he confirmed my Google searches: loose bodies. He said that it wasn’t related to my previous injury, just more of my knees being crappy. We’ll need to do surgery — let me know when you’re ready for another.

My husband, Brian, suggested that be our last visit. Besides this tale, there were other red flags that raised our eyebrows with this guy, including a nasty post-op infection and literal 30-second follow-up visits.

I ruminated a few months over having another surgery. I decided to make an appointment with the orthopedic practice at Baylor Hospital here in Dallas.

Before my first visit, just a couple of weeks ago, the weather was getting nice. That and the fact I’d gotten properly fat in the past year and a half prompted me to take a walk at a nearby nature preserve, to begin moving in some small way again. I ended up jogging a bit — and being totally delighted at the near-absence of pain. It had never dawned on me that running on dirt might have been an option this whole time. I went to my appointment and told my new doctor the whole story.

I don’t think this is loose bodies, he said. You should have gone to rehab after your surgery, or you should have been outfitted with a thorough at-home exercise program post-op. Your quads and hips are totally weakened from surgery and were never built back up. That will cause all sorts of pain. Let’s get you into rehab first, get you strong, and see if that helps.

I haven’t had my first rehab appointment yet, but I’ve been trail running and squatting like mad ever since. I was so excited at the prospect that this could be the answer.

So, my advice for avoiding 17 months of dormancy due to injury:

  • Let your training talk to you. If you’re not on track and are starting to skip or badly struggle toward the end, that’s a sign. Either you or your body isn’t ready. Maybe you’re caught up with other, more pressing things in life right now. It just might not be the right race at the right time. Wait for the next one. Seriously.  You’ll be that much more beast at the next race.
  • Properly outfit yourself with the shoes and other gear your body requires. If you’re beginning something much more strenuous than your body is accustomed to, then awesome. Do it. But balance it out with conservative, wise measures. You can get weird, funky, or experimental later, when you and your body aren’t so new to that beastly level of activity.
  • Don’t listen to other people. Just don’t. Unless what they’re saying supports your goals, and if you know that what they’re saying is coming from a place of jealousy, ignorance or naïveté, just keep doing what you’re doing. That includes listening to your body when it’s trying to clearly tell you to slow down or to stop. Don’t let that other person’s bad juju influence your choices — whether it’s to keep going or to quit.
  • Strength-train. Just do it. Do it when you’re training for a race. Do it post-op. If your doctor won’t help you figure it out, find someone who will, or figure it out yourself. It’s so important, especially for us women. You have to have strong, solid scaffolding upon which to build your body’s Beast Empire. Make time. Don’t skip this step.

Lily Trotters compression socks review: great performance (and cute)

Lily Trotter

I rarely wear socks when I run, but I love socks. For years I’ve bought a new pair of great ankle socks before every 5K, just because. A couple of years ago I asked my family to give me nothing but fun, zany knee-highs.

So when I got an email from Lily Trotters offering to send me a pair of their proprietary 100% micro nylon weave compression socks to try, I thought, Sure, that’d be great. Then I saw that they were zany compression socks. Yes please!

I understand three things about compression socks:
• Traditionally, they are boring to look at.
• Some people, including long-distance runners, really rely on compression socks.
• At races, the compression socks I see tend to be really race-y looking: neon solids or black, and all business. Great for races, but maybe not so great in a non-running context.

So basically, everything I knew was from an indirect, observational point of view. Then I put on my polka dot knee-high Lily Trotters.

Lily Trotters compression socks

A little cray for my typical running look, but not bad.

First I wore them around the house for a few hours. They went on easy enough, then, girl — they held me tight, but comfortably so. I have to say, the material felt especially quality.

Remember when I said I asked my family to gift me with weird socks? That made me sound more personally interesting than I actually am. Normally I only wear knee-high socks in fall and winter, underneath pants and boots. Sometimes part of a colorful little stripe will peek out beneath a trouser hem if I happen to be wearing them with a low-top shoe. So crazy!

So, wearing hot pink and neon-green polka dot compression knee-highs, with the tiniest pink ruffle at the top, while wearing running shorts, was quite a first for me.

Know what? They functioned really well. I typically don’t need to wear compression socks while running, but they felt really good, as good as any high-performance sock I’ve bought for running.

Also, something I didn’t expect: My feet were just about daisy fresh after wearing them all day. I took a look at the materials, and it ends up that the socks are not just moisture-wicking, but they’re also antimicrobial.

There are women who deal with deep vein thrombosis, who sit at a desk all day, who chase kids, who travel a lot, or who just like a good pair of supportive socks. I can imagine those women would be tired of the same clinical-looking, medically-necessary aesthetic when going for a purchase.

Well, my pair is darn cute — and I’ve seen enough running skirts at races to know that cute is a big factor for some of you beastly lady runners when deciding what to buy. The creators say these socks are built strong enough for ultras, but they’re thin and cute enough to wear in a non-athletic context, too.

Lily Trotters launched a Kickstarter this morning (Tuesday 7/14). If you’re into compression socks and are tired of the same predictable colors and lack of patterns, keep up over at The plan is for them to come in five designs with various color options. They’re also sourced and made right here in the U.S. of A.

Lily Trotters compression socks

Le sock options.

Food for thought on compression socks

Do Compression Socks Really Work?
Study: Wearing Compression Socks Post-Marathon Improves Recovery
Sports Science Update: Did Meb’s Socks Help Him PR?