in Routes and Spots, Running

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.