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.

The mistakes of a failed North Dallas run

Last Thursday evening’s 12-mile run turned into a 10.73-mile bonk-fest, with my husband picking me up early in the Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers parking lot on Lovers. I partly blame the city of Dallas, but I mostly blame my own amateur-hour mistakes.

I’d love for you to learn from my lack of planning that led up to last week’s super-bad marathon training long run. But first I’m going to rag on North Dallas urban planning first.

Thanks a lot, nice Dallas neighborhood with no sidewalks

Devonshire neighborhood in Dallas

The neighborhood in question.

I previously wrote about how evening runners like myself run into darkness issues as summer gets closer to fall. That happened last Thursday. As I ran through the Devonshire neighborhood off Inwood, I marveled at the beautiful homes and the generally rich milieu. I hadn’t encountered that particular ‘hood before, and I loved it. There was something different about it. I checked my Redfin app to get a gauge on home prices in the area (breaking: they’re slightly out of my price range).

I was enjoying myself. As it grew dark, I was even charmed by how dark as ink everything got. These people don’t believe in street lights. Then, like black magic, sidewalks began to disappear. No light, no sidewalk. Sometimes when it gets dark, I’ll turn my iPhone’s flashlight on to light my way, but I was almost out of battery (I started out with 100%, so battery life is something I need to figure out for the rest of my training).

At least the street was in great condition: level and smooth as butter. I can do this OH MY GOSH WAS THAT A POTHOLE THAT ALMOST SWALLOWED MY ANKLE? 

I approached Northwest Highway and turned east. It was going to be my last stretch. Northwest Highway is a major thoroughfare; since when does Northwest Highway not have sidewalks? If I turned around, I’d have to repeat at least 2 miles, and I was seriously almost out of battery. I had already texted Brian to meet me at a certain spot.

Doctor Who stumbling while running


While in the dark, jiggity-jogging and high-stepping on the grass and along guardrails, trying not to turn a foot or tear an ACL, that was it: I rammed my foot on a jacked-up bit of concrete sticking out of the ground, and I almost lost my life to eastbound Northwest Highway traffic. I walked until I reached a residential street with a sidewalk, and carefully at that.

Why are there major areas of a large “world class” city that simply don’t accommodate pedestrians? In 2014?

I wasn’t going to make the original destination point at the time I told Brian to pick me up. With the last phone juice I had, I texted him to meet me at Chip’s in 15 minutes. Not only was I in the dark and trying to Lewis-and-Clark my way alongside nighttime traffic, I was seriously, seriously drained.

So besides parts of North Dallas just being a sucky place to run …

My mistakes


  • I had spent the night with my parents a couple of days prior. When I get around family, no matter the occasion, I treat it like it’s the holidays and eat like crap. We’re talking Wingstop and ice cream. Bad stuff.
  • I had been good about hydration, which I would name as the No. 1 factor in increased energy for my runs during this bout of training. I have a water “routine” (blog post on that later) that I put on pause last week. I simply didn’t hydrate very well at all. Even though on the run-proper I chugged water, then orange juice, and even though I consumed an adequate amount of energy gel, I could still feel my body not having the deep-down reserve that it needed. Seriously, the closest to hydration I got last week was the water inside the milk inside the ice cream I ate.
  • My husband always reminds me that it’s getting darker sooner. I always say “I know.” But I still started a 12-mile run at 6 p.m., which, for my pace, just isn’t enough time to finish before I’m literally running in pitch.Running adventure
  • I love to run in unfamiliar territory. But that need for adventure during a run can lead to serious inconvenience and, when it’s dark, safety issues. I have to plan the location of my runs better, where I know there will be adequate sidewalks. Soon I’ll have to save the long runs for weekend days, anyway, so that will help.

Keeping yourself safe from both injury and night-cloaked crime is no joke when running the streets as summer gives way to shorter days. Take care out there, and plan well.

Places to Run in Dallas: White Rock Lake

• This is the first installment in my Places to Run roundup, which will be a resource for the best spots to run in Dallas, what those spots offer, how to get there, where to park, what to watch out for, and where to grab a Gatorade or emergency donut nearby.


(Here’s the map link, in case something wonky goes down with the above embed.)


A former Dallas Morning News editor once told me that his wife woke up one Saturday morning and declared, “I want us to run around White Rock Lake.” He replied, “Why would we want to do that?” She won, and that day they became runners and, eventually, marathoners. White Rock is where many Dallasites work out their dream of running their first half, and it’s where seasoned runners stay that way by conquering the loop again and again.

Location: About 6-ish miles northeast of downtown Dallas in Lakewood

Distance: Depending on which forks and particular meanderings you take, the loop can total up to 10 miles.

White Rock Lake

White Rock Lake at dusk

Where to park: Lots of spots, but here are my 4 favorites —

1. South side of the lake: The lot on Winsted off Garland Road, next to the spillway
2. South side: If you turn onto East Lawther Drive from Garland Road, just south of the Dallas Arboretum, you can park all along the lake’s edge or at various lots further north up Lawther.
3. Southeast side: Turn onto Emerald Isle Drive off Garland Road, just north of the Dallas Arboretum. That will lead you to a variety of parking spots, including Winfrey Point (and one of the most spectacular views in the city).
4. North side: I don’t park on the north side of the lake very often, but when I do, it’s at East Mockingbird Lane and West Lawther Road.

Terrain: There is plenty of green space, but you’ll be running almost exclusively on pavement. Few inclines. You could make use of isolated hills, like Winfrey Point‘s, if you need that.

Look for:

  • The Free Advice guys, who regularly chill out on the northwest side of the lake, near the fishing pier
  • Lots and lots and lots of cyclists and lethally-long dog leashes

Useful spots around the lake:

  • Hypnotic Donuts. If weird donuts are your thing. Southeast of the lake.
  • Barbec’s. One of the best diners in Dallas, and they won’t even mind you coming in all sweaty. Southeast, next to Hypnotic Donuts.
  • Richardson Bike Mart. Get gels and other specialized fuel that you forgot here. Kind of across the street from Barbec’s and Hypnotic.
  • QuickTrip. QT to those of us who love this gas station/convenience store chain. Southern tip of the lake.
  • White Rock Coffee. Adorable place north of the lake with great java. Northeast of the lake.
  • White Rock Dog Park. I see so many dogs and their people having a good time here. FYI: There’s a swimming area for the dogs, so bring a towel. Northern tip of the lake. *UPDATE: The dog park is closed through 2014.

Related info:

Photos on Instagram