New Orleans is a beautiful and historic city. The vibrant conference scene and plentiful festivals make it a popular visitor city, especially considering that the population is less than 500,000.
For runners the low elevation (below sea level) and lack of hills make for an ideal place to get a run in. The weather during the summer months does make for a tough run, but if you manage to stay out of the heat taking a run can be an unique way to take in the sites and even go for a PR.
One of the best parts about running in New Orleans is of course the elevation profiles. By many accounts the highest point in New Orleans is only around 30 feet above sea level. This honor is often attributed to “Monkey Hill”, a lush but tiny mound situated in City Park. In reality the levees of the Mississippi River and those bordering Lake Pontchartrain offer the biggest runnable inclines.
If you are seeking anything than a slight rise, or for some reason looking to do hill training in New Orleans, you will have to find a manmade structure. There are plenty of parking garages and taller buildings with stairwells that will do the trick, and a handful of road over passes have walk ways along side of them.
Although one of the best high points in the city, the Crescent City Connection, does soar more nearly 200 feet above the river there is no good way to cross it by foot. The Crescent City Connection bridge is available for motorists only and does not have a bike lane or a walkway dedicated to foot traffic. Similarly upstream at the Huey P Long bridge there is also no accessible walkway to cross the Mississippi. If you wish to travel by foot on the Westbank the best option is to take the Ferry from the end of Canal St. over to Algiers Point.
1. Uptown & Street Car Lines
The streets and side walks of New Orleans are notoriously bumpy. Even the soberest of runners will find themselves tripping. One area uptown that avoid most of this is the St. Charles Street Car line. Often you will see folks running against traffic where you can stay mostly on the street car line and easily step off the tracks well ahead of on-coming traffic.
For those staying in the Central Business District or uptown this route can be a nice way to see a part of the city that many only experience from inside of a streetcar.
2. Audubon Park & The Fly
The combination of Audubon Park and the Fly Levee Park provide everything a runner needs. Within Audubon there is a paved 1.8 mile loop that circles the golf course and ponds of the park while staying mostly shaded under the centuries old Oak Trees. If paved paths are not your thing the path on the exterior of the park weaves past the neighboring porches of park adjacent homes while still being well traveled.
If you wish to extend the run, cross over Magazine and the train tracks and hop to the levee park just behind the Zoo. From there you can join the Mississippi River Trail that hugs the river and heads upstream for almost 60 miles. For an intrepid runner looking for a flat ultramarathon route in the South this path would be an ideal option. Even shorter out-and-back loops are sure to be flat (possible windy) and nice.
3. City Park
Another great spot with miles of trails. City Park is accessible from downtown by a street car and offers both trails and activities afterwards. By sticking to the well established areas you’ll see paddle boats, golfers, and the occasional wedding photography session, while still getting a serving of old oak trees and shade.
Explore further into the park and you will be treated to lightly traveled trails, sports stadiums, and the occasional alligator spotting.
4. Levees of the Quarter and Cres Park Trail
While typically we would encourage visitors to explore outside of the French Quarter, there is something to be said for running routes adjacent to world famous spots. Still, the quarter is small and often packed so its also practical to explore outside the city. Knowing that so many runners come to town in order to take part in a convention, the Levee trail out to Cres Park Trail offers a unique route that is accessible to all the major downtown hotels.
From Audubon Park this path runs along the river and provides a picturesque view of Jackson square, an opportunity to waft the smells of the French market, and a quieter venture into the Bywater and Marigny.
While there is a staircase in the middle of this route (to cross the train tracks) it is still one of our favorite spots to do tempo runs or much needed recovery runs.
5. Algiers Point
If you are feeling more adventurous and have a bit of time, consider crossing the mighty Mississippi and exploring the west bank of New Orleans. Ferry’s leave every half hour with a short15 minute ride to the other banks. From the Ferry depot in Algiers you can opt to explore through the Algiers Point neighborhood which is packed with historic sites.
In addition, once on the West Bank you can again hop on the levee trails for some uninterrupted paths along the river. You can get in nearly 10 miles in an out and back to either of the canals that hug the West Bank. Again since the levee are elevated they provide a nice viewing point of neighborhoods and you can quickly duck down to anything that looks like a fun job.