Australia’s second-largest city is known for being the nation’s home of sport, and as such, there’s little wonder that you’ll find thousands of people out running around every corner of Melbourne at any time of year.
There’s no shortage of places for trail running in Melbourne, whether it’s in the heart of the CBD, out by the beaches or in Victoria’s picturesque native bushland.
If you love running as much as we do, make sure you check out this list of the top trail running spots in and near Melbourne.
Yarra Bend Park - various distances
One of the best inner-city spots for trail running in Melbourne, and one that remains a relative secret, is Yarra Bend Park. There are hidden trails for exploring and tight trails that follow the course of the Yarra River.
Access points can be found along the river in Abbotsford and along the Kew Boulevard. The trails that follow the river aren't always accessible or ideal during the colder months or wetter days, as they can become quite slippery and boggy. On the other hand, during those hot summer days, it is worth keeping your wits about you, as there can be some happy snakes trying to sun themselves on rocks and hot concrete trails. But that is just part of the challenge, right?
This area is great for trail runners as you can create a new route every time you run, while there are plenty of hills to get the heart rate going. Simply park along the Kew Boulevard if you are driving in.
The Tan Track - 4km
It might not be the most isolated spots for trail running in Melbourne, but this is a great place to start if you want to get off the concrete and start training for some more intense runs. Known to be the most popular running trail in all of Melbourne, the Tan Track in the Royal Botanic Gardens is a mostly-gravel path that offers views of the Yarra River, the city skyline and some of the garden’s highlights.
Start from the Pillars of Wisdom, close to where Alexandra Avenue and Olympic Boulevard meet, and run in a clockwise direction, following the distance markers that are set out every 250m. This will mean you get to take on the challenge of running up Anderson St, a 30-40 degree incline that runs for 650 metres.
It’s very scenic and close to the CBD, so access is easy for most people. The entire track is lit up until midnight, so it’s perfect for a quick after-work jog too.
Check out the 10 fastest times by males and females posted on the pillar at the start, and try to get your own personal best every time you hit the track. The current record is a blitzing 10 minutes and 8 seconds by Craig Mottram.
It's also worth exploring the tracks that can be found surrounding the Botanical Gardens, while the grassy hill near the start of the Tan is great for hill sprints.
Mount Oberon, Wilsons Promontory - 7km circuit
If you've got access to a car, then trail running in Melbourne doesn't have to limit you to the city limits. Mount Oberon in Wilsons Promontory National Park is an iconic Victorian spot and a trail run to remember. The relatively short run, at 7km return, is made a lot harder by the 558m climb up. But the view at the top is the ultimate reward.
A great way to get the most of this trail run experience is to add on a day or two...or three...of hiking. You will need to book a spot, but the circuit which runs through Sealer's Cove, Refuge Cove and Little Waterloo Bay is one of the most pristine and spectacular trails in Victoria.
For runners who are happy to get up early and are looking for an alternative to congested trail running in Melbourne, start at Telegraph Saddle (a free bus can take you there from the carpark) and run the 10km one-way trail to Sealer's Cove before heading back. For those looking for a real challenge, you could run the entire Eastern Circuit, at approximately 36.5km, passing three of the most spectacular beaches in Australia.
Note: the trail from Telegraph Saddle to Sealer's Cove includes some rainforest trails, which can become quite boggy in the wet months.
If you’re looking for a break from the city, then heading out to Dandenong Ranges National Park is a perfect escape from the traffic.
There’s a range of different trails in the park to check out, but the most famous one is the Kokoda Memorial Walk, also known as the ‘1000 Steps’. This gruelling 1.4km-long flight of stairs was created as a tribute to the soldiers that suffered on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea during World War II. Trying to charge the entire length without stopping is a huge challenge, and will really put your body to the test, but also because of the number of people doing the same on a Sunday morning.
If you want to avoid the crowds, there is a wide access path to the left of the steps that few people run on but which offers the same verticle climb without the steps or crowds.
Once you’ve paid your respects at the top of the 1000 Steps, continue on a bit past where everyone takes a photo and a breath. Very few tourists go beyond this point, but you will find a stunning network of trails to run on with many lookouts along the way. Try the 4.8km-long Sherbrooke Trail while you're in the area. Surrounded by native bushland and chirping birds, it’s one of the most scenic running trails in Victoria.
Mt Donna Buang - 18km return
If you want to take your trail running to the next level, there is a reason why people use Mt Donna Buang as a training ground for walking the Kokoda trail.
Scaling 1170-vertical metres in 9km, you must be content with only looking up for the first half of the day. You can start the trail off at the corner of Martyr and Wellington roads in Warburton. The trail starts off easy enough, with a steep incline past a lush green paddock that overlooks the valley.
However, there is a reason why this is a great training spot for the Kokoda, and that is the mud. This is a trail best run in the summer months, when the ground has hardened up.
In the wetter months, rain turns the entire trail into a quagmire that adds a whole new level to your run. Mt Donna Buang also receives snow during winter, so be cautious and prepared if you do take it on at this time of year.
A wee drive out from Melbourne, but definitely worth the trip, is the Coastal Trail that runs down the Mornington Peninsula.
Many people walk along this trail, usually choosing to walk a section at a time. The trail officially starts at Cape Schank, and follows the coastline all the way to Point Nepean National Park, which ends up at almost 40km long. But this is also an ideal spot for trail running in Melbourne (only an hour out of the city), with some of the most epic coastal views you can get near town.
Visit the official Coastal Trail website for detailed information about each section of the trail. This is ideal for two or more people, as you will need to park one car at your final destination.
Note: you must love sand. A lot of the trail, such as between Gunnamatta Beach and Rye Ocean Beach, runs along the actual shoreline. These are not flat beaches by any stretch of the imagination, and you have to choose between either running on the harder wet sand which runs at a near 30-degree angle up from the water, or on the flatter soft sand, which will have your quads burning within ten minutes. Despite this challenge, nothing quite beats looking back and seeing Cape Schank lighthouse gradually shrink in the distance as you make your way south.
Capital City Trail - 29km
One of the longest trail runnings spots in Melbourne, the Capital City Trail is a combination of many of Melbourne’s best running tracks, all linked up to form an excellent (and challenging) 29km jaunt.
Most people tackle the Capital City Trail in sections, focusing on parts like the Yarra River, Moonee Ponds Creek, Merri Creek and Inner Circle Rail, to explore some of the unique neighbourhoods of Melbourne.
There’s no shortage of places to stop along the way for a break either. Abbotsford Convent is filled with great cafes to grab a drink or a bite to eat, and by the river has lots of lovely spots to sit down and stretch.
If you’re training for a marathon doing the entire trail is a must-do, plus you’ll get bragging rights with all your fellow Melbourne runners.
Cathedral Ranges - 11km/18.2km
If you are feeling adventurous and really want to push yourself, trail running in the Cathedral Ranges is a must. One of the most popular day trips for those seeking a beautiful hike, it is worth bringing your camping gear here and spending the weekend exploring the trails.
The steep incline to The Green Hill peak, which sits at 1,241 metres above sea level will challenge you like nothing else, while the 18.2km ridgeline circuit will force you to slow down as you navigate some of the more precarious sections of the trail.
Most people walk these trails, but you will find yourself in the company of some other trail runners. This is not one to be missed!