Full disclosure: I was the kid in P.E. class who actually walked the mile. I despised distance running that much. For most of my life, until just a few years ago, in fact, exercise and I had a fraught relationship. What I have learned is that it is imperative to create an exercise habit. Now, if I skip one of my regularly scheduled dance classes or cannot bike to work due to rain, I feel unsettled until my next workout.
Maybe you too have an exercise habit or would like to build one. Perhaps you are just passing through New Orleans on vacation and couldn’t fit a yoga mat in your carry-on luggage. Or maybe you’re local and can’t afford a gym membership right now. In a world where exercise class prices are ever increasing, running can be completely free, minus a good pair of running shoes. And anyone can do it— even those of you who also walked the mile, as I recently proved to myself. Just be sure to stretch, don’t rush yourself, and be proud of your efforts.
New Orleans boasts both tranquil parks and vibrant urban paths that provide scenic and peaceful contexts for a run (or a walk/run/walk/run/walk like I do). Plus, why watch reality TV at the gym when you can take in the sights and sounds of a woodsy trail, the smells of the river, or some of our grandest local architecture? Mix up your running routine by changing the scenery to one of these scenic running routes.
Best Places to Run in New Orleans
City Park, a wooded gem in the heart of the city, offers several running (or walking or biking) routes. The Couturie Forest, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina more than a decade ago, is making a comeback as nature is wont to do. This 60-acre swath in the heart of New Orleans offers visitors trails, scenic waterways, and birdwatching. Plus, running the earthen path may be easier on the ankles. Couturie Forest is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during daylight savings time.
City Park also features a three-quarter mile path around the Big Lake as well as the Festival Grounds’ one-mile path, perfect for running or jogging. Sweat it out and see a turtle at the same time.
Escape the chaos of Uptown by stepping through Audubon Park’s great pillars bordering St. Charles Avenue. Oak trees with dipping and curving branches greet visitors immediately; there’s a lake and Bird Island beyond. The paved ring that circles the park amounts to 1.8 miles and is open to various users, including runners. Loop around as many times as you like. You may even lose count. Audubon Park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Mississippi River Trail
The Mississippi River Trail spans approximately 3,000 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. If that sounds intimidating, just know that the portion of the trail in the New Orleans is only about 20 miles long— much more manageable. The New Orleans portion of the trail, which runs atop the earthen levee beginning at Audubon Park, is a favorite of runners who enjoy running without the danger and distraction of motor vehicles. Find a friend who runs at your speed to join you on a run along the Mississippi River.
Reconnecting New Orleanians with the Mississippi River– the raison d’être for the city in the first place– has been decades in the making. Beginning with the Moon Walk in the 1970s, Crescent Park is the latest effort to give people greater access to the river. Located in the Bywater neighborhood, Crescent Park offers landscaped paths for runners, dogs, and everyone in between, as well as unparalleled views of the Mississippi River and Downtown. Crescent Park is marked by its iconic, rust-colored bridge (christened the “Rusty Rainbow”) arching over the railroad tracks and flood wall. While New Orleans does not have a hilly topography, the Rusty Rainbow is a small substitute for a more intense addition to a run. Take some quiet time to reconnect with the river: you might catch a whiff of coffee mingled with seawater or hear the waves from the wake of a passing tugboat lapping against the shore. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. during daylight savings time.
Developed where an old railroad, and previously a canal, cut through the heart of the city, the Lafitte Greenway is a 2.6-mile pedestrian/bicycle path and green corridor. This rails-to-trails project extends from the intersection of N. Alexander and St. Louis streets in Mid-City to Basin and St. Louis streets in Tremé. Take a chance to explore a part of New Orleans that had previously been largely off limits by running this linear urban park. Bonus: do some pull-ups or sit-ups at the recently opened FitLot, a free outdoor fitness lot located at 2200 Lafitte Avenue, to add to your workout. The Lafitte Greenway is open 24 hours a day and is fully lit with energy-efficient trail lights.
Louis Armstrong Park, named for one of the most famous jazz musicians to come out of New Orleans, is a lesser-explored urban park with surprising beauty. Cypress trees and others clump around lagoons that snake through the park, while sculptures pay homage to the jazz music born from slaves in Congo Square, now part of the park. Go on a thoughtful run to remember the history of the site— much of which has been erased and replaced (the home in which Louis Armstrong grew up was demolished to make room for the park). Armstrong Park is open from dawn until dusk.
The breeze coming off of Lake Pontchartrain at the Lakefront is refreshing enough even on a hot day. Lake Pontchartrain began its formation 5,000 years ago, thanks to the Mississippi River’s meandering habits, eventually separating from the Gulf of Mexico. Lakeshore Drive hugs the edge of the lake in Lakeview, Gentilly, and surrounding neighborhoods and offers front-row seats to the sights, sounds, and smells of this estuary. Plan your run for sunrise or sunset to enjoy the sun’s colors reflecting off the lake and backlit clouds in the wide open skies.
Bayou St. John
Historically, Native Americans and then-Europeans used Bayou St. John as a trade route. Today, this natural body of water that flows through the Faubourg St. John neighborhood is a locals’ favorite recreational waterway. On a sunny day, one can see kayaks and canoes paddling up and down the bayou as well as pelicans making dramatic dives into the water to scoop up a snack. The bayou extends from Lake Pontchartrain to the Lafitte Greenway. Jog along the grassy banks to enjoy the view of the bayou as well as other sights like City Park, the Pitot House, and the pedestrian Magnolia Bridge.
St. Charles Avenue
One of the best-loved corridors in all the city, St. Charles Avenue, with its rumbling streetcar and wide neutral ground, is a hot spot for joggers. The overhanging branches of the oak canopy help to shade the path, and the mansions that make up the St. Charles Avenue Local Historic District provide interest during the run. Runners often take the path in between the two sets of rails, one that is relatively free of other pedestrians. Run between Jefferson Avenue and Broadway Uptown (or extend that if you are daring) to include a loop around the Audubon Park jogging path in your run.
Lagniappe: The Sweat Social
If you feel like you need more structure or others to push you to run, join the Sweat Social for one of their group runs. The organization offers group runs and other fitness classes mixed in with a bit of socializing and sightseeing. While mainly for meetings and events, they also offer an “on-demand” service if there are at least two people interested. The Sweat Social’s running tours take a 3.5-mile loop around the French Quarter. A running guide takes care of the exercise while the tour guide incorporates history and sightseeing. Running tours cost $40 per person. Learn more about the Sweat Social here, and reach out to schedule a group run.
In the end, it really is not about how fast you get wherever you are going— it is about enjoying the journey. So pace yourself, and enjoy some of New Orleans’ best scenery.