A cross country runner’s guide to the best local routes 

April 5, 2023 — by George Hu
Photo by George Hu
This is the Villa Montalvo Mansion, which can be found along the #5 route, the hardest mentioned in the article.
Even though Saratoga is a small city in terms of area and population, there are still five enjoyable routes to be found.

On the surface, Saratoga may not appear to have many great running routes: it’s a small, suburban city with an area of only 12.78 square miles. However, as a long distance runner who has competed in cross country and track and field for five years, I can confidently say that this is not the case. Below are some of my favorite running routes in the city.

5. Saratoga High to Montalvo Steps and Back (distance: 4.4 miles; difficulty: hard)

Directions: Start at the front of the Benny Pierce stadium and make a left onto Herriman Avenue. Following this, turn left onto Saratoga Sunnyvale Road and continue for just over a half mile before turning right onto Oak Street. Then, turn left at Lomita Avenue and right on Vickery Avenue. In the middle of Vickery avenue, turn left onto a little unnamed pathway with small openings between two fences. You will arrive at Montalvo Heights Drive after going through the second fence. Next, turn right onto Montalvo Road and left onto Piedmont Road to enter the Montalvo Arts Center. After a short distance on that road, you will approach a steep hill and make a U-turn at the top of it. At this point, you will have reached the gigantic Villa Montalvo mansion, the end point of this route.

Montalvo Steps Route

The first half of this route has a high elevation gain before a downhill second half. The many long, steep hills in the first half, including one on Oak Street, provide formidable challenges for runners. Additionally, much of the route passes through roads with little vehicle traffic such as Lomita Avenue, Vickery Avenue and Montalvo Heights Drive. This makes the route feel more remote and secluded, enhancing its beautiful scenery.

4. Fruitvale Loop (distance: 5 miles, difficulty: medium)

Directions: Start at Benny Pierce stadium, turn left onto Herriman Avenue and turn left again onto Saratoga Sunnyvale Road. At the intersection of Saratoga Sunnyvale Road and Saratoga Avenue, go straight and enter Highway 9. Continue for over a mile and turn left onto Fruitvale Avenue. Keep going straight until reaching the end of the road and turn left there onto Saratoga Avenue. Finally, turn right onto Herriman Avenue and run back to the starting point, completing the loop. 

Fruitvale Loop

Despite this route’s length, it is still doable for less experienced runners since there are very few hills. Going across Redwood Middle School, it also provides nostalgia for those who graduated from the school. The route is relatively safe — although some consider Highway 9 to be dangerous; in truth there is adequate sidewalk room for runners. The busy vehicle traffic on Highway 9 and Saratoga Sunnyvale Road may also make some runners feel more comfortable in not being alone. The one downside, however, is that this loop has no variety in running surface, being all concrete.

3. Railroad Loop (distance: 4.6 miles, difficulty: medium)

Directions: Start at Benny Pierce stadium, turn left onto Herriman Avenue and turn right onto Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road. Run about 1.6 miles on Saratoga-Sunnyvale before turning right onto Joe’s Trail. The turn occurs approximately forty feet away from the local railroad tracks and there is a huge electric tower right where the turn is. Run about 1.6 miles along the trail to get to the end of it, while going across Cox Avenue in the middle, and enter Saratoga Avenue. Continue for just over one mile before turning right onto Herriman Avenue. Finally, return to the starting point and complete the loop. 

Railroad Loop

Along with being 4.6 miles long, this route has elevation changes from start to end. The run is mostly downhill until the end of Joe’s Trail and goes mostly uphill after that — making the route difficult for newer runners and more appealing for experienced ones. This route has excellent variety with multiple terrains, including concrete and dirt, though with the downside that runners have to watch their step due to the recent rain creating large puddles.

2. Town Loop (distance: 1.7 miles, difficulty: easy) 

Directions: Start at Benny Pierce stadium and turn left onto Herriman Avenue. Next, turn left onto Saratoga Avenue, continue for around half a mile and turn left back onto Herriman Avenue. Run back to the starting point to complete the loop.

Town Loop

Considering its short distance, this is an appealing route for those with limited free time. Though there are a few long, challenging hills, the route passes through no remote areas, which makes some runners feel more safe. However, I do not recommend running this route every day, as the entire route is concrete. While concrete is easier to run on and has more traction compared to grass and dirt, running this route so often may put  too much stress on your leg joints. 

1. Congress Springs Park Loop (distance: 0.6 miles; difficulty: easy)

Directions: Like the name suggests, this route is a loop around Congress Springs Park, located along Joe’s Trail. 

Congress Springs Park Loop

Although this loop is relatively short, runners can get great exercise from doing as many laps as they please. With no elevation change, new runners can take a crack at it, especially since it has a grass surface. Grass, a much softer surface than concrete, puts less stress on the legs and allows runners to put more force into the ground with every stride, strengthening the muscles that help them run. It is nice to occasionally move away from running on concrete — the most common running surface — to get some surface variety. There are not many grass loops around the city that are close in length to the Congress Springs Park Loop, which is both short and accessible.

Regardless of which route you choose, you will get quality outdoor exercise. Saratoga’s great weather and nature provide for challenging and enjoyable running routes, and I recommend everyone to take advantage of them. 

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