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Utah has taught me a thing or two about the importance of fresh air and sunshine. The feeling of the sun on my shoulders as I run up Strawberry Point. The fresh air fills my lungs when I step outside Zennest in the crisp mornings. These moments of awareness bring everything back into the present moment, inspiring gratitude for every rock, tree, flower, and path that fills Utah.

Utah’s fresh air and sunshine are two big reasons that it has become a wildly popular destination. As 2020 inspired many of us to pursue personal transformation activities outside, Utah offers the perfect wild playground to explore. Every year, Utah welcomes athletic individuals – from elite to recreational – to pursue trail running, training, mountaineering, and other high altitude activities. out_navajolake_071917_24

Altitude is the distance above sea level — “high altitude” is 8,000 feet above sea level (Zennest sits at 8,900 feet). According to National Geographic, high altitude is accompanied by what meteorologists and mountaineers call “thin air,” which exerts less pressure than air at a lower altitude. Decreased air pressure results in less oxygen available for breathing. One of the ways people feel these effects is through shortness of breath when hiking (read more about altitude effects and safety).

Thin air accompanies National Park mountain ranges that surround Zennest and reaching thin air heights that may leave sea level newcomers a bit breathless. But thin air can also offer great training benefits. People who commonly seek high-altitude training are runners, cyclists, bikers, skiers, and swimmers. The concept is to adapt to the lower oxygen supply to boost endurance performances at sea level. When hiking and trail running in Duck Creek Village, I have found that my runs require more exertion, but I am better adapted to increased aerobic capacity when I travel to lower locations that are out of the high altitude zone because of improved oxygen intake.Screen Shot 2021-07-06 at 9.38.57 AM

Some of my favorite Southern Utah high-alpine trails to hike and run around Zennest include:

  • Alpine Pond Nature Trail (10,521 feet) – Situated near Brian Head and Duck Creek Village, Alpine Pond Trail is a 2.2-mile trail with epic vistas of Cedar Breaks National Monument and bristlecone pine and wildflowers along the route.
  • Cascade Falls (8,800 feet) – This trail is found on the Markagunt Plateau that treats visitors to Zion National Park and the Virgin River views. 
  • Aspen Mirror Trail (8,500 feet) – A popular haunt for bird watchers and fishermen. The out-and-back route is a short 0.5 mile and skirts a small mountain lake. Perfect for a quick run in the beautiful scenery.

Southern Utah is a mecca for healthy living and hiking. Progressive endurance activities at high-alpine offer cardiovascular training benefits while also offering a once-in-a-lifetime scenery and experience with plenty of fresh air and sunshine.