Change the pace – trail running safety

Did you know that Edmonton boasts over 150km of trails in the North Saskatchewan River Valley?


It’s the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America at 7,400 hectares. We are fortunate to have easy access to this trail system for running, walking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.



Although I love to trail run, I don’t do it nearly enough.  I love to walk, hike, and run them when we’re in Jasper. And I try to get out in Edmonton once in a while.

They’re easier on the joints with soft ground, they’re a nice change from mundane city running, and you connect with nature.


I’m definitely no expert on the sport. However, I think I do a decent job of safety when I run.

With so many kilometres of trails, some of them are pretty empty. Add in other factors like day of the week, time of day, and weather, and they can be downright deserted. I realize the quiet is part of the beauty of trails. But, in the middle of the city, it can also be a danger.

A young woman running alone through a densely treed area without traffic, and sometimes no foot traffic, can be a target.

Here are a few things I do to, hopefully, keep me safe when I run the trails alone:

  1. ALWAYS tell someone where you are going, and how long you expect to be gone. If nobody is home, leave a note or call a friend.
  2. Change it up. Don’t take the same route at the same time on the same day each time you go. You don’t want to be predictable in case someone notices your routine.
  3. Take a phone. If you run into trouble, you can hopefully make a call. Or, if you’re uncomfortable, call someone before you’re in danger. (If you do answer your phone, text someone, or even stop to take a photo, stay aware.)
  4. Run without music. Be fully aware of your surroundings without blocking noises out. Plus, part of trail running is the sounds of nature!
  5. Make eye contact if/when you pass someone, and say hello. This lets people know you are confident and that you noticed them.
  6. Watch other people. If you pass someone going the opposite direction, turn around after a few seconds to ensure they’re still going the opposite direction of you. Or, if you were going the same direction, turn to make sure they’re a safe distance behind.
  7. Don’t get too zen. My favourite part of trail running is the peace. But, if you zone out too much, you’re less likely to hear footfalls behind you or see someone on a side trail.
  8. Leave something in the tank. Between hills and uneven terrain, trails can take a lot out of you. I like to have a little something in the reserve in case I had to sprint or fight, without depending on adrenaline.

So maybe I sound a little paranoid! But, scary things happen to women all the time when they run alone. These tips definitely apply to running in general. I just find trail running leaves a person more vulnerable without people and/or traffic around.

Have you ever had a scary experience? Do you have any tips to add? 

Other Change the Pace posts:

52 responses to “Change the pace – trail running safety

  1. I’ve never had a scary experience (thankfully), but just like you point out, it’s always good to be prepared. Those trails are beautiful!

  2. I am also paranoid. Even when things are safe, I do some of these things! I would add I’m take a big dog with you…too bad my dog is tiny!

  3. Really good tips – I’ve never been trail running but it sounds like safety would be critical. Love that dog in the snow pic btw!

  4. Great tips! I feel like we often overlook safety when engaging in activity as simple as a neighborhood run, but scary stuff happens every day. So important to stay aware!

  5. That’s it. We are coming to visit Nd working out in your beautiful hometown! Love those pics!
    I never run with music bc I like to hear what’s going on!
    Emma @

  6. Harold looks so handsome in that picture. I’d add bringing Ada the Dog along, but not everyone has an Ada the Dog to protect them. I also have some runner’s pepper spray, but I usually only take it with me if it’s dark. I should carry it with me more often.

    • Harold says thank 🙂
      Yes, Ada would be a great companion and scare tactic! In Canada it’s actually illegal to have pepper spray! I’ve seen those handy little pepper sprays that go on your wrist in the back of magazines. Is that what you have?

  7. OK, I think my family needs to relocate to Canada for the summer months. So jealous of all of the incredible places so close to you! I don’t think I’d survive the whole winter, but I definitely want to try cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

    These are great tips! I never thought about saying hello as a way to show confidence, but that makes sense. I always say hello or good morning to everyone I meet on the trails or roads. And like AMRTT, I never run with music because I want to hear what’s going on!

  8. Those tips you listed are the same ones that I use for when I go on any run. I always feel paranoid but it is better to be safe then sorry. Recently, I read an article (I forgot by who) that says to not wear bright colors while running because it makes you a moving target. It makes sense, but I think as long as you are always aware of your surroundings and who is around and just go by your gut feelings on things, you should be fine.

    • Interesting about the colours. I would almost think the opposite- that if you wear bright colours you’d be more memorable for other people. I’ll keep that in mind though. Thanks for sharing!

  9. This is such a great post!! I’ve had a weird run-in on a trail before, there was a guy with a leather leash but no dog who tried to hail me down as I approached him. there was no dog running in the woods, no sound of anything rustling – it creeped me out- what was he planning to do with that leash?? maybe he had a dog that was just out of ear shot, but something didnt sit right and it was enough to make me turn around and run (really fast) back to my car. i also told another runner who I saw on my way back to be careful.

    • That’s a weird story. I’m glad you turned around and warned the other runner. I wonder if it was his prop to lure someone in to get closer to talk to him?
      Stay safe!

  10. Sage advice. I LOVE trail running but don’t do it often enough b/c I am just a bit too chicken to do it solo. I want to get over that, though, b/c it kind of makes me mad to let my fear stop me. That said, I have had one uncomfortable experience with running–I was in a state park running a paved trail along the river. It ends but you can then run on the entrance road for another mile or two. It gets very desolate on this road, however. There I was, a full mile out on it and a guy was just sitting there with his truck idling. It was one of those gut feelings that I knew I needed to turn around and get back to the trail and more people. The whole way back I was keeping my eyes open for exit routes should I need them, but there really were none. Kind of taught me a lesson to be a bit more careful!

    • That is scary. I think people should always listen to their gut regardless how silly they think it is to feel that way.
      I don’t hit the trails too often for that reason, too. I get scared and then mad for being scared, and it’s a vicious cycle!

  11. So jealous of all of your trails!
    These are some fantastic tips. I use most of them when I take the paved trail through the forest preserve. I love running by myself and never take head phones. Plus I wait until it’s light outside! I’m not great about taking my phone though..need to get better about that! It’s better to be safe!!!

  12. You’re not being paranoid, you’re being smart! Bad things have happened to women around here even on popular trails. Have fun and stay safe!

  13. That area looks like a lot of fun to explore!
    Apart from organised events, the trails I run are either in the open, like a park, or well visited areas, or short tracks that I am confident I can sprint out of if necessary! You can never be too streetwise (or trailwise!)

  14. I had no idea that Edmonton had such a great trail system. Then again, I’ve only actually been to Edmonton twice, both times when I was significantly younger and less interested in anything active.

    I used to run along a path that was on top of a levee. It was secluded, and not very many people were out there (translation, I could sometimes run for hours and not see anyone). It always surprised me when I would come up behind a female runner to pass, and she wouldn’t hear me coming or me announcing (on your left) because she had her headphones cranked up too loud. One lady almost fell over I startled her so badly. I understand needing music sometimes, but I (even as a male) cut one of the earbuds off of my headphones so that I can always have one ear open to the world.

    • That’s awesome you could run for hours and not see anyone- sometimes those runs are the best. That is surprising that women would be so inattentive. Good idea about cutting one earbud for people who love to run with music.
      Yes- Edmonton has an incredible trail system. It’s sad I don’t use it more often!

  15. I was just discussing this exact topic the other day. Maybe I’m too much of a defensive city girl but I just refuse to trail run unless I’m going with someone (which is basically never). It’s sad to say that I have to miss out on trail running because of some perv lurking in the woods but it is a reality.

  16. 150km of trails? I am super jealous! I am happy when I can run the exact same 5 km of trails (it has rained for days now, so no trails for me). I like the tips you are giving for running in the trails, but I would add that these tips should be taken seriously when running anywhere else, too. I sometimes run with music, but I always make sure I can hear the surroundings.

  17. 150 K? That is a lot of miles. Our trail system is only 30 miles and I thought that was a lot!! Great tips!! Glad you are keeping it safe out there!! Keep up the running!!

  18. I always have a little bit of fear when I am running alone, even in the open! You NEVER know who could be out there to attack. These tips are great, I would love to trail run alone, but I am just so scared! I want to start carrying mase, but that doesn’t always do enough!!

    • It’s illegal to carry pepper spray in Canada. If it wasn’t, I’d probably use it. The only problem is, in a moment of panic, I’m sure it would be easy to spray yourself.
      Do you have trails near where you live?

  19. runnerbydefault

    Great tips!! Everyone can learn from them. Staying safe is so important!!

  20. That “getting into the zen” almost got me in trouble once when I suddenly had no idea where I was and couldn’t remember the last 10-15 min!! Luckily I was in a relatively small area and could figure it out These are great tips!

  21. I’ve only had the fortune to run real trails a few times but really enjoyed each time I did. As much as I love the post and reminder to get out on some trails and enjoy the run, its really a sad day when all the advice is around staying safe from others around you. Makes you wonder what type of world we live in today that this has unfortunately become our primary concern and I don’t think it really matter if your a man or woman.

  22. This post is so informative, thanks for posting it! I have been thinking about doing some trails soon, so this post came in great timing!

  23. Definitely good tips for any kind of run! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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  25. These are great tips…
    Another runner once informed me that someone “suspicious” was running behind her and I decided to turn around and not head in that direction. I think we can be allies to one another on the trails.
    I also think that carrying pepper spray makes my family feel like I’m safer… I’m not sure I’d have the presence of mind to use it, but I carry it anyway!

    • That’s nice the other runner warned you!
      Yes- I think pepper spray can make you feel better about being out there! It’s illegal to carry here, so it’s not an option for me!

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