Transitioning from road running to trail running can be difficult. Changes beyond just the hard surface underfoot turn into obstacles like hopping over rocks and roots, along with keeping track of your location and making sure you’ve got enough water and nutrition to last the duration of your run (and then some, just in case). But the benefits of running on trails far outweigh the risks.

On a recent run, as my daughter and I were flying down a section of buttery single track, she exclaimed, “I wish every trail was like this one!” Being surrounded by nature heightens the senses and thrills the seeker in us when the timing (or trail) is just right. I’ll admit that my fears of tripping on rocks or flying off the side of the trail are valid – I’ve done plenty of both throughout my running career. But there’s an inherent risk in everything we do, and running on a trail is probably lower on the danger meter (unless you’re in grizzly country).

We’ve dedicated this issue to the trails, including stories of friendship, connection and struggle across miles of single track. Max King writes about planning his travel around public lands so he has the opportunity to explore new places on page 8. Maggie Guterl explains how fastpacking can be just as challenging (and just as fun) as the sport of ultrarunning on page 22. Jeff Kozak offers up a list of five of his favorite “run’n bag” peaks in the Eastern Sierra, along with all the data you’ll need before you go, on page 40. And Meghan Canfield writes about the challenges of running post menopause, including advice on how to stay strong on the trails as an aging ultrarunner on page 68.

While technology allows us to download our routes, it shouldn’t deter us from putting away the headphones, opening our ears and enhancing our other senses. Some of the most vivid memories I have are running at night through trees filled with squeaking bats, with the smell of eucalyptus leaves permeating the air. There was a moment when the sky transitioned from a dense black to just a hint of light, indicating the sun was rising and the finish line of my first 100-miler was a little closer. However, running trails has solidified some of the strongest human connections I’ve ever made, and for that, I’m grateful.

Running on trails keeps us connected and seeking new adventures, while also giving us a deep appreciation for the world around us. While it might be intimidating to step off the asphalt and onto a dirt trail leading away from the city, it’s probably one of the best choices a runner will ever make.