Generally speaking, marathon season lasts from mid-August to December—but that's not a hard and fast rule. (For example, the Boston Marathon is held annually in April.) During this stretch of time, you can sign up for a race in whatever backdrop most inspire you: the concrete jungle, the verdant Pacific Northwest, the shores of Lake Michigan—your choice.
To make your research a breeze, below, we curated a USA marathon bucket list that's organized by elevation. Whether you're searching for a predominately downhill race or ready to take on some gnarly elevation, we've got you.
(Mostly) flat marathons
The Chicago marathon is famously, gorgeously flat—making it an ideal race for anyone hoping to BQ (Boston qualify). Starting and finishing in Grant Park, this magical race will help you see the city as you've never seen it before.
Date and location: October 28, 2023; Chicago, Illinois
Elevation: net gain of 243 feet
Cost of entry: $230
Where to stay: Visit the official housing site of the marathon.
This mostly flat race will take you by some of Philly's most iconic monuments, from Independence Hall to the Liberty Bell Center. While the marathon itself is fantastic, the Philly food scene is a reason to run here in and of itself. You'll fuel up with some of the best eats the city has to offer before you lace up.
Date and location: November 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Elevation: net zero elevation
Cost of entry: $155
Where to stay: Book your hotel at a discounted rate here.
The Marine Corps Marathon is one of the largest in the world—and famously covers all the monuments in Washington D.C. If you're looking for a city race that also offers its fair share of natural beauty, this is the race for you. And if you have friends or family who've served, all the better.
Date and location: October 2023; Arlington, Virginia
Elevation: elevation gain: 630 feet; elevation Loss: 593 feet
Cost of entry: $220
If you love nothing more than running on a beautiful lakefront course, you're in luck. This marathon skates along Lake Michigan, and most of the elevation occurs at the start of the race. These views are the very best the midwest has to offer.
Date and location: October 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Elevation: elevation gain of 626 feet
Cost of entry: $115
Another Boston qualifying flat course, the Missoula Marathon offers breathtaking views of farmland, mountains, city, and more.
Date and location: Frenchtown, Montana; June 25, 2023
Elevation: max Elevation: 3256 feet; min elevation: 3041 feet
Cost of entry: $95
Where to stay: Double Tree by Hilton Missoula-Edgewater
No marathon list is complete without the one and only Boston Marathon. This iconic race is the world's oldest annual marathon and attracts some of the fastest runners out there. While Boston is a net downhill race, the notoriously gnarly Heartbreak Hill (which happens at mile 20) convinced us that this race deserved to be on the "elevation" section of this guide. Note: You will have to qualify for this race, so make sure you check out the hoops you have to jump through to earn your spot at this finish line.
Date and location: April 17, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts
Elevation: 891 elevation gain
Cost of entry: $225
Where to stay: Check here for a list of places to stay.
Kiawah Island Marathon
You're in for a beautiful tour of the South Carolina Lowcountry with the Kiawah Island Marathon. From trees heavy with moss to miles and miles of marshland, there's plenty to see throughout this beautiful run. Plus, you'll only gain about 129 feet in elevation, so it's a perfect course for chasing a personal record.
Date and location: December 2023, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Elevation: elevation gain: 129 feet; elevation loss: 129 feet
Cost of entry: $130
Cruise along Honolulu's oceanfront in this (semi) out-and-back race with a few mild hills. This course will serve you plenty of gorgeous ocean views before steering you inland so you can see the city. Plus, weather doesn't get much better than Hawaii in December.
Date and location: December 2023; Honolulu, Hawaii
Elevation: elevation gain: 457 feet; elevation loss: 455 feet
Cost of entry: $185
Get running through the most magical place on earth. This race weekend is a blast for people who run all distances—so if you're traveling with someone who'd rather run a 5K or a 10K, they will be all set, too. In all honesty, it's hard to get a spot in this marathon. So if it's on your bucket list, make sure to set a timer so that you don't miss registration.
Date and location: January 8, 2023; Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
Elevation: elevation gain: 351 feet; elevation loss: 354 feet
Cost of entry: $229
Where to stay: If you're running the Disney World Marathon, chances are you will want to stay at a Disney Resort.
Florida's oldest marathon is a zany mission through space—and it deserves a spot on your bucket list. The event kicks off in Cocoa Village and finishes on the River in Lee Wenner Park and Cocoa Riverfront Park. The whole course is inspired by the galaxy, so get ready for an out-of-this-world experience.
Date and location: November 2023; Cocoa, Florida
Elevation: elevation gain: 262 feet; elevation loss: 259 feet
Cost of entry: $130
Where to stay: Book your hotel here.
Marathons with elevation
It doesn't get much better than running 26.2 miles of California's jaw-droppingly gorgeous Highway 1. This Boston qualifying race rolls through redwood trees, coastal mountains, and miles upon miles of ocean. You'll always have something to look at—and since it's a point-to-point race, you'll have the absolute satisfaction of driving the long course you just ran at the end of the day when it's time to head back to your hotel.
Date and location: April 30, 2023; point-to-point race from Big Sur to Carmel
Elevation: +2,182 feet, -2,528-feet
Cost of entry: $265 for domestic participants
If you're looking for a marathon with that small-town charm, consider your search over. While this course is considered "flat" by New England standards, it will still seem pretty hilly for most runners. Make sure your legs and mind are prepared for the elevation so you can simply enjoy the fallcore that is this 26.2 course.
Date and location: May 28, 2023; Burlington, Vermont
Elevation: elevation gain: 855 feet; elevation loss: 856 feet
Cost of entry: TBD
This point-to-point race is a Boston qualifier with a challenging patch of hills between miles 16 and 20. You'll run through the mining Ghost Town of Wickes and rural views for a unique marathon setting you can't find anywhere else.
Date and location: November 2023; Wickes, Montana
Elevation: cumulative elevation gain of 638 feet throughout the race
Cost of entry: TBD
This is Seattle's hometown marathon—and it's absolutely glorious. The course's rolling hills will take you on a tour of the city's bridges, waterways, and sweeping vistas. Just make sure you're ready to take on the elevation.
Date and location: November 2023; Seattle Washington
Elevation: elevation gain: 931 feet; elevation Loss: 929 feet
Cost of entry: $147
Where to stay: The Westin Seattle
TCS New York City Marathon
Take it from someone who lived on the NYC marathon race course for several years: marathon day is the most special energy the city has to offer. From the non-stop cheering to the Empire State sites, there's an indescribable aliveness to this race. While it's a bit tricky to get your hands on a bib, the work will be well worth it. You'll remember running through Central Park for the rest of your life—promise.
Date and location: November 5, 2023; New York City, New York
Elevation: elevation gain: 810 feet; elevation loss: 824 feet
Cost of entry: $295
Where to stay: Book your hotel here.
Hosted by the Maine Track Club, this race leads you through rolling hills and stunning ocean vistas. Since the race takes place in early October, this is a great foliage marathon—if you know what I mean. You can expect cool weather
Date and location: October 1, 2023; Portland, Maine
Elevation: elevation gain: 821 feet; elevation loss: 821 feet
Cost of entry: $115
Restaurants to try: Check out the race directors' full list of recommendations
The Newport Marathon starts at Easton’s Beach and has long been considered the best marathon in Rhode Island. You'll enjoy beautiful fall weather and many, many hills—so make sure you train elevation, okay?
Date and location: October 2023; Middletown, Rhode Island
Elevation: elevation gain: 847 feet
Cost of entry: $118
Predominately downhill marathons
Tour Los Angeles on foot with this lovely marathon. You'll start at Dodger's Stadium and finishes at Avenue of the Stars in Century City. While the course is a bit hilly initially, you'll finish on a nice downhill grade. So put in the work at the beginning, and prepare to be rewarded.
Date and location: Los Angeles, California; March 19, 2023
Elevation: net elevation drop of 430 feet
Cost of entry: $179
Where to stay: Learn about the LA marathon partner hotels here.
This high-altitude race is mostly flat and downhill. You'll start at the Olympic Legacy Bridge, run through the Wasatch Mountains and different parts of the city, and cross the finish line in the middle of downtown.
Date and location: April 32, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah
Elevation: +918 feet, -1501 feet
Cost of entry: $70 to $110
Where to stay: Marriott City Center (walking distance from the finish line)
If running through wine country sounds dreamy to you, this is the 26.2 race for you. This scenic route takes you through miles of vineyards and mountains for a beautiful course that will feel like one long day of sightseeing. Celebrate at the finish line with a generous pour of California red.
Date and location: March 23, 2023. point-to-point race from Calistoga to Napa
Elevation: The race starts at nearly 400 feet above sea level and ends about 60 feet above sea level.
Cost of entry: $175
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