Once runners set their intentions on running a marathon, they get to ask one of the most fun running questions there is: “Which marathon should I run?”
Picking which marathon to run is much like the proverbial kid in a candy store agog with an endless number of appealing choices.
Although the factors of a marathon that appeal most to one runner may be entirely different than those that appeal to another—thus affecting what would be considered the best marathons to run—we’ve put together our picks for some of the best marathons in the USA.
Our choices for the best marathons in the USA are meant to span a diverse sampling of marathons, from small town marathons to big city marathons. We will look at flat, fast courses for those trying to get a BQ qualifier to scenic courses that take you through some of America’s most picturesque landscapes.
That way, most runners can find a marathon on this subjective list of the top marathons in the USA that sparks their wanderlust and gives them the push they’ve been looking for to pull the trigger and do their first, fifth, or fiftieth marathon.
In this guide, we will look at:
- What Are the Best Marathons In the USA?
- The 11 Best Marathons In the USA + 11 Honorable Mentions
Let’s get started!
What Are the Best Marathons In the USA?
As can probably be inferred, there isn’t a definitive list of the best marathons in the US; it’s all quite subjective.
What you might like most about a race in terms of the course, field size, location, time of year, etc. is likely quite different from what another runner seeks in a marathon experience.Here are some factors to consider and questions to ask yourself when trying to narrow down the best marathons to run in the US for you:
Time of Year
Do you want a fall or spring marathon? Though some marathons also take place in the winter and summer, spring and fall are most common due to the more mild temperatures.
If it’s a fall marathon, you’ll mostly be training in the summer and if it’s a spring marathon, the bulk of your training will occur over the winter. Therefore, if this is going to be an “A goal” marathon, it’s important to consider when you like to do most of your training.
Do you like a large crowd with tons of runners around you to help out with your pace and pull you along, or do you prefer a smaller, quieter, more intimate feel where you can dial into your own race more easily.
Do you like a city, small town, or rural course? Roads or trails?
Do you want something relatively local and close to you or run a destination race that you’ll drive a long distance or fly to?
Do you want a flat, fast course or something rolling and challenging?
Do you want a point-to-point route, an out-and-back course, or a loop where you won’t cover anything twice?
Do you care if it’s scenic?
Race Perks and Atmosphere
Some marathons have enticing perks that create an exciting atmosphere with a high degree of external motivation for marathon runners needing an extra push.
Cut-Off Time and Finish Times
If you’re a slower runner, you might want to look at whether the marathon has a cutoff time that you can achieve.
It’s also helpful to look at race results from prior years to see if there were a bunch of runners around your finish time.
The winning times can also give you a sense of the competitiveness of the race and the difficulty of the course.
The 11 Best Marathons In the USA + 11 Honorable Mentions
In our quest to pick the best marathons in the USA, we tried to pick a smattering of different types of marathons in terms of their size, season, course, and location.
With that said, we picked from highly reviewed marathons, or those considered the top marathons in the USA in terms of how they are run, the quality of the race experience, and the best race reviews.
#1: Boston Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Avid Runners
No list of the best marathons in the USA would be complete without the iconic Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon.
Held on Patriots’ Day (the third Monday in April) for every year except 2020 (when it was held in October, the Boston Marathon is a bucket list race for many marathoners due to its prestige and history.
Runners must meet qualifying standards based on their age and sex and then get accepted into the race.
The point-to-point course takes runners from Hopkinton, MA to the famed finish line on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
#2: Honolulu Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Slow Runners and Walkers
It’s a fairly large race, with roughly 20,000 finishers who get to enjoy sweeping ocean views and run past landmarks such as the Iolani Palace, King Kamehameha Statue, Diamond Head, and Kalakaua Avenue.
The laid-back atmosphere makes it great for slow runners who want a relaxed but unforgettable marathon.
#3: Chicago Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Getting a PR
Right up there with the Boston Marathon for top marathons in the USA based on popularity and runners’ reviews is the Chicago Marathon, another of the Abbott Marathon Majors.
Held in early October on the Sunday before Columbus Day, the Chicago Marathon is a pancake-flat course perfect for runners looking to smash their PR.
With the energy of the 1.2 million spectators cheering on runners along the 26.2 mile course and the large—but not oversaturated—field size with plenty of runners around your ability, you’ll fly through the flat course and run a fast time.
You’ll also see some of Chicago’s popular landmarks like Wrigley Field, Chinatown, the Sears Tower, and Lake Michigan.
#4: Pikes Peak Marathon: Best Trail Marathon In the USA
The best marathon in the USA for runners who want the ultimate challenge is the Pikes Peak Marathon, held in late August in Manitou Springs, Colorado.
This trail marathon takes place mostly on Barr Trail in Pike National Forest, and goes through the 16 Golden Stairs leading to the summit of Pikes Peak before returning to the start.
#5: New York City Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Want a Big-City Experience
It’s no surprise that the fantastic New York Marathon earns a spot on our list of the best marathons in the USA.
As the world’s largest marathon, with close to 55,000 finishers each year, the New York City Marathon meanders through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx, ending back in Manhattan in the famous Central Park.
The course is rolling and traverses city streets and bridges, lined nearly the entire way by enthusiastic spectators.
It’s an amazing way to get a true slice of New York City energy, culture, and history.
#6: Big Sur International Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Want an Epic Experience
The Big Sur International Marathon is known for its sweeping ocean views.
The challenging course travels along the gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline in Northern California, beginning among the giant Redwoods in Big Sur and then meandering along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Runners climb five tough hills at the start of the course and another 13 hills near the end, but there are unique entertainers along the way, such as the Taiko drummers at the base of Hurricane Point and a grand piano player at Bixby Bridge. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
#7: Mount Desert Island Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Want a Scenic Course
The Mount Desert Island Marathon in Bar Harbor, ME may likely be one of the most scenic marathons in the USA, featuring coastal views, stunning fall foliage, and quaint New England towns.
It’s very well organized and runners often rave about the awesome “Crusher Claw” medals.
#8: Indianapolis Monumental Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Want a BQ Time
The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon has grown in popularity due to its flat, fast nature, and cool fall weather, making it a great marathon to nab your BQ time.
The course rolls by a bunch of the landmarks in Indianapolis, including Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana State Capitol, Monument Circle, and Butler University.
#9: Flying Pig Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Want a Party
Held in early May in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Flying Pig Marathon is one of the best marathons in the USA for runners who like a party atmosphere.
It is well organized, and even has designated “Party Zones” peppered along the race course with special refreshments.
#10: Walt Disney World Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Want To Have a Fun Time
The Walt Disney World Marathon, which is held in January every year, is great for Disney fans looking to bring out the kid in you.
The marathon course takes runners through all four Walt Disney World parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and then back to Epcot for the finish.
Although the course is super flat, it is shared by regular park goers, so be mindful of that.
There’s a very generous seven-hour cutoff time, and tons of runners dressed in costumes of their favorite Disney characters.
#11: Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon: Best Marathon In the USA for Runners Who Love Wilderness
Although not a huge race, the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon draws about 4,000 runners every year to join in on the Summer Solstice event.
11 Honorable Mentions: Top Marathons in the USA
Clarence DeMar Marathon, Keene, NH
Wineglass Marathon, Bath, NY
Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia, PA
Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, Deadwood, SD
Jackson Hole Marathon, Jackson, WY
Missoula Marathon, Missoula, MT
Vermont City Marathon, Burlington, VT
Amica Newport Marathon, Newport, RI
Marine Corps Marathon, Arlington, VA
Eugene Marathon, Eugene, OR
Coeur d’Alene Marathon, Coeur d’Alene, ID
Which marathon sounds best to you? Sign up and then check out our marathon training guides here!