Take An Elevation Vacation at Any of These Destinations

Interested in reaping the rewards of training at altitude? Check out these lesser-known spots where the air is thin—and the crowds are thinner.

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It’s no secret that when top endurance athletes want to lower their times, they get, well, high. High above sea level, that is. Countless studies have shown you can reap plenty of benefits by training at elevations of 5,000-8,000 feet—including increased red blood cell production, better aerobic capacity, a higher tolerance to lactic acid build-up, and improved oxygen delivery upon return to sea level. However, be forewarned: Training where the air is thinner also has downsides and needs to be done with caution if you’re new to the altitude. It can be significantly harder to breathe, high-intensity efforts and paces can be challenging to hit, and you will likely need additional time to adjust and to recover. Fortunately, while elevated towns like Boulder, Flagstaff, and Park City are hotspots for all kinds of athletes, there are other lesser-known places to train in rarefied air. Here are three to check out—plus what to do once you’re there.

Sunrise at Quarry Lake in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Photo: Getty Images
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The Place: Canmore, Alberta, Canada

When pro Paula Findlay credited a training stint in Canmore to her massive win at Challenge Daytona last December, the tri world took notice. The mountain town, located about an hour’s drive from Calgary, sits at an elevation of 4,296 feet (with surrounding summits at 9,633 feet), and its craggy peaks, soaring waterfalls, and jewel-toned lakes feature a feast for the eyes and lungs.

Swim Here

Quarry Lake Resort, home to the annual Grizzly Open Water Swim, is a go-to spot for swimmers in the summer for its clear water and mountainous backdrop. Prefer a pool? Downtown Canmore’s Elevation Place has a state-of-the-art aquatic facility.

Bike Here

Local cyclists frequent Bow Valley Parkway (also known as Highway 1A), a 30-mile stretch between the town of Banff and the village of Lake Louise. As its name suggests, the smooth parkway is set in the Bow Valley, surrounded by mountains and against a seemingly endless curtain of towering evergreens.

Run Here

The 17-mile Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, which links Canmore to Banff and beyond, is a runner’s haven: Mostly flat (with a total elevation gain of about 100 feet from end to end) and paved. The sweeping views of the majestic mountains are quite literally breathtaking.

Stay Here

Coast Canmore Hotel has a pair of Peloton bikes and an indoor pool in its fitness center, while its central location offers easy access to a myriad of trails. Or check out the recently-opened Malcolm Hotel downtown, where you’ll find unparalleled views of the Three Sisters peaks and complimentary bike rentals.

Eat Here

The Grizzly Paw Pub & Brewing Company features a menu of hearty fare (think: bison burgers and poutine) plus its very own craft brews and small-batch sodas (thegrizzlypaw.com)

Athlete Jenny Fletcher during a morning training run in Mammoth Lakes. Photo: Peter Morning
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The Place: Mammoth Lakes, California

A long-time favorite among elite runners (the local track club has produced 15 Olympians and 29 American records), Mammoth Lakes has served as a training ground for top triathletes, too. Perched at 7,880 feet above sea level and some six hours north of L.A., its isolated location makes it a spot where you can easily get away from it all.

Swim Here

Tucked in the Sierra Range and edged by an expansive sandy beach, the sparkling June Lake dazzles with spectacular mountain views. Prefer to follow a black line? The 25-meter Whitmore Pool (typically open from mid-June to mid-August) is fed by natural hot springs.

Bike Here

From around May to October, Benton Crossing Road is the place to be for cyclists. The popular 20-mile out-and-back ride starting from the hard-to-miss green church is steeped in just enough dramatic scenery to distract you from some of the more grinding climbs.

Run Here

Head to Mammoth Lakes Basin or along the trails in Shady Rest Park and you may spot local legend (and American record holder in the marathon) Deena Kastor. Up for some speed sessions? Check out the famed Mammoth track. Situated at around 8,000 feet, it’s one of the highest running ovals in the world (open April 1-Oct. 31).

Stay Here

The all-suite Westin Monache Resort has easy access to hiking and biking trails, an upscale restaurant, and a heated outdoor pool. Secured your pro card? Look into booking a comped stay at The Crib, a luxury condo exclusive to elite athletes, sponsored by Mammoth Lakes Tourism (visitmammoth.com/crib).

Eat Here

With an on-site deli, butchery, and bakery, the Bleu Market & Kitchen rolls out freshly prepared, locally-sourced foods to enjoy there or to grab and go. Bonus: The wine bar is the perfect spot to toast a solid day of training (bleufoods.com).

The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo: courtesy of the Anasazi

The Place: Santa Fe, New Mexico

The highest and oldest capital city in the U.S., Santa Fe sits 6,818 feet above sea level. The town also sees about 300 days of sunshine, pleasant temperatures in the spring and fall, and serves up a heaping dose of culture—thanks to its lively arts and music scene.

Swim Here

Locals log meters in Cochiti Lake, fed by the Rio Grande and set on the Pueblo de Cochiti Indian Reservation. If you’re up for a brief road trip, Abiquiú Lake, a 4,000-acre reservoir of the Charma River, is just an hour’s drive from Santa Fe in red sandstone country, offering views plucked from a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

Bike Here

Trace portions of the Santa Fe Century ride (slated for October) by hitting the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 14. Depending on how far you want to ride, you can roll through old mining towns and hit some serious climbs, including an epic seven-mile ascent through the Ortiz Mountains.

Run Here

The trails in the Santa Fe National Forest and Hyde State Park are ideal for those who want undulating terrain and dirt beneath their feet. For a smoother run, head for the 15-mile-long Santa Fe Rail Trail, which begins in the Railyard Arts District. Paved for the first 3.5 miles, it turns to a groomed natural surface beyond that.

Stay Here

For a luxe stay in a prime location, check into The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. Steps away from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, the inn is exquisitely appointed in a southwestern style, has a top-notch fitness center, and has an in-house massage therapist on staff (rosewoodhotels.com).

Eat Here

Get a jumpstart on your training day with a breakfast burrito at local fave Palacio Cafe (palaciosantafe.com), then cap it off by tucking into an authentic Santa Fe experience at El Farol, known for its happy hour tapas and live Flamenco dinner show (elfarolsantafe.com; call ahead to check on dining restrictions).