Six Must-See Destinations for Natural Sports Venues

Nothing rejuvenates the body, mind, and spirit like spending time outdoors.

Sports events hosted in natural settings draw participants for the scenery, the escape, and adventure. Finding those unique natural settings ups the ante and participation numbers, whether the event is off the beaten path or on the open water.

Every state has its must-see locations. Let’s focus on six destinations with unique natural settings that have hosted sporting events that deliver a memorable experience.

Make sure to contact all of SportsEvents’ industry partners featured on the pages in this Natural Venues section and in the directory. There are so many gems to discover.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

This year’s host for S.P.O.R.T.S. The Relationship Conference is known as Olympic City USA. It is still equally known for its natural vistas, mountain peaks, and major sports events that challenge the adventurer in all athletes.

At the end of September, planners, rights holders and representatives from across the country will converge in Colorado Springs to witness what makes this part of the western United States so awe-inspiring.

According to Cheryl McCullough, CSEE, director of sports & special events with Visit Colorado Springs offered this glimpse into the city’s past and future:

“After visiting Pikes Peak America’s Mountain in 1893, Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write America the Beautiful. This August, the 14,115-foot mountain will be challenging a group of runners participating in the Pikes Peak Marathon, which is #3 on the list of longest-running U.S. marathons. Pikes Peak is also the venue for the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, known as The Race to the Clouds and the second oldest road race in the United States.”

Pikes Peak has also hosted road cycling races, street and trail running competitions and downhill skateboarding events, according to McCullough.

Prior to the S.P.O.R.T.S. conference on September 29-Oct.1, The Pikes Peak APEX inaugural event is scheduled for Sept. 24-27. This event features four days of riding in parks and backcountry stages on the slopes of Pikes Peak. Bicycling Magazine has listed the Pikes Peak APEX as “Mountain Bike Races You Should Consider Entering in 2020.”

And Garden of the Gods at the base of Pikes Peak is another must-see landmark that features 1,300 acres of sandstone rock formations that attract hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and walkers. The location has been the stage start for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and many 5K and 10K runs that attract athletes from around the world.

Lake County, Florida

Located 30-minutes west of Orlando, the City of Clermont is known as the “Choice of Champions.”

For more than 34 years, the City of Clermont has been a global destination for multi-sport training and competitive events, according to Steven Clenney, manager of sports development with the Office of Visit Lake.

The area attracts cyclists, triathletes, runners, and others to the area to compete. With Clermont Waterfront Park Victory Pointe, Lake Louisa State Park, and the Clermont Clay Roads, athletes find challenging topography and waterfront locations that make training and competing for an adventure year-round. This Florida location also boasts hills, unlike many other Florida locations. Sugarloaf Mountain is the highest peninsular point at 312-feet above sea-level, making it a good destination for cyclists.

This year, the 2020 USA Triathlon Ultra Distance National Championship is scheduled for October and the Great Floridian Triathlon Multisport Festival celebrates its 30th year with the Nation’s Longest Running independent full-distance triathlon.

The Fondo Clermont Fondo Cycling Circuit USA event is scheduled for this October.

The Clermont Draft Legal Challenge is scheduled for March 2021 at Lake Louisa State Park and other events such as the Horrible Hundred cycling event will be held this November.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge

As America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital, Virginia’s Blue Ridge offers Appalachian trails that appeal to cyclists, runners, and water events, according to Taylor Spellman, director of public relations with Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge in Roanoke, Va.

Spellman offered a variety of natural venues that are must-see places for sporting events, including Smith Mountain Lake, a waterfront location with 500 miles of shoreline, dining, and entertainment options. The Roanoke Valley Greenways provide more than 30 miles of connected, paved trails throughout Roanoke’s neighborhoods, picnic areas, and local communities. Explore Park features 1,000 acres of space off the Blue Ridge Parkway with primitive camping sites, cabins, yurts, glamping, and RV spots, and Falon Park regularly hosts cyclocross and cross-country races.

The area is home to thousands of biking and cycling trails and man-made parks, fields, and spaces for event staging.

San Marcos, Texas

San Marcos has more than 1,200 Hill Country acres and 22 miles of trails are used for cycling and running events. The San Marcos River and the lakes around San Marcos River Ranch provide opportunities for kayaking, water skiing, canoeing and open swims, according to Clancy Hardin, destination events specialist with the San Marcos Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Purgatory Creek Natural Area hosts a 10-mile race each January known as the Purgatory Trail Run and Spring Lake Preserve hosts a 5K, 10K and 30K race in the fall known as BOMF’s Bigfoot Trail Race.

San Marcos also has miles of mountain biking trails that appeal to beginner level to USA Cycling-sanctioned events. Triathlons can use the spring-fed lake adjacent to a nature perverse for a Hill Country twist, according to Charlotte Wattigny, Innovation Manager with the San Marcos CVB.

The San Marcos River Ranch has ski lakes for open water events such as the Tri For Old Glory. It has been used for the National Collegiate Water Ski Association Nationals.

Although not natural, Rio Vista Falls is fed by the San Marcos River that bubbles out of the ground in the center of town. This location is perfect for kayaking and is used for the Junior Olympic Trails training ground.

Bentonville, Arkansas

“As the Mountain Bike Capital of the World, with award-winning museums, restaurants, and attractions, Bentonville, Arkansas, is a prime location with a range of natural sports venues.”

The Razorback Greenway offers 36 miles of trail that connects Northwest Arkansas and events such as Square2Square and the 21 Mile Salute running event.

Bentonville is a designated IMBA Silver Level Ride Center, according to Aaron Mullins, director of communications with Visit Bentonville.

The area will bring Osage Park online this summer for adventure-based recreation that will provide room for fishing, wetland exploration, and entertainment in Bentonville’s heart.

Chad Musteen is the new sports sales manager for Visit Bentonville and brings extensive experience in baseball and a connection to a variety of sports events.

Fayetteville, Arkansas

In Fayetteville, Ark., one of the premier running events in the U.S., the Chili Pepper Running Festival brings more than 80 college teams and 120 high school teams together to battle for the prestige and unique Chili Pepper Awards, according to Hazel Hernandez, vice president of sales and marketing with Experience Fayetteville.

In Fayetteville, Agri Park is an 8-acre venue and part of the University of Arkansas system. Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain is home to cyclocross events such as FaytetteCross 2021 and the 2022 UCI Cyclocross Championships. The new park offers mountain bike trails and once complete, the 228-acre Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain will include mountain bike cyclocross and trail running experiences.

In the Ozark Mountains, Kessler Mountain Regional Park is home to “Mile Zero” a 40-mile shared-use trail that extends from southern Fayetteville to Bella Vista. The park holds the Frozen Toes 5K and 15K Trail Run. The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust permanently reserved 384 acres at Kessler Mountain to keep the property free from urban development.

Lake Fayetteville also offers fishing and recreational opportunities in the 458-acre setting. This area hosts the annual Ladies Duathlon, where racers run, ride and run again around the lake.

Mount Sequoyah Woods is a 97-acre park that features 4.5 miles of natural-surface trail through undisturbed forest and the highest elevation point in the area.