Running is a sport full of rewards. It's a way to stay fit, test your limits and clear your head. It's also a way to renew your appreciation for your surroundings. With so many great places to run around here, there are probably a few you've meant to try, but haven't. Here are eight recommended spots for short-distance runs (most are three miles or less, depending on your route). Whether you're a beginner or an avid runner, You're bound to find them inspiring places to log a few miles and discover something new about where you live.
1. Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown
Terrain: Flat almost everywhere, but shake things up by running the sledding hill or going up and down the roads to the boat launch by the cemetery.
Sights: Run to the north end of the park by Lake Ontario, and when the weather cooperates, you'll enjoy a stunning clear view of the CN Tower and the rest of the shimmering Toronto skyline, more than 30 miles away.
The roads into the boat launch on the park's west side opens up to a picturesque glimpse of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The bike path along the Niagara River is shady in the summer, and if you look closely near the exit, you can spot the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls.
Extra Mile: When youth soccer games are in full force on summer weeknights, it's energizing to weave through the park amid all the cheering. You'll barely notice the miles rolling by. Picture yourself cruising toward the finish line.
Refueling: Water fountains scattered around the park. Snack stands near the beach. For a post-run meal, Brennan's on Main Street is a sure bet.
2. Beaver Island State Park, Grand Island
Terrain: Take your pick: Flat roads, trails in the woods, grassy fields, a sledding hill, a beach. You can easily avoid or toss in as many uphills as you like, but flying down the side of the hill is a blast, in the footsteps of high school cross country runners trying to stay upright without breaking stride.
Sights: A wide-open place to enjoy the outdoors and chart your own route. A popular park shared by golfers, Frisbee golfers, soccer players, swimmers and picnickers. Run around the southeastern tip, through the less-developed part, and you'll have a waterfront view, looking back toward the Town of Tonawanda and the city skyline.
Extra Mile: Beach running is slow going, but the boardwalk above it is a nice change of pace and surface. The grassy area close to the river - below the sledding hill - gets soggy at times, so watch out if you head down there.
Refueling: Water fountains around the park.
3. Bird Island Pier, foot of West Ferry Street, Buffalo
Terrain: Flat except for a couple of spots. A hard surface, but worth the effort.
Sights: The Black Rock Channel on one side and the Niagara River rushing by on the other. Fishermen dot the rocks along the pier. Pick up the pace to race the sculls fro, the West Side Rowing Club, and read the championship boasts that rowers have painted on the wall below the Niagara Thruway. A unique way to see the Peace Bridge, looking up at the traffic. Reach the far end - a round trip on the pier is roughly 2.5 miles - and you'll see the towering Steelwinds windmills in nearby Lackawanna.
Extra Mile: An underrated, underused running route. It's also narrow, so offer a friendly warning when you're about to pass someone. It can be windy and cooler out here. If you want to add distance, the Riverwalk extends through Broderick Park heading north.
Refueling: Bring your own water or sports drink. There's a snack stand near the parking lit, but park officials weren't sure if it would open this year.
4. Delaware Park Ring Road, Buffalo
Terrain: Flat with some inclines and one significant hill.
Sights: What isn't there to see? On a pleasant day, the 1.78-mile-long Ring Road is packed with people, while the interior of the park is crammed with sports. You're bound to see someone you know on the Ring Road. If it's February, they will be probably the same nine people, each day, like clockwork. As for sounds, try to identify the animal noises coming from behind the zoo walls, or what the golfers utter after they slice a shot.
Extra Mile: In the busiest day, be mindful of the cyclists and in-line skaters, especially where the road narrows beside the zoo. Run the Ring Road counterclockwise and you'll face a steep, short hill approaching the Indian Hunter statue. Clockwise, it's more gradual but longer uphill trip to that spot. On snowy winter days, the Ring Road is often on of the clearest roads in the city, one less excuse to stay inside on the treadmill.
Refueling: Refreshing water fountains across from the basketball courts and in front of the police radio tower along the Scajaquada. The snack stand at the Meadow Drive exit is open seasonally. Tempting as it may be, hold off on the pizza until the workout is over.
5. Ellicott Creek Trailway, Maple and North Forest roads, Amherst
Terrain: Winding roads with slight hills. A few pedestrian bridges to cross.
Sights: Trees, clearings and creek views make for a quiet, scenic getaway within Amherst. Look for the Sept. 11 memorial. The path flows past the University at Buffalo's North Campus, if you want a detour.
Extra Mile: The Pepsi Center parking lot or the parking lot at Maple and North Forest are good starting points. The path is marked in tenths of a mile. Stay alert for oncoming runners or cyclists.
Refueling: Water fountains at the Maple/North Forest entrance. There's even one for your dog, or for you, should your workout bring you to your knees.
6. Forest Lawn, Buffalo
Terrain: Hills and winding roads make this one of the area's most challenging routes. Stick to the outermost route, and it's about 2.5 miles around. Plenty of interconnecting roads to chose from in the interior.
Sights: Ornate monuments and tombs galore. Just inside the Delaware Avenue entrance is the memorial for Red Jacket. Below to his left is the headstone for Lewis Bennett, the great 19th century Seneca runner known as Deerfoot. President Millard Fillmore's gravesite is atop a hill, marked by an American flag on a pole.
Extra Mile: Run the interior roads for variety, but keep your sense of direction amid all the turns. A tranquil setting in the heart of the city, with more geese than cars to contend with most of the time.
Refueling: Water fountain in the restrooms, just inside the Delaware Avenue entrance.
7. Chestnut Ridge, Orchard Park
Terrain: Up for some hills? This is a runner's paradise south of the city. Use the casino parking lot as your starting point and choose your route.
Sights: Did we mention it's hilly? Chestnut Ridge Park and its surrounding roads, inside and outside the park, are a scenic, serene place to log miles, but you'll have to earn them. A treat is finishing in the park, above the sledding hill, and surveying everything from Orchard Park northward. On clear days, that includes the Niagara Falls skyline/
Extra Mile: You can run through the park or on the surrounding roads. A colorful spot to enjoy fall foliage, but isn't a place for a leisurely run. Experienced runners should try Omphalius Road, the equivalent of a paved ski slope. You've been warned.
Refueling: Water fountain inside the casino. Snacks and drinks for sale there, too.
8. Riverwalk, City of Tonawanda
Terrain: Smooth and mostly flat. Slight elevation changes. A few twists and turns.
Sights: The Riverwalk extends for miles; for this run, we're talking about the part that cuts through Niawanda Park. Venture in either direction for an out-and-back. On the river, you'll see speedboats tearing up the water and maybe even hear revelers on the Grand Lady cruise ship leaving from the Grand Island Holiday Inn.
Extra Mile: Although the path has a marked lane for foot traffic, be mindful of in-line skaters and cyclists. At less-crowded times, it's just a peaceful place to get in a workout.
Refueling: If you start near the bathrooms in Niawanda, there's a water fountain about 1.5 miles southwest along the path. Mississippi Mudds and Old Man River are just across the street from Niawanda for post-run food.
Matt Glynn is a business writher for the Buffalo News and a longtime distance runner.