Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Desierto De Los Leones: The best place to run in Mexico City

Trail gets rocky as it approaches the top

Looking down from the top

  If you are looking for natural beauty, the best place to train for mountain running, or both, Desierto De Los Leones is the best place to run in Mexico City.  I've made two runs and one hike out there in the past week in search of the best trails to run to the top.  What follows is hardly a full description of all the trails, but I'll share what I've learned in these past three runs which is more than enough to get you started (and to the top of Cerro San Miguel) if you haven't been out there yet.

  When running in Desierto, it's easy to forget you are in Mexico City. The air is clean, the views are spectacular...and the climbing is relentless.   In fact, I don't think there is a mountain race in the world that a committed runner couldn't prepare for here. The premier Mexican ultramarathon runner, Luis Guerrero Marron, trains here, and he has multiple Leadville 100 finishes (along with a zillion other long distance races), placing as high as second.  So if you live in Mexico City and want to run in the mountains, this is the place.
   The climb begins at 9,800 feet and then goes up to 12,328 feet (measured by my Garmin, anyway) in 5 miles to the Cerro de San Miguel.  Alternatively, you can stretch the climb out to nearly 7 miles and run up (or down) the road.  I explain these two routes below.
  The place to start is from the Cruz Blanca trail.  You will see the sign on your right a few minutes after passing through the "town."  Follow the road up.  Along the way there are sections of trail off the dirt road.  Trails aren't marked here (are any trails in Mexico marked?  I haven't seen any), but the trail heads are marked and the trails are easy to follow.  I just kept going up, followed the trails that looked the most interesting and I found my way to the summit despite being totally fogged in on my first ascent. It wasn't until my second ascent that I saw the spectacular views of the city far below.  On my third trip I found a way to make the entire run almost entirely on trails, using the dirt road sparingly (less than 300 meters total) to link up with other trails.

Turn up the dirt road to your right. Also, look closely and you will see that no one is taking the "no animals" rule very seriously

  Depending on what kind of training you are looking for, there are two primary routes to the top:
the technical route and the "rocky road" route.  The technical route is my favorite, but it has a couple drawbacks.  One, most runners won't be able to run everything.  It is very steep in parts and involves some boulder hopping and some fallen trees to work around.  Also, one of the main climbs is a favorite downhill area for mountain bikers.  However, there is plenty of room to avoid the bikers coming downhill. However, if you are looking for technical downhill or uphill practice, this is your route.  The road route is not a smooth dirt path, it is a bit rocky, but it's completely runnable, and it's also a bit longer mileage-wise than the technical ascent.  If you are looking for a longer run and want to run the whole time, this route would be the better choice.
On my second run I went up from the Cruz Blanca sign, taking paths in the woods when I could. The photos below will give you a preview of the varied terrain and rugged beauty of Desierto De Los Leones. 

25 million people down there, but only one up here

 At the very top of the climb there is a cement structure that houses an altar where I took the above pictures.  There is also an observation tower that is fenced off, but it doesn't look like it would take too much effort to hop the fence.  Here is my Garmin information which follows the trails up and the road down.  Hiking to the top will take around 2:15.  It took me 1:42 with a mix of running and hiking and stopping to take pictures. 


  1. Sounds fantastic. I've only spent a few weeks in the Trans-volcanic range but would love to return. Enjoying your blog from afar.

  2. Hey man, this is very useful, thank you!!!!
    Do you have to go all the way to the parking spot at the monastery to park?? or where do you park to get into the cruz blanca trail?