Regardless of what city you live in, it’s easy to overlook the familiar parts of it while traveling the same roads and routes every day. The same can be said for those visiting new cities for the first time. Sometimes you’re so caught up trying to navigate your new surroundings that you ignore the more unique aspects of the place you’re visiting. So, what’s the best way to become more aware of your surroundings? A tour!

Enter Grand Rapids Running Tours, a company that takes residents, visitors, and the occasional business traveler on guided running tours of the city. Caroline Cook, founder and chief running ambassador, stumbled on the idea shortly after moving to Grand Rapids in 2010. She instantly fell in love with the city and started exploring her surroundings during her runs.

“I fell in love with everything Grand Rapids: the history, the culture, the neighborhoods,” said Cook. “So as a runner, I explored every day, reading up on and researching everything I ran across. Soon I was giving my family and friends tours of all that I had learned.”

In 2014, Caroline combined her love of running and knowledge of the city to form Grand Rapids Running Tours. Today, she offers more than 20 running, walking, and bus tours year-round. There’s a wide variety of tours, including a few that change with the seasons.

The particular tour we went on was the Summer Seven O’Clock Series which started – as the name suggests – at 7PM, making it a great after-work activity. All tours begin and end in the lobby of the JW Marriott Grand Rapids, conveniently located in the center of downtown. Because Caroline has a working relationship with the hotel, everyone you come across is exceptionally welcoming, treating you as if it’s your first day in Grand Rapids.

With running shoes on and water bottles in tow, we met Caroline, the day’s running ambassador, in the lobby of the hotel. After a brief meet and greet, we then sat around a table in the JW Marriott where Caroline eagerly launched into an overview of what we would learn on our tour. Once the groundwork of the evening was laid, we were off. Caroline is tuned into every runner’s pace, so we started running at a comfortable pace for conversation.

Runners viewing architecture during Grand Rapids Running Tours
Learning about the architecture of the city. Photo Courtesy: Grand Rapids Running Tours.

Within just a couple minutes of taking off from the hotel, we stopped at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Pearl Street. As a long-time resident of Grand Rapids, I had no clue why we stopped there. That was until Caroline pointed up at a plaque on the wall of the Amway Grand Plaza. We were standing right where the first trading post had been built by Louis Campau, the first fur trader, settler, and founder of Grand Rapids. This was where Caroline gave us a little bit of history about Campau, whose name adorns streets, parks, and buildings in the city.

For the next three or so miles, the running tour continued in very much the same fashion. We would run while Caroline chatted about the city. Every several minutes we would stop for Caroline to point out local landmarks and plaques that most likely get overlooked by residents. In all, we stopped six or seven times learning about Grand Rapids’ first mission, how a feud between Campau and Lucius Lyon shaped the way the city’s streets are laid out, and the Hopewell Indian Mounds.

First Trade Post plaque in Grand Rapids
The site of the first trading post in Grand Rapids. Photo Courtesy: Sasha Wolff.

For the non-runners out there, three miles may seem like a long distance to cover. It’s quite manageable, however, thanks to the stops Grand Rapids Running Tours has built into it. At each stop, Caroline becomes a fountain of information, able to handle whatever question you may have for her. The tour is also free-flowing and laid-back so if you want to stop and take pictures along the way, you’re more than welcome to.

Regardless of if you’re a runner or walker, each tour can be tailored to a speed that’s comfortable for you. Because every tour includes something new, residents and visitors alike will find something valuable. Even as a group of Grand Rapidians, our particular running tour was full of information we had never heard. With Caroline’s knowledge of Grand Rapids, she brought life to even the most familiar spots of the city.

The Summer Seven O’Clock Series is just one of many running tours offered over the course of the year. Other tours include ones based on Grand Rapids art, neighborhoods, bridges, churches and more. There’s even a haunted tour that takes you by ten downtown locations where ghost sightings have been reported. You can see a full list of tours on the Grand Rapids Running Tours website. The price for a three-mile tour is $20, while the price for a six-mile tour is $35. If you’re interested in getting in a little cardio while learning more about the wonderful city of Grand Rapids, be sure to register for the next tour today!

To find more experiences like the Grand Rapids Running Tours, check out the Experience Grand Rapids Tours & Experiences page.