01 | For ultra dreamchasers — MacRitchie Reservoir
Constructed in the 1860s, MacRitchie Reservoir is one of four reservoirs located within Singapore’s Central Catchment Nature Reserve (the others being Lower Peirce Reservoir, Upper Peirce Reservoir and Upper Seletar Reservoir).
The grand dame of reservoirs is the outdoor mecca for runners and hikers. It is the rare long-distance runner that has not clocked miles here. As a teenager, I absolutely dreaded the school cross-country meets that were held here, only to become a trail runner who crawls out of bed at ungodly hours to clock my miles here before the crowds descend. Oh, the irony!
Well, if you’re ready, hit MacRitchie’s 11km nature trail loop. It is a challenging route with meaningful elevation, but you will be rewarded with fantastic views and encounters with wildlife including the Malayan water monitor, feisty squirrels and families of long-tailed macaques.
If you prefer to ease into it, try the 3km Green Trail that takes you on the Prunus and Petai Boardwalks, or the 7km Orange trail, which is the quickest route to the Treetop Walk (currently closed but slated to reopen in May 2021).
02 | For Zoom zombies desperate for nature — Windsor Nature Park
What you will like about this small quiet park is that you can choose from a variety of trails and boardwalks. The best part, they are all short spins so you can be back at your desk in a jiffy. Simply park your car at Venus Drive, put on your running shoes and off you go!
New to hiking? Pop your nature walk cherry on the Hanguana Trail, an easy 350m jaunt. The short trail, which boasts more than 100 trees comprising 10 native species, will lower your stress levels in no time.
As a dedicated trail runner, I love the 4m high boardwalk on the 2.2km Squirrel-Drongo Trail. The boardwalk is just 150m long, but it has been constructed with great attention to detail.
Viewing decks located at key points let you see the riparian forest up close without trampling the forest floor vegetation; protective barriers have also been erected around vulnerable areas of the forest and best of all, the trail was built without having to bring in machinery.
If running’s more your thing, hit the 1.8km Venus Loop, which meanders along the banks of a crystal-clear forest stream. I find that a few rounds here is often just what I need to clear my mind before the next meeting.
03 | For extended families — Coney Island
While I bemoan the hordes that have descended on my favourite trail running spots, I admit one good thing that has come out of this pandemic is that kids who used to spend all their time in malls have started to discover the great outdoors.
Coney Island is especially appealing for families looking for a day out. Once owned by Burmese entrepreneur brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the island has wide stretches that can accommodate groups of hikers, runners, cyclists and babies in strollers in a way the narrow trails in most other nature parks here cannot.
The island is flat, making it ideal for families to discover its myriad habitats — coastal forests, grasslands, mangroves and casuarina woodlands.
It is one of the best spots in Singapore to spark your young one’s interest in flora and fauna (you will find over 80 species of birds here). The fact that the rustic island is an ecologically sustainable park also means it’s a living classroom for those wishing to impart their love for the environment.
Whatever your activity, be sure to pop over to the beach to cool off and have some seaside fun before adjourning to Punggol Promenade in search of a family meal to end your perfect day out.
04 | For long, leisurely runs — Chestnut Nature Park
Hit Singapore’s largest nature park for the ultimate in trail running bliss.
There are two parts to the 81 hectare Chestnut Nature Park. For beginners and hikers, I recommend hitting the Southern Trail first. This 2.1km loop is a very manageable hike, especially for first timers. What’s more, it has separate trails for hikers and bikers whereas segments of the Northern Trail are shared paths, which means you will need to keep a constant look out for MTB-ers whizzing by.
Also, the Southern Trail’s proximity to the main visitor centre means you can easily have a washroom break and grab a cold drink.
Along the Northern trail, the Gangsa-Mandai stretch of Chestnut Nature Park is my personal slice of running heaven. This is where I leave all my earthly worries behind and just run it out. I run slow, I run fast. I walk, I jog, I hike. It never lets me down.
Don’t forget to save some strength for the park’s observation tower, where you will be rewarded with some incredible vistas. Pro tip: be there at sunrise and you might even imagine that you’re in some African game reserve.
05 | For glute-tightening action — Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
If you prefer more vertical action, head for Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Just 12km away from the city, this 163 hectare reserve is where you will find Singapore’s highest hill, the 163m tall Bukit Timah Hill (admittedly, a joke for real mountain-loving folks).
Unfortunately, this nature reserve has become impossibly packed on weekend mornings, so best to visit on weekdays or at off-peak hours. If you start at the main visitor centre at Hindhede Drive, warm up by checking out the interactive displays of forest ecology and plant specimens at the exhibition hall.
If you are strapped for time, take the 1.3km tarmac path to the summit. It sounds short, but make no mistake, some segments are steep, even for seasoned runners.
While hordes have descended on trail running spots, one good thing that has come out of this pandemic is that kids who used to spend all their time in malls have started to discover the great outdoors.”
I actually prefer to start my workout from carpark B off Dairy Farm Road, from where I head for the 2km Dairy Farm loop, which comes with a killer flight I have come to call the “stairway to hell”. I’ve seen many overly confident hikers run it, only to come to a screeching halt when it bends and they suddenly come face to face with the endless flight leading up to North View Hut. But don’t worry, pace yourself and you will finish it.
For a proper session, tackle Jungle Fall path where, yes, another endless flight awaits! These two flights were my personal Stairmasters when I was training for my first ultra-trail marathon. No need for a gym or personal trainers.
Other challenging trails you can try include the South View and Catchment paths, and the short but torturous Taban Loop. Whichever you choose, you won’t get lost if you stick to the route — when you’ve had enough, just ask a fellow hiker for the shortest route back to the main tarmac path.
This story first appeared in the March 2021 issue of A Magazine.