Must-do trail runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway within two hours of Asheville for all levels of runners.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered by many to be one of America’s most scenic drives. At 469-miles in length, it’s the country’s longest linear park and connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. At times, the 1,200-mile Mountains to Sea Trail and the iconic 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail follow the same corridor. Needless to say, trail running opportunities are abundant. This guidebook showcases several classic runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, all of which are within two hours of Asheville.
From west to east, this list first explores the Great Balsam Mountains. Dark, spruce-fir forest compose much of the landscape while Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain showcase bald summits with 360-degree views. Nearby Graveyard Fields offers two waterfalls along an easier loop, while the routes through Middle Prong Wilderness offer solitude for conditioned trail runners.
Closer to Asheville, Fryingpan Mountain and Mount Pisgah are two shorter runs that are best visited at dusk or dawn. These high mountain summits offer sweeping views over Hominy Valley and Pink Beds Valley, areas rich in history from when the land was owned by the Vanderbilt’s – the original purveyors of the Biltmore Estate. The Shut-In Trail, a 17-mile trail between Bent Creek and Buck Spring Gap was “originally built in the 1980s by George W. Vanderbilt to connect Biltmore House with his Buck Spring Hunting Lodge”. While running the entire trail at once is infrequently undertaken by locals, countless access points along the Blue Ridge Parkway make it more popular for shorter out-and-back runs.
North and east of Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway heads into the Great Craggy Mountains. Along the way, you’ll pass Snowball Mountain and Big Butt Knob, two excellent out-and-back trail runs along ridges. Plenty of vistas and beautiful wildflowers line the way should you pay a visit during the summer.
As you near Mount Mitchell, the High Loop is a common way to explore the highest peak in the east. The run offers a visit to an observation tower where several placards denote the names of the surrounding mountains. Heartbreak Ridge also offers a long ridgeline traverse, but if you start from the top, remember you will have to climb everything you descend.
Further away at Grandfather Mountain, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak offers a unique trail running experience through diverse ecosystems. It also offers the opportunity to drive the Linn Cove Viaduct – a engineering marvel that was the last section of the entire roadway to be completed. Not far ahead, the last route on this list may also be the best according to local trail running guide company White Dot Adventures. The Boone Fork Trail Loop showcases a beautiful high-country meadow, dark forests, and technical singletrack bordering pristine waterfalls. The owner, Brendon Voelker, acclaims this loop as the best sub-5 mile run along the entire 469-mile roadway.