Guidebook

10 Epic Trail Runs of the Southeast USA

Plan a day trip or a runcation around one of these epic adventure runs in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Brendon Voelker

Description

The Appalachian Mountains are some of the oldest and most rugged mountains in the world. As such, they are also home to an incredible selection of trail running routes, including some of the most epic runs east of the Rockies. Enjoy big mountain views, run along ridgelines, and explore historic trails on one of these epic trail runs across the southern Appalachian Mountains.

As the centerpiece of the southern Blue Ridge, the greater-Asheville area produces some of the strongest and most versatile trail runners in the nation. It’s also noted for its epic trail runs including the Art Loeb Trail, Pitchell run, and Linville Gorge Circuit. FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempts seem to happen weekly, though few can chip away at the unfathomably fast times documented on some of these routes. Mountain Running Company of Black Mountain and Boone, as well as Jus’ Running are two excellent places to stop if you need any supplies, and many of their employees and team members hold records on routes and races across the region.

To the southwest, the Foothills Trail and the Georgia Loop are both spectacular 55+ mile-long runs along the North Carolina state line. Both routes offer numerous crew and aid stops, though there are plenty of stretches where you should expect to remain completely autonomous. The Foothills Trail also tours a segment of the wild and scenic Chattooga River, the inspiration behind the iconic and culturally-significant—yet graphic movie—Deliverance.

The furthest route south to make this list is the Conasauga River Trail. Compared to others on this list, there are no known FKTs of the route as of 2021. Its shorter distance and remote location likely contribute to that, though this long riverside run is a North Georgia adventure you cannot skip.

To the north in Virginia, you’re welcomed with three others: Catawba Loop, Three Ridges, and Massanutten Mountain. Each offers its own unique perspective of some of Virginia’s finest peaks, and Catawba even visits three of the most iconic and photographed spots anywhere on the Appalachian Trail. There is some diversity in distance between these routes, so there should be something to offer for anyone.

Last but not least is S.C.A.R., the Smoky Challenge Adventure Run. Seventy miles in length, this run tours a stunning and iconic section of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Double (out-and-back) attempts have been pursued by some, though a single traverse still takes upwards of 14 hours for even the most elite runners. Mere mortals should still allocate at least 24 hours and know that there is little crew access as you run across the numerous high mountain peaks.

Sources:
White Dot Adventures | Trail Running Tours

Art Loeb Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Art Loeb Trail

46.5 km
2,307 m
2,650 m
A iconic and scenic trail running route best known for its traverse through Shining Rock Wilderness.
Difficult
Private
Pitchell
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Pitchell

98.1 km
3,894 m
3,596 m
A highly-acclaimed trail run starting at the top of Mount Pisgah, and ending at Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Rockies.
Difficult
Private
Linville Gorge Circuit
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Linville Gorge Circuit

32.5 km
1,578 m
1,578 m
An epic 22-mile adventure run touring the best of Linville Gorge.
Difficult
Private
Foothills Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Foothills Trail

115.0 km
3,866 m
4,050 m
A lesser-known thru hike through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Difficult
Private
Georgia Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Georgia Loop

Dahlonega
87.7 km
4,358 m
4,358 m
A 57-mile trail running circuit touring the finest peaks in North Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Difficult
Private
Conasauga River Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Conasauga River Trail

19.3 km
890 m
459 m
An epic point-to-point trail run through the heart of the Cohutta Mountains.
Difficult
Private
Catawba Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Catawba Loop

Roanoke
53.9 km
2,693 m
2,693 m
A wild ~35-mile circuit touring three of the Appalachian Trail's most coveted overlooks.
Difficult
Private
Three Ridges Wilderness Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Three Ridges Wilderness Loop

22.0 km
1,313 m
1,313 m
A gut-wrenching—yet rewarding—loop through the Three Ridges Wilderness.
Severe
Private
Massanutten Mountain Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Massanutten Mountain Trail

113.9 km
3,552 m
3,552 m
71 miles of rugged singletrack atop some of Virginia's rugged ridgelines.
Difficult
Private
S.C.A.R. (Smokies Challenge Adventure Run)
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

S.C.A.R. (Smokies Challenge Adventure Run)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
114.7 km
5,152 m
5,070 m
An stunning section of the Appalachian Trail idolized by trail and ultra runners.
Difficult
Private