Plan a day trip or a runcation around one of these epic adventure runs in the southern Appalachian Mountains.Less
The Art Loeb is one of the best long-distance trail running routes within Pisgah National Forest. It begins at Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp, traverses Shining Rock Ridge, then descends into the valley below. It ends near the popular tourist town of Brevard and takes roughly an hour to drive between the two trailheads.
There are few trail runs in the United States that stack up against the sheer epicness of running from the top of Mount Pisgah to the highest point east of the Rockies: Mount Mitchell. Affectionately referred to as "Pitchell" by locals, this 60+ mile route showcases some of North Carolina's finest singletrack along the Mountains to Sea Trail, tours some of the best views around Asheville, and draws in countless runners each year hoping to claim the current Fastest Known Time (FKT).
If you're a trail runner looking for a challenge, this circuit offers one of the most epic tours of Linville Gorge known to man. Enjoy big views from The Chimneys and Shortoff Mountain, then run alongside the scenic river as it traverses one of Pisgah's three wilderness areas. When it comes to adventure trail runs around Asheville, this ranks amongst other classics, including the Art Loeb and Pitchell.
Lesser known than the iconic Appalachian, Benton MacKaye, or Pinhoti Trails, the Foothills Trail is a hidden gem that deserves credit of its own. The Foothills Trail Conference proudly proclaims that Backpacker Magazine rated it as “one of the best long trails [fifty plus miles] in the country". It's length makes it popular among long distance runners, and an annual trail race covers the entire 77-mile stretch.
The Georgia Loop tours some of Southern Appalachia's finest peaks along the Appalachian, Benton MacKaye, and Duncan Ridge trails for a rugged 57-mile circuit packed with epic views along beautifully-kept singletrack. First-hand accounts, including this one from 2018 compare the route to the Grand Canyon R2R2R, and warn that it's "not something you just wake up and decide to do one morning." Detailed planning and strategizing are crucial.
The Conasauga River Trail slices through the heart of the Cohutta Mountains and offers trail runners an epic run through the wilderness with opportunities for loops, shuttles, or out-and-backs. There are no known FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempts of the trail, but that shouldn't sway you away from enjoying this spectacular section of North Georgia wilderness.
The Catawba Loop, sometimes labeled as the "Catawba Runaround" or "Virginia Triple Crown," is the most epic trail in the area. Just over 50k in length, this circuit tours three highlights on the Appalachian Trail: Dragon's Tooth, Tinker Cliffs, and the most photographed spot on the AT: McAfee Knob. Numerous road crossings alternate with long ridgeline traverses towering over lush farmlands, making this one of the most epic trail running circuits anywhere in the Appalachian Mountains.
Just shy of 13 miles, this is an epic route for a seasoned trail running. Located less than an hour from Charlottesville, this loop quickly sends you up into remote backcountry that is only visited by experienced adventurers looking for a challenge. During the spring months, expect to see a handful of thru-hikers along the Appalachian Trail portion of this segment.
The Massanutten Mountain Trail, sometimes listed as the Massanutten "Ring" or "Loop," is a 71-mile circuit touring many of Virginia's finest ridgelines between Front Royal and Luray. The "trail," which the locals simply nicknamed "The Ring," "is hard, rocky, and slow," and though portions of the loop "have been around for centuries," the circuit was not officially completed until 2002. Today, it's considered one of the most epic undertakings available to a trail runner anywhere in Appalachia.
S.C.A.R., also known by locals as the "Smokies Challenge Adventure Run," is an equally stunning — and epic — 70-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The adventure begins at Fontana Dam, the "tallest dam east of the Rockies," and ends near Interstate 40 at an unsuspecting trailhead along the road.