The River Trail on the bucolic campus of Warren Wilson College is a beautiful way to beat the heat.

An inspiring landscape is one of the best reasons to log some mountain miles. Finding the motivation to run isn’t always easy. To help you get going, we’ve found five of the most refreshing trail runs in the Blue Ridge. Get ready to slosh through streams, run alongside the river, and quench your thirst for adventure.

1. Warren Wilson College River Trail

The peaceful, pastoral campus of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina, is home to one of the most charming trails in Buncombe County. Carved into the banks of the Swannanoa River, the River Trail is a flat, 5 mile out-and-back ramble through idyllic countryside. The gentle current and clear water flowing beside you will prove tempting in these last dry weeks of summer, and there are plenty of pebbly shoals and deeper pools to take a post-run dip.The varied terrain of the River Trail includes working farmland, swathes of pastel meadows, shaded forest and even a small bamboo grove. The path is foot traffic only, and you’re likely to encounter a handful of fellow runners and barefoot college students out for a stroll between classes. Dogs are welcome but must be kept leashed at all times, a policy that is strictly enforced.

Trailhead is located at Charles D. Owen Park, 875 Warren Wilson Road in Swannanoa, NC. 

2. Vineyard Gap and Riverside Trail

For more experienced runners, the Vineyard Gap Trail in Pisgah National Forest climbs 2.3 miles up and over Forge Mountain, then descends into the South Fork of Mills River. Here you will meet up with the Riverside Trail, which will eventually loop back to the parking lot, totaling 7.4 miles of sweet mountain running. As always in Pisgah, roots, rocks and ruts will keep you on your toes, but the remote landscape and cool, quiet forest make for a pleasant and absorbing experience. The trail crosses the river several times, and these invigorating interludes will cool you down and keep you running strong. The water is knee-deep at times, so be mindful of slippery rocks and river levels, and do not attempt to cross at high water.

Access from the Turkeypen Gap Trailhead Parking area on Turkeypen Road (FS 297).

3. Reasonover Creek Trail to Lake Julia

Lake Julia awaits at the end of the Reasoner Creek Trail.
Lake Julia awaits at the end of the Reasoner Creek Trail.
Melina Coogan

This beautiful singletrack trail rises and falls over moderate hills for 3.27 miles, all within the shade of a dense hardwood canopy. Toward the beginning of your run, make your way carefully across a wide creek by hopping across twelve neatly positioned rocks, or wade through the shin-deep water for an initial cool down. You will splash across the creek a few more times before getting your first glimpse of Lake Julia, smooth as glass and glinting through the trees. Although accessible by forest roads, Lake Julia is remote enough that it remains relatively quiet and calm, a novelty for most DuPont swimming spots. You may share the lake with other runners, mountain bikers, and stand up paddlers, but there is generally a corner of solitude to be claimed. When you’re ready to turn for home, head back on the same, scenic trail that you came in on. As always in DuPont, be on the lookout for bikers.

Park at the Fawn Lake Access area on Reasonover Road. On foot, turn right after the gate for 0.1 miles. The trailhead is located at the intersection of Conservation Road.

4. Stone Mountain Falls

The view from Stone Mountain.
The view from Stone Mountain.

Nothing epitomizes the beauty and grandeur of the Blue Ridge Mountains like a waterfall, and nothing could be a more welcome and refreshing site at the culmination of a hot summer’s run. The Stone Mountain Loop trail in Stone Mountain State Park is a super fun, 4.5-mile adventure that will lead you to a 200-foot granite monolith of cascading water on Big Sandy Creek. Explore the pool at the base and exult in the mist before tackling the man-made staircase that climbs the east slope of the Mountain to the top of the falls.

Stone Mountain State Park in Roaring Gap, NC, spans across Wilkes and Alleghany counties. Access the trail at the park’s lower trailhead, 2.5 miles down the road from the visitor center.

5. Bent Creek Trail

Azaleas in bloom alongside the Bent Creek Trail.
Azaleas in bloom alongside the Bent Creek Trail.
Erin Brierley

This is a perfect option for beginners, or anyone looking to sneak in a run before work. Bent Creek trail meanders on even ground for 1.3 miles through the North Carolina Arboretum , alongside the diamond clear waters of its namesake creek. It even passes through a portion of the National Native Azalea Repository, making for a brief but stunning loop that is guaranteed to make your short-list. The trail parallels Bent Creek Road, where you will find several intersecting trail and road options to explore beyond the Arboretum and the adjacent Pisgah National Forest.


Featured image provided by Julia Pethtel


Bad Fork


The Big Creek/Spencer Gap/Shut-In loop is an excellent trail run in the heart of South Pisgah. The tour begins at the rim of the Mills River Valley and drops down into a forgotten corner of the North Mills area. A long steady climb up Big Creek culminates in a heart pounding grade to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Pisgah. The iconic Shut-In Trail leads back to the starting point with a gradual eight mile descent. This run has a little of everything—flowy singletrack, technical creek crossings, and big views from one of the highest peaks in the east.

What Makes It Great

Looking for a way to drop out for a few hours without spending much time behind the wheel? Bent Creek Gap is a short 20 minute drive from downtown Asheville.

Starting at 3500 feet, runners will appreciate a mellow warm up jog on Wash Creek Road. After side-hilling across the ridge for a few easy miles, the bottom drops out on one of Pisgah’s recently rerouted trails, Spencer Gap. Spencer Gap is one of the buffest trails in the area. Designed for mountain biking, it is a hoot to run down too.

After crossing the Never Ending Road, the trail returns to typical Pisgah terrain. Multiple creek crossings will leave even the most meticulous runners with sopping wet feet. The loop bottoms out around 2,500 feet at the confluence of Big Creek and Fletcher Creek. Then the climbing begins, gradually working up the Big Creek drainage. As the trail turns away from the river it cranks up the mountain, climbing to the Parkway at over 5,000 feet in just a couple of miles. The Parkway connects to the famous Shut-In Trail near the summit of Mount Pisgah. Masochists can add a 2.6 mile round trip out and back to the summit of Pisgah. All that remains is an eight mile, mostly downhill cruise back to Bent Creek Gap.

Who is Going to Love It

Runners looking for a classic course close to town will enjoy this loop. Elite runners seeking a challenging time trial can knock this run out in a few hours. Up and comers training for their first ultra-marathon will find it a great way to get a feel for the challenge of a long run. Anyone who wants to get away from it all will find the solitude and beauty of Big Creek rewarding.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From downtown Asheville take I26 east to exit 33. Follow 191 south to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Follow the Parkway south to mile marker 400. Pull off on Wash Creek Road and park. This is Bent Creek Gap. Run down Wash Creek Road to Spencer Gap. Take Spencer Gap to Big Creek Trail. Run Big Creek up to the Parkway. Turn left on the Parkway to connect to the Mountains to Sea/Shut-In Trail. Turn right on the MST to get back to Bent Creek Gap.


Featured image provided by Adam Herzog