This 19-20 mile loop drops from 3,200 feet to 2,500 feet before climbing up to Mount Pisgah around 5,500 feet. There are also multiple stream crossings in this hidden corner of Pisgah. The climb up Big Creek is particularly grueling.
Time To Complete
Average long distance trail runners will take about five hours to complete this tough loop, although elite runners may run it much faster.
This loop can be run any time of year. Bare trees in winter offer the best views, but beware of the many stream crossings on the Big Creek Trail.
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.