For Knoxville trail runners, House Mountain is the place to go for serious hill training. With nearly 1,000 feet of gain packed into less than a mile of trail, no other climb in the area gives you as much bang for your buck. At 2,100 feet, it’s the highest point in Knoxville County, which means the views at the top are unbeatable.
What Makes It Great
House Mountain is the highest point in Knox County and also has a well-maintained trail loop that is perfect for hiking and running. The mileage is not huge, but a great workout is inevitable because of the amount of vertical gain—around 1,000 feet within a mile. You would have to drive to Wind Rock in Anderson County or Great Smoky Mountains National Park to find other trails like House Mountain to train on.
There are three main trails in the recreation area that connect the two main overlooks on top of the mountain, creating a scenic singletrack loop. There are two routes to the summit ridge, so you can pick your poison between West End Overlook Trail (0.8 miles, steeper) and Mountain Trail (one mile, slightly less steep), and then both connect with the Crest Trail (1.5 miles, rolling terrain). The West End Overlook Trail connects with the west terminus of Crest Trail, but Mountain Trail joins at approximately the midpoint of the Crest Trail, so reaching the East End Overlook requires some backtracking.
The West End Overlook will give you amazing views of the Cumberland Mountains, the Smokies, and downtown Knoxville in the distance, while the East End Overlook offers views of the Clinch Mountains. Most of the trails are through the woods, and the terrain is rugged in places, with exposed roots and rocks. There are even a few boulder scrambles near the top of the West End Overlook Trail. On such steep terrain, it can be tempting to cut switchbacks on the downhill, but this causes erosion and has already been a serious problem at House Mountain. Please stay on the trail.
Near the parking area at the base of the mountains are the relatively flat Sawmill Loops, which can be tacked on as a warmup or cooldown, for approximately 5.5 total miles of trail running.
Note that no water is available at the trailhead or anywhere along the trail, so make sure you carry enough.
Who is Going to Love It
Anyone training for mountain running, or just looking for a next level challenge should take on House Mountain as a run. The uphill is grueling, so there’s no shame in hiking the ascent and running the rest. Flying along the rolling ridge, bouncing among boulders on the Crest Trail, and carving switchbacks on the way down is sure to get you psyched on mountain running, so you and your strongest running buddies will want to keep coming back to conquer the climb. Experienced runners seeking a proper workout might want to run the loop twice in succession.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From downtown Knoxville, take I-40 to Exit 392 US-11W/Rutledge Pike. Continue on Rutledge Pike for about 10 miles, then turn left on Idumea Rd at the sign for House Mountain State Recreation Area. Continue 0.6 miles on this road, then turn left on Hogskin Rd and continue for another 0.8 miles to the trailhead parking lot on your right.