A Beginner's Guide to Trail Running in Asheville

Carvers Gap.
Carvers Gap. anoldent
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Whether you’re new to running or you’re planning to run off-road for the first time, Asheville’s passionate trail-running community will help you get started with group runs, beginner-friendly races, and miles of beginner trails to explore.

As you benefit from Asheville’s top-notch running community, you’ll also enjoy a wonderful environment for year-round running. In spring and summer, deep-green foliage surrounds the trails, while fall brings crisp reds and golds that give way to panoramic vistas in winter. As you explore Asheville’s beautiful mountainous terrain, you’ll discover an inspiring landscape of high peaks, creeks, and waterfalls.

As an aspiring trail runner, you couldn’t have chosen a better place to start. But, before you lace up your shoes, checking out our guide to the Asheville trail-running scene.

Advice from the Experts

It's important to have the right gear when running paved or dirt trails.
It's important to have the right gear when running paved or dirt trails. Phil Roeder

To get started, tap into the knowledge and experience of Asheville’s welcoming trail-running community at one of the city’s many running stores. It’s important to get properly fitted for running shoes and socks, but there’s no need to go high-end at first. You’ll want a specialist at local shops like Foot Rx, Jus Running, Fleet Feet Asheville, and Vertical Runner to fit you with footwear for stability on uneven and often slick trail surfaces.

While you’re there, you might want to pick up a copy of _Asheville Trail Running: Taking Bent Creek and the Mountains to Sea In Strid_e. In the book, you’ll find pull-out cards that you can slip into a waist pack to keep you oriented on the trail.

When you’re shopping for running gear, keep in mind that you don’t need much if you’re going to be on the trail less than an hour. In this case, you can rehydrate and refuel when you return to the trailhead. For longer runs, grab a waist pack or backpack system to stash keys, a cell phone, gels, and food bars. Just be sure to buy something that’s designed to fit snug and help you maintain your balance on trails.

Experienced local trail runners strongly recommend that you find a group or running buddy for safety. Check out Foot Rx on Facebook to find running partners and impromptu group runs. "Don’t count on cell service," says Fleet Feet Operating Partner Mike Jones. “Also, there are things on the trail that will surprise you, like roots, rocks, and wildlife. We don’t recommend wearing headphones, so you can be more aware of your surroundings.”

Beginner Trails

Trails in DuPont State Recreational Forest visit creeks, waterfalls, and wading pools.
Trails in DuPont State Recreational Forest visit creeks, waterfalls, and wading pools. Mark Frye

Close to downtown Asheville, the Warren Wilson College River Trail River takes you 5 miles out and back along the Swannanoa River. The flat, non-technical surface is ideal for beginners who are just getting used to running on natural-surface trails.

The 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum is good for beginners, with multiple trailheads to vary your route. The 1.3-mile, gravel-surface Bent Creek Road is wide to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, while the 1.3-mile Bent Creek Trail has a natural surface and runs closer to Bent Creek.

Covering more than 10,000 acres, the DuPont State Recreational Forest is laced with creeks, waterfalls, and mixed-use hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. This vast, attractive landscape will entice you to increase your distance and reward you with scenic cascades and wading pools. Even if you’re a newcomer to this forest, you can navigate it easily, as the well-maintained trails are clearly marked, and detailed maps are available online and at the visitor center. When you visit, you can park at the Hooker Falls Access to run a 3-mile loop that visits three waterfalls. If you park at the Fawn Lake Access, you can run 2.85 miles to Bridal Veil Falls or 3.27 miles to Lake Julia.

Asheville runners can explore well-maintained sections of the Appalachian Trail.
Asheville runners can explore well-maintained sections of the Appalachian Trail. kirybabe

For a run along the Appalachian Trail to 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge, head north from downtown Asheville to Carvers Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee line. The trailhead is an easy access point to the Roan Highlands section of the AT, crossing a series of grassy ridgeline balds and dipping into spruce-fir forest on a moderately-technical, well-marked trail. An out-and-back run lets you match your distance to your experience level.

Post-Run Refreshments

Once you’re off the trail, replenish some calories with a visit to a craft brewery. After a trail run at the Arboretum or Warren Wilson College, head to French Broador Catawba Brewing in Biltmore Village. If you’re headed home from DuPont, stop by Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada. And, if you’re traveling back to Asheville from Carvers Gap, the Blind Squirrel Brewery is right on your way.

One of Asheville’s best kept secrets is actually part of the town’s most popular attraction. With a day or annual pass to the Biltmore Estate, you can take a tour and run 22 miles of moderately-sloping and well-maintained trails that pass through the gardens, woodlands, and travel along the banks of the French Broad River. At the end of your day on the trails, enjoy dinner and wine tasting at Antler Hill Village & Winery.

Group Runs & Local Trail Races

Asheville-area trails include moderate, non-technical climbs on singletrack.
Asheville-area trails include moderate, non-technical climbs on singletrack. Brian Greer

A great way to get plugged into the local trail-running community is through the North Carolina Mountain Trail Runners Monday evening no-drop run at Bent Creek. Sign-ins at the start ensure no one’s left behind, and there are four pace groups to ensure that runners of all ability levels can participate. At Bent Creek, the trail surface varies from gravel road to singletrack, with moderate, non-technical climbs and descents, while the distance of each run changes from week to week and depends on who participates.

When you’re ready to progress beyond the Monday evening run, your next step is to join a Wednesday evening trail workout with FootRx. On Mondays, the runs are more structured and designed to push your speed and endurance. In Asheville, Fleet Feet also offers trail running programs seasonally, typically with the goal of participating in a local race.

If you like to train with a goal in mind, a number of short-distance, family-friendly races will keep you motivated. At the gated Southcliff community in Fairview, you can run trails in the Black & Blue Classic, while the Biltmore Estate trails in the Asheville offer a 10K Off Road Run. If you like stream crossings, check out the half-mile quarry run at the Rock the Quarry Trail Challenge 5K & Kids Fun Run in Swannanoa Valley. For a great evening run, strap on a headlamp and join the Trick or Trail 5K & Spooky Sprint at DuPont Forest.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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