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A Run in the Woods: Great trails for running near Mountain City

The Virginia Creeper Trail at Taylor’s Valley Virginia is located just across the Tennessee state line. The bicycling, hiking, horse riding and running trail is part of a 34-mile rail trail that runs from Abingdon to Whitetop Station Virginia. Photo by Dan Cullinane

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

Pounding along Cold Springs or up the 4-lane alongside Ralph Stout Park, Mountain City runners are hitting the pavement, but what about some other, more scenic options? Maybe it’s the weather or the upcoming Mountain City Mammoth 5K on September 4, but whatever the reason, Johnson County athletes are sweating out the miles. This focus on fitness is great to see, but we’ve got some much better places to run than alongside a road or highway.

Two easily accessible trails spring immediately to mind, and both are ideal lengths for 5k training. You’re thinking, “I’ll need special shoes,” or “I’ll turn an ankle.” Not so. Wide groomed surfaces make both of these trails as safe as a track and a heck of a lot more fun to run on than Shady Street. The Laurel Creek Trail, located ten miles north on Highway 91, is a 3.8-mile rolling trek on a beautifully groomed trail. Running alongside Laurel Creek, shaded by old-growth trees and rhododendrons, moderate inclines provide a solid workout without being too daunting.

Begin in the parking area, and run the south end first. Starting by the restrooms, the trail is a steady one-half-mile incline to the barricade, which marks the trail’s end and provides a solid warm-up for your muscles. Returning to the parking area, continue over the bridge and follow the rolling trail alongside the creek to the next barricade. Hidden gnomes and fairy houses scattered along the trail provide a fun diversion as you are running, and the bridge by the parking area is a great post-run stretching location.

Just over the state line in Virginia is the scenic hamlet of Taylor’s Valley and is an ideal entry point onto a scenic stretch of the Virginia Creeper Trail. For the uninitiated, the Creeper Trail is one of our area’s premier outdoor adventure locales. Those in the know are aware of the spectacular 34-mile narrow-gauge railroad bed, which has been remade into an internationally famous bicycle, hiking, and running trail.

Park in the lot just across the bridge in Taylor Valley, and run south on the trail, along the Whitetop Laurel Creek, crossing multiple trestle bridges, until you reach the Straight Branch Parking Area, 2.3 miles south. From there, return back up the trail, as the canopy of oak and tulip poplar shade you from the sun on the mild uphill grade you will now be running. Once you have returned to Taylor’s Valley, if you want to add a bit more to your 4-mile run, which will give you increased endurance while running a 5k, continue up the Creeper Trail through a delightful meadow until you reach Hellbender’s Café alongside the trail, you’ve put in a good run, so treat yourself if you feel the urge, before returning back to your car.

More hours of daylight make either of these trail runs a spectacular day’s end work out. See you on the trail.