Black Mountain rests at 2,405 feet in the foothills of its namesake Black Mountains, and in the shadow of 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Boasting 3,000-foot climbs from town and rugged, steep and scenic trails, Black Mountain serves up brutally challenging runs.
But the constant uphill and downhill isn’t monotonous. Just ask local trail runner Shaun Pope: “Up in the higher-elevation areas, close to Mount Mitchell, you might feel like you’re in the Canadian Rockies, yet you’re only a quick downhill trot from the town of Black Mountain. The moss, trees and even the bird species are very different atop the 6,600-foot mountain compared to that around the 2,405-foot town.”
Race director Sean Blanton has helped the running community blossom with the addition of the Quest for the Crest 10K/50K a few years ago (see below).
“These trails are brutally steep and gnarly technical,” says Blanton. “If you were blindfolded and got dropped off at Mount Mitchell, you would think you were in British Columbia.”
Old Trestle Road / This is an old logging-railroad route and one of the few easy trails in the area. Local Shaun Pope extols its scenery and easy accessibility: “With beautiful overlooks and tunnels of rhododendron along the way, this is a great trail connecting with the [Old Mitchell] Toll Road for a wonderful seven-mile loop.” Pick up Old Trestle Road in the nearby village of Montreat.
Graybeard Trail / Situated three miles from downtown Black Mountain in Montreat, this out-and-back takes you to the top of Graybeard Mountain and climbs around 2,800 feet over 4.8 miles.
West Ridge Trail / Want a real challenge? Try this three-mile beast, also in Montreat, which summits six of the Seven Sisters, a line of seven peaks towering over 3,600 feet above Black Mountain, and finishes on the top of Graybeard Mountain, considered the “Grandfather” to the Seven Sisters. But you have to get up to it first. Access the West Ridge Trail from the short-but-steep Stomping Knob or Big Piney Ridge trails or the longer Graybeard Trail. Better yet, make a loop using the Graybeard and Big Piney Ridge trails, which rings in at a bit over nine miles plus a little road connection. Be prepared for a tough couple of hours.
Mount Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon / Taking place every February since 1998, the longer race covers 40 miles—when not shortened due to extreme weather—via trails from the city of Black Mountain to the “rooftop of western North Carolina” and back. The simultaneous marathon offers equally stunning views, topping out at 5,340 feet.
Quest for the Crest 10K/50K / If you want difficult and beautiful, this event is for you. Starting in nearby Burnsville, these courses traverse technical singletrack trail through the Black Mountains. The 50K boasts a ridiculous 11,300 feet of climb and tops out on Mount Mitchell. If the climbing doesn’t take your breath away, the views most certainly will.
Get There / Black Mountain is situated just north of east-west Interstate 40, 23 miles from Asheville Regional Airport and 110 miles from the larger Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Charlotte is also accessible by Amtrak, but you’ll need a set of wheels for trailhead access.
Play Tourist / Take a 30-mile drive to visit the most-frequented national park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While recovering from big mountain efforts, book advance tickets to explore the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, a French-style chateau, in Asheville, or quench your thirst at one of the many regional microbreweries.
Take Note / In Black Mountain and the surrounding area, brilliant fall colors reach their peak during the first two weeks of October.
This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue.