fast hikes

10 Trails Made for Speed

For the most part, I believe trails should be treated like a nice wine: savored and not rushed. But every once in a while you find one that begs to be consumed with abandon. 

Two years ago we published five trails that we found to be especially speed-friendly, in large part because of their generally rockless and rootless treat. Today, we double the list, adding five more that we feel fit the bill.

Here are five trails/trail networks where speeding is understandable and should be tolerated.

Fast hikes
The new trail network at Brumley Forest makes for some especially speedy hiking.

1. Brumley Forest

Hillsborough, NC

7.5 miles

Multiple trails

There are about 15 miles of trail at Brumley Forest, half of which are open to mountain biking and have the best runner mojo. Wood Duck Way is a nice warm-up, connecting to the lengthy — 4.2 miles (more if you aren’t paying attention) — Springhouse Loop. You’ll find a few, brief rocky spots, engineered for the enjoyment of mountain bikers, but they break up the run with some focused tip-toeing. Throw in the whoop-de-doing Buckeye Loop and you’ve got 7.5 miles of fast, foot-friendly fun.

More info here.

fast hikes
Zipping along on the Mountain Trail at Pilot Mountain

2. Pilot Mountain State Park

Pinnacle, NC

Mountain Trail/Grindstone Loop

6 miles

Two reasons to run this loop. First, it eschews the crowds that frequent the top of Pilot Mountain, where you can wait 30 minutes for a parking spot, and once you’re on the trail, you’re constantly dodging hikers. (You can begin this loop from the lonely Surry Line Road Access.) Second, it has it’s challenging moments (read: climbs) but none are severe and none last long. Plus, you’ll be spending your time in a nicely shaded hardwood forest, especially important on a summer run.

More info here.

fast hikes
The trail at Hagan Stone doubles as a high school and collegiate cross-country course.

3. Hagen Stone Park

Pleasant Garden (Triad area)

3.5 miles

Chatfield Trail

To indicate how threat-free most of this trail is, it’s one of the most popular cross-country courses in the region. It’s noted for its passing lanes, its push-me-but-don’t-break-me climbs, and its overall flow. As for the half mile or so that’s not part of the course, if you start from the gravel lot just inside the front gate and run clockwise, you’ll get it out of the way first, while you’re still fresh.

More info here.

4. National Whitewater Center

Charlotte

30 miles (with smaller runs easily doable)

Multiple trails

This multi-use network is shared by runners and mountain bikers, but the wide trails (in most spots) make it work for both. A traditional rating system for the mountain bikers makes it easy to see whether a trail is easy, intermediate, or holy-cow-how-did-I-wind-up-here? hard. Designed with mountain bikers in mind, the trail has good flow, and the compacted surface minimizes slippage. One caveat: while you don’t have to pay the Whitewater Center admission fee to run, you do have to pay to park: $5 a day, $40 a year.

More info here.

Harris Lake and scenery you don’t often see on the trail.

5. Harris Lake County Park

Holly Springs, NC

5 miles

Peninsula Trail

The true joy of this hike isn’t the smooth running surface, or the absence of elevation. Rather, it’s the ever-changing scenery that makes this 5 miles fly by. You’ll run through a swamp, amid the longleafs of a pine savannah, along the lake, past a disc golf course — you’ll even catch a glimpse of the nuclear reactor over yonder. That smooth trail surface lets you enjoy the views and allows your endorphin-energized brain to emphasize the pure enjoyment of the run.

More info here.

fast hikes
Merchants Millpond: your companion for a portion of the hike.

6. Merchants Millpond State Park

Gatesville, NC

6 miles

Lassiter Trail

The trail takes advantage of most of the 3,250-acre park, starting near the boathouse and spending about a mile or so within view of the millpond. It then explores the northeast section of the park, an area filled with mature forest that doesn’t betray its swamp heritage: overhead you’re likely to see Spanish moss and mistletoe clinging to the branches of ancient trees. Pines and a variety of hardwoods, including stately beech, are prevalent, as are a range of critters that enjoy wet environments. Carpenter frogs, leopard frogs, bull frogs, cricket frogs and species of tree frogs enjoy the wetlands as do various pond turtles and snapping turtles. The cottonmouth is also present, so beware. 

More info here.

7. Northwest River Park 

Chesapeake, VA

7.5 miles

Indian Creek, Molly Mitchell, Otter Point, Shuttle and Deer Island trails

The 8 miles of trail here are relatively flat, their configuration making for short loops of 2 miles or longer dashes to help shake the cobwebs. A favorite: from the main parking area, catch the Molly Mitchell Trail, which meanders through a wetland forest (the wetter portions negotiated with boardwalk and bridges) down to near Smith Creek. At the 2-mile mark you’ll hit the Shuttle Trail; if you’re hiking thirst is slaked, go right for the the mile-long hike back to your car. Otherwise, go left and, in a couple hundred feet, go left again on the Otter Point Trail, which will take you closer to Smith Creek and the wetlands. A mile later you’ll be at a grassy area and pier overlooking the Northwest River. Either return to the parking area on the Deer Island Trail (about a mile and a quarter, bringing your mileage up to 4.25) or loop around on the Indian Creek Trail, which will get your total mileage closer to 6. Good options, all.

More info here

fast hikes
A friendly stretch of the Rivanna Trail

8. Rivanna Trail 

Charlottesville, Va.

3.2 miles, with longer options

The 20-mile long Rivanna Trail is a bit psychotic. Some of its 19 sections are on the wild side (from Azalea Park to Jordan Park, for instance), but many offer the type of fast hiking you sometimes need — after work, perhaps. One such stretch is the 3.2-mile run from Riverview Park to Holmes Avenue near Darden Towe Park. This stretch is dominated by field and park land, and includes good access to the Rivanna River. The pavement (yes, it’s paved, but it has a wild feel) and the distance make this an especially attractive stretch for those seeking aerobic benefits. Speed walkers, runners, strollers, cyclists who don’t like doing battle with traffic all frequent this stretch. 

More info here.

There may be lots of trails at Ivy Creek, but they’re easy to find.

9. Ivy Creek Natural Area

Earlysville, VA

7 miles

Various trails ranging in length from 0.2 to 1.6 miles.

There is to be no jogging on the seven miles of trail at Ivy Creek! Let’s get that straight up front. So while you may need to restrain yourself to some degree, you likely won’t mind: located at the base of the Blue Ridge, Ivy Creek is a mix of upland hardwood forest, stands of pine, meadows, streams, shoreline rambling along Rivanna River Reservoir and a native grass restoration project, all of which will make you slow down and savor.  Note: Frequently, you encounter a junction of trails. Take a map if you like, but otherwise, go with your favorite color (the trails are color-coded).

More info here.

10 Fast Trails
A stretch of speedy trail at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

10. Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 294 near Blowing Rock, NC

1 to 26 miles

We throw this mountain wonder into the mix to let you add some elevation gain to your workout. 

Moses Cone, a 3,600-acre retreat along the Blue Ridge Parkway, has a martahon’s-worth of smooth carriage trail that lets you focus on what’s along the trail, not on the trail itself. The mile-long walk around Bass Lake is especially foot-friendly and can be accessed just outside of Blowing Rock. A particularly accessible adventure from Charlotte and the Triad.

More information here.

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