Tucked in between Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway is a highlight of the High Country trail running scene… the Tanawha Trail.
Now in its 19th year of existence the 13.5 mile Tanawha Trail offers the trail runner a wide variety of running moods. Beginning at Beacon Heights (BRP Milepost 305.0) on the Blue Ridge Parkway the trail shares its space with the Mountains to Sea Trail and is blazed with a white feather. The trail is technical with very large stones comprising the majority of the early miles.
The runner encounters cool, moist shade of gigantic boulders with wooden stair cases built in to ease movement and make it possible to move in some impossible areas. Water is available at the Linn Cove Visitor Center just before the trail crosses under the viaduct and continues its twisting, boulder field route.
The first miles of the trail are a net ascent. Though soon enough the trail gives its largest climb up to Rough Ridge. Here are the most impressive views of the day above the Wilson’s Creek area. This area is usually pretty crowded and is very narrow. So, slow down, pay attention and just enjoy the slow, deliberate movement. For an early exit, this is a great pick up spot for those with a roving shuttle.
Once you pass the Rough Ridge trail head the terrain becomes more runner friendly as it straightens out with the surface more dirt/ mud than slick boulder. This trend will continue until you reach Price Lake Park at 13.5 miles where you should have shuttled a vehicle earlier in the day. You are still half your run from there though! So, don’t get too excited yet… another couple of hours yet to go!
As the miles build from single steps you are brought through thick rhodendron tunnels, mossy rock gardens, countless creek crossings (filter your water) and stretches of silent hardwood lined trail. You will swear you are hours from civilization however your feet are only hundreds of yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway at any given time allowing the comfort of early dismissal should the day go sour or time run short.
But, on down the Tanawha Trail. After climbing on the whole through rolling terrain for the most the day to reach the Boone Fork area, the trail now begins its net descent while still having a rolling feel. The Tanawha really opens up now. The surface is mostly clear and you can pick up the pace or just tune out the mind for the last hour or so of the trail before heading back to the real world.
Along this final stretch you will encounter open cattle fields, brambly blackberry patches, old apple trees and babbling cold creeks. Don’t be afraid to munch up the seasonal offerings of the Tanawha Trail. A handful of black berries go perfectly with an fresh apple in the other as the trail miles move under your feet and the cool mountain breezes rush over your ears.
In the final mile of the Tanawha Trail you reach Price Lake Campground. Another 10 minutes or so and you will end your jaunt at Price Lake Park. Waiting there for you is a shallow, clear, cold creek to sit and soak away the wonderful grime of the trail.
The Price Lake Park family picnic area has numerous grill pits, full bathroom facilities and plenty of space for your family to play as they await your arrival… and they may even be persuaded to have a burger and a beer waiting there for you! Just don’t push your luck…
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