Laurel River Trail
Laurel River Trail Details
Length: 3.6 miles to the end, but can be hiked to any length
Region: Near Hot Springs, Madison County
Duration of hike: Up to 2 hours
Elevation gain: 220 Feet
Type: Out & Back
Facilities & Parking: Small parking area on the side of the road, no facilities
Features: Wildflowers, Pet Friendly, Kid Friendly
Once a rail bed, now an idyllic hike along a mountain creek
There’s something about the Laurel River Trail that feels hidden and undiscovered, even if you’re sharing this former rail-bed trail with others. Take a picnic, bring your dog and wear your swimsuit if it’s summer. There are many places to sit out on the rocks and soak in the sun. This is a family-friendly hike that even small children can handle. Combine it with a visit to Hot Springs just 10 minutes farther away for a full-day outing.
What To Expect
The parking lot is along the side of the road and fills up on nice days, so consider getting an early start or waiting until later in the afternoon. Take the trail down through the woods, passing an abandoned rail car on the left (it’s private property, so keep away). Big Laurel Creek will be on your right (despite the name ‘river’ in the trail’s title). The trail bears to the right, passing a private home. Once you round the bend, you’ll start to see a few flat rocks in the river that you can wade out to. While the water’s not very deep anywhere along the trail, it’s deep enough for a dunk in several places. The sides of the trail are shady, so you’ll also find some good picnic spots here.
While the trail continues for 3.6 miles, it enters Pisgah National Forest at the 1-mile mark. For families with small children, this can be a good place to turn around. If you continue, you might see the remains of the old logging town of Runion, once serviced by the railroad that came through here. When you get to the end of the trail, you’ll actually encounter an active railway.
Be aware that bears have been spotted along the river and use common sense if you see one.
Hot Springs is a great add-on trip from here: only about 10 minutes away, there are pubs, restaurants, shops and of course the famed hot springs.
From downtown Asheville, take US 19 N/U.S. 23 N/U.S. 70 W/I- 26 toward Weaverville/Woodfin. Continue onto I-26 W/US-19 N/US-23 N/US-70 W for 8 miles. Take exit 19A and merge onto US-25 N/US-70 W toward Marshall. Stay on this road for 21.3 miles until the just before the intersection with Hwy 208. The parking lot is gravel and will be on the left.
Photography by Jason Tarr/ExploreAsheville.com