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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Emerald Outback Trails

Monday afternoon I set out for a nice recovery run on the trail strewn about Beech Mountain, NC. Beech has the distinction of being the highest town on the East coast with an official elevation of 5500'. This is the elevation where I would park my car, tie my shoes and set out across Oz Rd. for an hour plus of taking in The Emerald Outback.

Typical Trail scenery
What is all of the Wizard of Oz references? Atop Beech Mountain you will actually find a Yellow Brick Road and each summer a "re-enactment" of Dorothy and the Gang. So, many of the roads and trails are named for this notable "achievement".

Running The Emerald Outback
So- on I was running, along the course of last summer's XTerra NC Beech Mtn. run. The course is still marked actually, which was very helpful in making decisions among the many options in the area. The Emerald Outback is a newborn mountain bike trail system which lends itself to a good deal of "creative riding" through the grassy undergrowth at about 6,000ft. elevation. Which can be confusing with unofficial social trails here and there... (follow blue arrows).

Elk River Overlook
I made sure to stop in at the scenic overlooks along the way and snap some photos on another beautiful spring afternoon in the High Country. From the trail you can spot the major landmarks of our area including Roan Mountain, Grandfather Mountain and the Elk River far below. You can also take in the amazing volume of development "nestled" into these hills. Fortunately, for the most part, the ridge lines have been left alone with a few exceptions in the area.

Encounters on the Trail
Beech Mountain, NC
During my run I spotted grouse in the grass who gave me a startle as I ran up on them- I guess we surprised each other- as their flight almost had me taking to the air as well! There are a plethora of creek crossing so plenty of opportunity to get muddy and wet- which I love. I think that is my favorite aspect of trail running. You are moving along twisting and turning climbing and falling and splashing through spring run off and recent rain drainage- it doesn't get better!!

As I neared the end of the 10k course I saw I had some time to go to meet my goals for the recovery run and so I doubled up on some of the course before making the long climb to the top of Beech Mountain and the chair lifts. From there, it is a nice mile plus zigging and zagging through the trees as you descend the mountain and rejoin Oz Road to head back to the trail head.

If you find yourself in the Watauga or Avery County area do yourself a favor and head up to Beech Mountain for a unique trail running experience. Nowhere around here are the trails quite like this. There are some climbs, of course, but mostly you will find rolling terrain and beautiful views- time out here loses meaning and you are left with simple enjoyment. I know I had to pry myself off the mountain...

Happy Running!


  1. Thanks so much for the support! I helped build around 50% of the trails, and its a great sight to see more and more people using them.(Especially runners, like me!) If you ever get a chance, you should check out one of the town trail work days.

  2. looks and sounds scenic and fresh...must have been a great springtime run :)

  3. Nice write up. I am about to do my second race since I quite doing triathlons over 20 years ago and I am VERY slow (now 54 years old and 30 lbs heavier). But, as you noted - this is a state of mind sport and eventually I'll shave time off my current 12 min/mile pace.

    I am hoping this isn't too hilly. I run Crowders Mountain, NC about 3-4 times a week (18-24 miles/week) since March and it crushes me on the hills.

    Should be nice up at Beech this weekend for the Xterra run and a break from the Charlotte heat.


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