Exercise Loop Trail Hike Route Map

Exercise Loop Trail

The Exercise Loop fills a nice little niche in the trail system of Pisgah National Forest. The difficulties inherent in hiking the mountains…rugged slopes, steep grades, and sometimes hard to reach trailheads are all aspects that can discourage a certain portion of the visiting public from enjoying a walk here. The Exercise Loop Trail suffers from none of these challenges and, thus, is a perfect footpath for those for whom accessibility is a concern. First, it’s all but completely flat…perhaps the only example of such a trail in the District. In addition to this it’s also extremely well-graded with few, if any, roots or rocks of any size to trip one up. Though the scenery isn’t the most spectacular to be found in the District the route is a pleasantly wooded one with a full half of it running right alongside the wide Davidson River. If you have young ones or just don’t get around as well as you used to the Exercise Loop is a great way to still be able to get out and log some walking mileage in Pisgah. There are two (well, technically three) main access points for the trail. The first, and the one I’ll be using in this album, is form the Pisgah Ranger Station and Visitor Center which is located about 1.5-miles north of the National Forest entrance on US-276. The second point is the Art Loeb Trailhead which is located at the entrance to the Davidson River Campground. The third option is form the Davidson River Campground itself, though this option is only available to those who have paid the entrance fee to get in or are campers there. There’s no advantage really to where you start because, as stated earlier, the trail is almost perfectly flat so it can be walked from any point in any direction with no difference in difficulty. The Exercise Loop runs right along the edge of the visitor center parking lot, where I’ll begin this tour, and take you along the trail in a clockwise direction.

Departing the parking lot east you’ll pass the eastern junction of the Exercise Loop and the Andy Cove Trail, another nice short and easy hike you can access directly form the visitor center. Leaving the parking lot the trail enters the woods and rolls along the hillside through the thick forest making a number of random turns that, thankfully, are well marked with trail signs. About a quarter-mile in you’ll come to the eastern of two crossings the trail makes of US-276. This is busy highway, particularly in the summer, so take extra care heading across. Once on the south side of the highway the trail continues east through the thick forest. At the half-mile mark the trail reaches the entrance road to the Davidson River Campground directly across from the Art Loeb Trailhead, mentioned earlier as an alternate starting point. Here the trail turns right to follow the road across the bridge over the Davidson River before making another right, westward now, back into the forest. The next ¾-mile of walking is probably the prettiest of the loop as the trail stays right up alongside the river with numerous scramble paths along the way providing access to the water. You’ll probably be able to enjoy the aroma of nearby campfires as well as the Davidson River Campground is immediately through the trees to the left. This is the busiest portion of the loop but that means the footpath is wide and pretty even. After the pleasant section along the river the trail turns along the edge of the campground activity field and then, a couple minutes later, arrives at the historic English Chapel. Still in use to this day, the present stone structure was built in 1940 replacing an earlier structure which dated back to 1860. The trail now crosses the chapel access bridge over the Davidson after which it immediately arrives at US-276 once again. After carefully crossing the highway again the trail enters a much more lush and healthy-looking woodland than what has been seen up to this point. After crossing a short wooden bridge over the stream draining from Andy Cove the Exercise Loop meets the Andy Cove Nature Trail once again (their west junction) before, a few hundred yards later, arriving back at the visitor center parking lot. Loop complete.

Overall, this is a pleasant and easy loop hike suitable for just about anyone. Though hardcore hikers might not have much use for it, I still feel like the Exercise Loop is an extremely important recreational resource for Pisgah National Forest. In my opinion everyone should have the opportunity to spend some time in the forest…young or old, fit or weary. The Exercise Loop Trail offers just such an opportunity, which makes it a good one in my book. That said come on along with me now, if you wish, for a relaxing stroll through the woods and along the waters of Pisgah National Forest. I present the Exercise Loop Trail…as always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:  35.285161, -82.726875


Route Type:  Loop                      Difficulty:  EASY  (Petzoldt Rating:  1.60 )

Hike Length:  1.5 miles                Hike Duration:  0:30

Trailhead Temp:  75'F                 Trail Traffic:  5-10 people

Min. Elevation:  2,700'                  Max. Elevation:  3,114'

Total Vertical Gain:  50'               Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  33'


Trails Used (blaze color):  Exercise Loop Trail (blue)


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