Hiking Trail Review
Exercise Trail
in the
Pisgah Ranger District
Pisgah National Forest

A short and sweet trail with a number of interesting features, both natural and historic.

The trail meanders beneath the trees

photo by A. Scott Lavender


From Pisgah Forest, N.C.:  Take U.S. Highway 276 to the entrance to the Pisgah National Forest near the intersection of Highways 280, 276, and 64.  Drive 1.3 miles to the nearest entrance to the Pisgah Ranger Station.  Turn right into the parking area.  The point from where I began measuring is behind the station at the junction with the Andy Cove Nature Trail.

Blaze Markings:  none; it is regularly signed

Length:  approximately 1.4 miles; exactly 7340 feet.  The distance for Exercise Trail differs slightly from the 1.5 miles listed on the Trails Illustrated Pisgah Ranger District trail map published by National Geographic (rev. 2003).  

Difficulty:  easy; this is the official trail designation. 


One of many attractions along the trail

photo by A. Scott Lavender

I hiked this trail in early May with my friend, Scott Lavender.  It was a beautiful sunny day with a great temperature and a refreshing breeze.  This loop trial is very popular due to its easy-going manner, proximity to the entrance of the Forest, and the presence of the destinations/features of the Pisgah Ranger Station, Schenck Job Corps, the English Chapel, the Davidson River, and the Davidson River Campground.  It is for foot traffic only.  Prepare to see and hear lots of people and cars, especially when school is out of session.  As is common with heavily-travelled trails, there is some confusion at points as to what is official trail versus spurs and unofficial trails.  There is no danger of losing your way here, so don’t worry.  The following review will keep you on track.  The review makes the trail seem cluttered with many intersections and populated areas.  This can be so, especially during busy times, but the trail is great with beautiful and varied views.  It is well worth seeing.  If you wish to avoid people, do it early in the mornings or during the off-season; this is a great winter trail as it is close to town, with little slope and good sun exposure in the winter.

This trail has a new layout along the portion between the Davidson River and campground to protect the river bank.  The new trail meanders slightly and is a little more interesting due to this feature.  This easy trail is great for families or anyone wanting a nice stroll in the forest.  The area has a number of large trees, especially tulip poplars growing thick and tall along the trail and in the nearby wood.  Sycamore trees are also a draw here; they are not very common in the general area.  Wild roses and other wildflowers are also common.  When we hiked it, the May apples were out (including one early bloomer), the raspberry bushes were getting orange and woolly along the stem, and the dogwood trees were blooming.

A nice place to contemplate the beauty surrounding the jaunt

photo by A. Scott Lavender

I began measuring distance at the junction with the Andy Cove Nature Trail across the parking lot from the ranger station.  I went left from the perspective of the parking area, i.e. in front of the ranger station and main parking area.


Exercise Trail:

At 455’, there is a fork in the trail.  The Andy Cove Nature Trail goes to your right.  Stay left.

At 727’, an unofficial spur trail goes to the right.  An unofficial trail on the left leads to Highway 276.  Keep going straight.

From 749’-776’, a wooden bridge crosses the first creek of the day.

At 926’, a faint unofficial trail goes to the right; stay straight.

At 1545’, the trail intersects with Highway 276.

From 1651’-1745’, there is a steel and wood bridge across the Davidson River.

At 1745’, two unofficial trails go to the left.  An official access trail to the North Slope Trail is to the right.  Stay straight.

At 1800’, turn left to remain on the trail.  Straight ahead leads to the campground.  Upon turning left, you will be facing the camper-friendly English Chapel, and the trail runs between it and the river.

At 1899’, there is a fork in the gravel road in front of the Chapel; stay left.

At 2006’, there is a kiosk about The English Chapel, an iconic local Methodist church.  Note the name of the chapel in river rock above the entrance—it is hard to see.

At 2093’, the gravel road goes to the right around the church; stay straight on the trail, which parallels the river.

At 2697’, note the pile of large rocks on the left.  I have jumped on and over these a thousand times.

At 2747’, there is a lawn opening with both a split-rail fence and a campground restroom visible across it.  Bear to the left toward the bench and the “Doggy Doo” station.

At 2801’, there is a “Doggy Doo” station with a bench just past it.

At 3409’, a rustic wooden bench is placed with a great river view in the foreground and a partial view of the ranger station in the background.  This is a wonderful place to rest, though the bench is often wet due to age and condition.

At 3424’, a post on the left indicates an unofficial trail to the right to the campground.

At 5013’, an unofficial trail to the campground is on the right.

At 5151’, the trail passes through a split-rail fence.  The road leading to the Job Corps and campground is before you.  A fishing access leads halfway down the bank of the river.   This broad area features a view of the Job Corps across the field.  Turn left to cross the bridge.

From 5188’-5287’, a bridge crosses the Davidson River.

At 5292’, there is an intersection with the paved road to the campground and the gravelled Forest Service Road 298.  Turn left onto the gravel road to remain on the trail.  The trail and Service Road overlap briefly.

At 5322’, a set of steps leads down to the river on the left.  A length of split-rail fence commences.

At 5443’, there is a bridge with nice stonework crossing the creek emptying into the Davidson River.

At 5515’, there is a junction with F.S.R. 298 and the Exercise Trail, with the latter going to the right.

At 6176’, the trail again crosses Highway 276.

At 6572’, there is an unofficial trail to the right.  Bear left.

At 6726’, there is an unofficial trail leading straight ahead to the ranger station parking lot.  Turn right.

At 7340’, the trail ends at the junction with the Andy Cove Nature Trail.  You’re already here—check it out, too. 

Little waves make a big splash

photo by A. Scott Lavender

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Recent Articles

  1. Hiking Trail Review for Andy Cove Nature Trail in the Pisgah Ranger District

    Jun 01, 18 11:01 AM

    A family oriented gem alongside the Pisgah Ranger Station.

    Read More

  2. About Blue Ridge Hiker

    Jun 01, 18 01:12 AM

    The folks behind Blue Ridge Hiker

    Read More

  3. Bridal Veil OvelookTrail DuPont State Forest

    Jun 27, 17 02:20 PM

    Bridal Veil Overlook Trail

    Read More

Want Trail Updates? E-mail Address
First Name

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Blue Ridge Hiker Trail Updates.