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“A burly backcountry loop taking you down the rabbit hole and into a primordal landscape.”
— Eric Heistand
No closures, but high summer will be overgrown in sections
While the crowds are doing laps around nearby Moses Cone, you are chasing down thunder in your own wilderness sanctuary--worlds away. Expect a rollicking plunge into the Pisgah forest chock full of boulders, old growth forest, and plenty of flowing water. This is advanced trail running that will require some thunder thighs to power you back up the 2,000ft ascent to the top of the gorge. Your reward is a 7 mile loop that is beautiful, raw, and rarely travelled, despite being just minutes away from downtown Blowing Rock. Expect the China Creek section of the trail to be overgrown and hard to follow in the upper section. Count your lucky stars that the actual Thunderhole trail was recently given some serious lovin' by a trail crew who officially made this old school trail a modern joy.
Features: River/Creek — Views — Waterfall — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Need to Know
The 221 Rest Area is just past the Blue Ridge Parkway turnoff as you are heading out of Blowing Rock. The Thunderhole Trailhead is best found by GPS: 1500 Laurel Ln, Blowing Rock, NC 28605. The two car pulloff and accompanying kiosk are directly across from the equestrian center (and a bit hard to find).
NOTE: The China Creek Trail will be an overgrown jungle of hate in the middle of summer. Bring your machete or wait until Fall/Winter/Early Spring.
Consider bringing water and nutrition, esp. for the climb up. If you're new to the area, gauge your trail running skills on the 5mi Boone Fork Loop. Thunderhole/China Creek is easily several notches harder.
Contrary to the arrows on the map above, this loop might work best DESCENDING China Creek and ASCENDING the newly reburbished Thunderhole trail in a counter clockwise direction. The more wild China Creek Trail is a stiffer climb.
Park at the 221 Rest Area just outside of Blowing Rock. Locate the unmarked trail that heads through the rhododendrun thicket on the far western side of the parking area. The trail contours and gradually drops in elevation. Within 1/2 mile, you'll run straight into the Blowing Rock Boulders. If it's dry, you might encounter climbers here in the tumble of boulders.
IMPORTANT: The China Creek trail is easy to lose here due to the informal climbers trails in the area. In general, you are looking for a faint trail that is heading down and SW. Keep your eyes peeled and it will all likely work out for you.
Continue downhill, passing near a subdivision and an old dumping grounds. Get ready to to leave civilization behind. Down, down, down, you go. You'll cross China Creek multiple times and eventually have it as a beautiful and bubbly companion in the steep ravine alongside your trail. Enjoy the cascades and the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. After several miles of descending, be on the lookout for a trail that will join you from the left. This is Thunderhole and your ticket home. Head up here now and your loop will be approx 5 miles. But since you're finally down in the beautiful valley, you should really keep running down and enjoy the best part!
Soon after the junction between China Creek and Thunderhole, the trail widens and becomes an old roadbed. The downhill grade is moderate and the scenery to die for. Within a mile, you can cross the creek to the left and join up with the gravelled Globe Road (FS 1367). Alternatively, you can stay to the right of the creek and run an additional 2+ miles and join up with the Globe Road at a much lower point.
Retrace your route back to the China Creek/Thunderhole trail intersection. Head up the beautifully regraded Thunderhole Trail. 1.5 miles of uphill chugging will bring you back to civilization. The large homes along the rim are your sure sign that you are about to enter a new world. Assuming your car is parked at the 221 rest area, the most aesthetic route to complete your loop is to take the crushed gravel horse trail that begins just a few yards away from the trail kiosk. Follow this carriage trail away from the equestiran complex. Just before reaching a tunnel, get off the path and onto hwy 221. Less than 1/2 mile of road running will deposit you back at your car.
Flora & Fauna
the relatively rare Heller's Blazing Star, bog turtles, and native trout