Running Route Review: Grimes Mill Loop

Grimes Mill Loop AKA The Toughest 10 Miler in Town

This time of year many of you are training for a spring marathon or half marathon. Some might even be getting ready to do an ultra distance race. Since many of our more popular local long distance races involve a fair amount of elevation gain and loss it’s a good idea to get in some training on this type of terrain before the event. Specificity is never more important than when it comes to training for the course you intend to race on. If you are preparing for the RunTheBluegrass Half, the Flying Pig Marathon/Half or the Horse Capital Marathon/Half you definitely don’t want to spend all of your time running in neighborhoods with little to no climbing and descending.

One of the better loops in the area for packing the most amount of climbing and descending into the least amount of road is the Grimes Mill Loop at Athens. Athens (long “A” sound) is just outside Lexington at the Richmond Rd and I-75 interchange. If traffic is light figure about 20 minutes drive time from downtown Lexington. Parking is available directly across from Athens Schoolhouse Antiques on Athens Walnut Hill Rd. From there you will begin the loop on Athens Boonesboro Rd/Rt 418 heading southeast. You will travel a very short distance on Rt 418 before you do a quick right turn onto S Cleveland Rd. S Cleveland is your typical Central Kentucky rolling country road with a pretty stiff little climb in the middle. This 2 mile section on S Cleveland is a good warm-up for what is to come later. At the end of S Cleveland you will come to the intersection of Old Richmond Rd where you will turn left. There is a wide shoulder on both sides but stay on the left side facing traffic. In a short distance you will make a left turn onto Grimes Mill Rd. You are now entering the heart of Central Kentucky’s hunt country. As you run on a high ridge top you will see the Grimes Mill Winery on your left. (Note: You can basically cut the loop in half by bearing left onto McCalls Mill Rd at the 3 mile mark). The road here is mainly flat but beyond this point you will start a long descent to the crossing of Boone Creek, and by long I mean you will run for approximately 3/4 of a mile downhill, most of the time at 6-10% grade.



At the bottom of this long descent you will be rewarded with some of the most scenic views in Central Kentucky. You will pass by the Iroquois Hunt Club, a fox hunting club founded in 1880. The club owns approximately 85 hounds which are housed on a nearby farm. The old club kennel can be seen on your left just before you cross Boone Creek. Several years ago when the kennel was still in use it was common to round the bend on Grimes Mill and be face to face with a road full of hounds, which were surprisingly well behaved and under control thanks to the trainer who accompanied them. Shortly after passing the kennel you will cross Boone Creek for the first time. The bridge across Boone Creek was built in 1937 and was recently renovated in 2013. Boone Creek runs through a deep gorge in this area before emptying into the Kentucky River and is a popular kayaking stream during high water conditions.

Iroquois Hunt Club – Photo courtesy Full Cry


Enjoy the bridge crossing because this is going to be the last flat section of road you will encounter for quite some time. Immediately after crossing the bridge you get hit with a very steep switchback and you will spend the next 1/2 mile or so at 4-10% grade with little to no relief. Luckily it’s well shaded so you don’t have to deal with the sun beating down on top of you. After a very short break midway up the climb it’s back to work with another 1/4 mile or so of uphill. At this point you are close to the elevation you started at back in Athens. Look for the three stone pillars on your left which will signal the end of the climbing as you approach Athens Boonesboro Rd.

When you arrive at Athens Boonesboro Rd you will turn left. Use caution on this road because at certain times of day it will contain a small amount of traffic. Visibility is good in most places but do use caution. You will run for nearly a mile on Athens Boonesboro with beautiful views on both sides of the road before you start your next long descent back down to Boone Creek. You will cross Boone Creek at the Bluegrass Christian Camp which is also the put-in location for those who kayak Boone Creek. Spend a moment or two enjoying the view because it’s back to work with the climb up the infamous Church Camp Hill. Like Grimes Mill it gets your attention straight away with 7+% grade right out of the gate. There’s no place to hide on this climb especially if the sun is out as you will get no relief and shade. About midway up the climb you will do a gentle left hand bend but it just keeps on going until you hit the crest. You get a short downhill respite before beginning another gradual uphill all the way back to your finishing point at Athens. When you pass by The Church at Athens on your right you know you are getting close to Athens and the finish.

As you roll back into Athens and back to your starting point congratulate yourself on running what might be the toughest 10 mile road loop in the area. For comparison sake the RunTheBluegrass Half Marathon is known as one of the most difficult courses in the area. The elevation gain for RunTheBluegrass is about 750′ over the course of 13.1 miles. I have seen various GPS devices measure it anywhere from 600′ to 900′ so 750′ seems a good middle ground. The elevation gain for the Grimes Mill Loop is about 930′ and it’s nearly 3 miles shorter than RunTheBluegrass. This is approaching the kind of elevation gain you get when trail running in some areas.

All in all this is a great loop to run when preparing for that tough race or when you just want to explore some new roads close to Lexington. With the amount of snow and rain we’ve had this winter it’s also a good loop for you trail runners to utilize until the trails dry out later in the season.

The Good:
– Beautiful country roads are part of the Kentucky Scenic Byways system
– Low traffic on most of the route especially on weekends
– Plenty of parking at start/finish
– Interesting landmarks to see along the way
– Great training if you’re getting ready for a tough race course

– Bailout option on McCalls Mill Rd if you want to cut it short

The Bad:
– It’s hilly, and not the typical short, rolling hills like most of Central KY
– Somewhat remote in spots so plan accordingly
– Use caution on Athens Boonesboro Rd at certain times of the day


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