Friday, January 21, 2011

Trail Review: Loblolly Trail at William B. Umstead State Park

Loblolly Trail

Trail Location:Umstead Park Map
William B. Umstead State Park | Raleigh, NC

Trail Distance:
5.64 miles (out & back)

Trail Difficulty:

Elevation profile & map >>
See the Umstead park map >>

The Loblolly Trail at Umstead State Park is unique for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it extends into Schenck Memorial Forest, which is managed by NC State University and leads the runner over grassy trails to the RBC Center parking lot, if one were so inclined.

Another aspect of the Loblolly Trail differentiating it from the other Umstead trails is that it is an out-and-back course. As you may know, most of the other trails in Umstead follow a loop or lollipop-style path. So, running along Loblolly straight out and straight back is quite a different experience.

In fact, the out-and-back design of Loblolly is probably what's kept me from running it habitually for so long. Perhaps it's just me, but, the fluidity of a loop or lollipop course is more appealing than the concept of running the same path twice in a run.

Well, consider me a fool for letting that tiny difference keep me from taking on the Loblolly Trail before yesterday. portion of the Loblolly Trail at UmsteadI really enjoyed my run on Loblolly, because the trail is such fun. And, what's more, the fact that I got to run the fun parts twice from two different directions made the experience even better.

From the Reedy Creek parking lot, Loblolly starts out rather flat and progresses into a small, steady decline, making your running relatively effortless. There's some technicality to the terrain here, but nothing to worry about.

A rather sharp down-hill scramble brings you to one of the low, flat areas along the creek. And, you're still cruising along easily at this point. There's a bridge, followed by another, and finally a brief uphill climb. The trail evens out again with a couple more small hills thrown in.

But, around mile 1.4 you start to notice that the climb is significantly steeper. This is really fun, because you'll be running along the hill side for a while with switch backs and nice views of the creek below.
Loblolly Trail at Umstead
Eventually, around mile 2.1, you'll see a pond through the trees. And, that will be nice, because there's probably a heron standing by the water watching for fish. You'll keep going though, up hills, down a hill, up another hill, down a hill until you see a sign indicating that the state trail ends here.

Not really the end of Loblolly TrailBut, the trail keeps going. so, why would you want to stop? You'll cross into Schenck Forest and continue running. There are just a few hundred more meters to go until you reach the gate. This gate marks the turn around point for this review. But, you're welcome to cross over and follow the trail to the RBC Center. (It's my understanding that this portion of the trail is much less technical, though.)

the gateTurning around and following the same path back to your starting point, you get to experience all those fun downhills from the other direction. This made my first run on Loblolly surprisingly more challenging than I'd expected. And, that steady decline you flew over at the beginning of the run? It's an incline now, and you'll curse it until you reach the flatter ground.

The park map indicates that Loblolly measures 2.7 miles from the trail head to the park border, making the out-and back run on Loblolly alone a total of 5.4 miles. The Garmin data uploaded to and modified by me to follow the run I describe in this review shows that the trail measures 5.63 miles from the Reedy Creek entrance parking lot. So, the Loblolly trail run is a little shorter than Company Mill.
rocky descent on the Loblolly Trail

Getting There

Like your journey to the Company Mill Trail, you'll want to enter the park at the Reedy Creek entrance via Harrison Ave. and I-40. Head to the northeast corner of the parking lot to get to the Loblolly trail head. Blue squares nailed to trees lead you along.

Alternatively, you could park at the RBC Center and follow the trail through Schenck Forest into Umstead from the park border. I've not traveled this one. So, try searching elsewhere for info on this approach.

My Favorite Features of the Loblolly Trail:

  • At least 2 challenging hill climbs and descents
  • multiple switchbacks along hill sides
  • Contrast between flat, easy terrain and challenging, technical footing.
  • Convenient location relative to North West Raleigh and Cary

Features I Dislike:

  • two bridges with stairs


As is the case with most of the trails in Umstead, Loblolly is a winner in my book. The fun, easy elevation at the beginning serves as a nice warm up for the more strenuous workout in the middle. Those switchbacks along the hills are a ton of fun. And, the fact Loblolly is an out-and-back course doesn't detract from the enjoyment at all.

Actually, the Loblolly trail would make for a fantastic 10K race course if a few more tenths of a mile could be added from the Schenck forest end. The starting point should be from the trail head in Umstead, though, so that the easy, wide path at the beginning would help establish positioning for runners. And, then, that incline as they finish the race would be a fantastic challenge in the course. Just a thought.

The Loblolly Trail elevation profile.
Check out an interactive map, too >>

check out the Loblolly Trail elevation profile


  1. Great review! Very well done. Though I was hoping you would cover the whole thing, because I always lose the trail in Schenck forest at about mile 4 and have to turn around.

  2. Thanks AC! Now I'm intrigued. I'll have to make a point of venturing past the gate in the near future.

  3. It's nice to find a local blog, I enjoyed your write ups of the local races!

    Anyway, there are several options for doing loblolly without a pure out-and-back. When you get to the gate, you follow the trail around to the left and up along a fence, then around the lake going behind some houses. It is actually well marked and traveled. You come out on the bike-path along trenton across from schenck which you can then follow back into umstead and go from there. You could also follow trenton further up to the bridge over 40 and return to the harrison parking lot via the "secret" hubcap trail that goes along 40.

  4. Garth, that's a great tip about altering the out-and-back nature of Loblolly. I think I can picture the route you're describing. I'll definitely have to try that next time I have a chance to run at Umstead.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. Thanks for the great trail information. I've been running Sycamore, Company Mill and Sal's branch. I tried Loblolly for the first time today after reading your review. I never thought it would appeal to me from looking at the trail maps, but it might be my new favorite at Umstead. Looking forward to more trail reviews from you!

  6. Andrew, I totally agree that Loblolly isn't as impressive when we look at it on a map. Those hills are fun, though, aren't they? It actually takes me longer to run Loblolly than Company Mill sometimes. Thanks for reading!

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