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. I 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.
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.
But, 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.)
Turning 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 MapMyRun.com 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.
Getting ThereLike 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
SummaryAs 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.