Thursday, February 23, 2012

Richland Creek Trail Review or: The Other Side of Loblolly

Richland Creek Trail

Trail Location:Richland Creek Loblolly Trail
Schenck Memorial Forest | Raleigh, NC

Trail Distance:
4.3 miles (out & back)

Trail Difficulty:

Run Map >>

When I run Loblolly, I typically do so during my lunch hour. So, I lack the extra time to explore beyond the gate just past the Umstead border. I know there's more trail there. I've read about it's extension through Schenck Forest and all the way to the RBC center.

But, there seems to be dearth of info about Schenck Forest's trails on the Web. Click that Schenck Forest link to the left. And, you'll see what I mean. So, I've been hesitant to devote the time to see where else I could go from the edge of Loblolly.

Then, I noticed that the handy-dandy course plotting map on RunningAhead had the Richland Creek Trail mapped as if it were a regular old city greenway. So, I could finally see where it ended and how to get there without having to first run the entire length of Loblolly inside Umstead.

So, the other day, I drove the four minutes from my office to the RBC Center trail head and went for a run.

Running the Trail

Cross the little creek
Yes, you should cross these rocks and the water trickling between them.

If you start from the parking area outside the RBC Center, the southeast end of the trail, your first few steps will be on a paved section of greenway. This paved path will abruptly end in front of a chain link fence. And, as you approach, you might be wondering what the hell is going on.

Don't worry. You'll see that a subtle path through the grass to the left continues the trail. Follow this path along the fence and cross any rocky ditches or bodies of water you happen to find. (This is the general rule of thumb for this trail, by the way: When in doubt, cross it)

Cross the sidewalk
Do not follow the sidewalk or cross the bridge. Keep going into the grass.

You'll come upon another piece of paved greenway and follow it under Edwards Mill Road. As you emerge from the tunnel, you'll want to ignore the fancy little footbridge at the end of the sidewalk. That takes you nowhere you want to go. Cross into the grass again and scramble over another rocky ditch.

This next section of wide, grassy trail is definitely prone to flooding. Large puddles will wait for you if there's been rain within the past 48 hours. Consider your footwear carefully before embarking on this run.

A reassuring trail marker directs you through another tunnel. This one might be a little forboding, though, because it's at the same level as another tunnel right beside it, a tunnel full of water. Just look before you start running through, okay. You'll be fine. There are lots of lights.

Cross the sidewalk
View of the Wade Ave. Tunnel from the northeast side. Careful on that ledge.

Once you complete the scary tunnel run, you'll want to be careful as you traverse the ledge that leads you over to the rest of the trail. There's another little creek to cross here, too. (See the lower left of the photo)

The Richland Creek trail continues as a wide, puddle prone path along the creek with westbound Wade Ave. a few meters away. This portion is flat and easy to navigate. And, you'll feel pretty comfortable if not a little unsure about where you're headed.

Fortunately, the path veers to the right a bit. And, you'll see a tree with white paint on the trunk. And, that's gotta be some sort of trail marker, right? So, you continue your run onto a narrower, more single-track-like section of the trail.

Richland Creek Trail along Wade Ave.
Flatness punctuated with puddles. Richland Creek turning single-track
Richland Creek Trail becomes narrower here.

Richland Creek Trail's single-track portion skirts along the western edge of Schenck Forest, leading you over subtly technical terrain with a mild hill here and there. Most of your footing will be rather steady with relatively few rocks and roots to dodge.

Actually, I found the spots of mud to be the most challenging aspects of this trail, since my rather smooth-soled road shoes were especially prone to slipping in the squishy, wet dirt during this run. I'm not used to slipping.

A Loblolly and Richland Creek Trial intersection
This is how the "Loblolly" intersection will appear to you if you're heading southeast from Reedy Creek Road. Continue to the right if you're intent on following the Richland Creek Trail to the RBC Center.

At one point in the trail, there's a somewhat confusing array of trees and matted leaves on the ground, making the trail a tad tough to discern. So, you might find yourself turning around in circles and wondering which way to proceed. Look for the city greenway trail marker.

Also, a bridged intersection with a sign pointing two directions for "Loblolly" might inspire a degree of doubt in your navigation abilities. Ignore the sign and just concentrate on where the creek is pointing. So, if you're heading northwest, continue northwest, not northeast. Reverse those instructions if your heading southeast.

My Favorite Features of the Richland Creek Trail:Richland Creek Trail Mud

  • That tunnel under Wade Avenue is cool, albeit a bit dangerous at night, I suppose.
  • Water crossings and mud are always nice features of a trail.
  • The proximity of the RBC Center trail head to my office is definitely nice.
  • A good distance for an easy lunchtime run.

Features I Dislike:

  • The lack of trail maps within Schenck forest is disappointing. (Maybe there's one at the main parking lot. But, that doesn't help me here)
  • Hearing the cars on Wade Ave. while trail running isn't very appealing. But, that's the price you pay for urban convenience, I guess.
Richland Creek turning single-track
About as technical as it gets on Richland Creek Trail

Getting There

Easy! Take your favorite route to Edwards Mill Road and turn onto RBC Center Road. Watch for the parking lot on the left just before RBC Center Road intersects with itself. There's a greenway trail head sign on the little hill at the corner of this parking lot. Access to this lot may be challenging when the RBC Center is hosting some sort of event.

Alternatively, you could park (at your own risk) in one of the office building lots near the area I just described. The paved greenway along Edwards Mill Rd. is easy to spot. And, you should be able to find the tunnel under Edwards Mill pretty easily.

If you want to tackle the trail from the northwest end, I can't recommend a parking spot on Reedy Creek Rd. Maybe some of you know about such a spot. But, I don't.

Or, if you have oodles of time, why not tack the Richland Creek Trail onto your next Loblolly run through Umstead? Sure, I couldn't really tell you at this time what's between Umstead's boundary and Reedy Creek Rd. I haven't traveled that part of the trail yet. But, lots of people do, right? And, it's not that much further.

Richland Creek turning single-track
Richland Creek Trail from the Reedy Creek Rd. Trail Head


So, with the exception of a couple of questionable direction markers on the trail, the Richland Creek Trail takes you on a pleasant trek from the RBC Center to Reedy Creek Road (and back if that's your plan). There are few technical trail challenges and only two or three hills to climb. Plus, the view of the creek for much of the journey is rather nice.

The Richland Creek Trail Map and Elevation Profile.

This is the map I created with RunningAhead's map tool, which already had the trail plotted as a greenway. So, it should be fairly accurate. As you can see, there's not a lot of climbing on this trail:
Richland Creek Trail elevation and map

Richland Creek Trail along Wade Ave.
Plenty of creek views

More Triangle-Area Trail Reviews >>


  1. Cool! I've always wondered where that trail went. I need to go exploring next week from the Umstead side. Need to remember to bring my camera.

    1. Oh, yes, go for it, Scott! A certain other blog features a photo tour of Loblolly to Reedy Creek Rd. But, that post was created so long ago, who knows what the trail looks like now. ;-P

    2. Somehow, I missed that other blog post! You and AC should merge the two posts for an end-to-end photo tour.

    3. Someday I'll run the whole thing and bring my camera. It has to be the most convoluted, hard to follow trail in this area.

  2. Loblolly to reedy creek rd is exactly the same as it has always been, except that recently that big cow gate has been open just enough that you can go right through without climbing over or squeezing between the posts like Shannon did.

    1. Good to know. Thanks for the update Garth! Do you happen to know the distance of that portion of trail from the gate to Reedy Creek Road?

  3. On mapmyrun it looks like less than 3/4 mile (.66) to get from the gate, around the "lake", and to the road. The trail is easy to follow, there is just that one odd part AC got a picture of where you have to slip horizontally through a fence.

    1. Oh, well, that's not far at all. Knowing that, I'm tempted to run from my office into Umstead via Loblolly sometime. Hmm...
      Thanks again Garth!

  4. Probably the most useful blog post I have ever read!
    I work about a mile away down the Edwards Mill greenway from the start of the trail. That's a perfect lunch time run right from the office. I can get my trail fix without driving anywhere. Thank you!
    This may become one of my staple running routes.

    I have heard rumors of this trail for a long time, but I never believed it. People said Loblolly went to the RBC center, and I thought it was impossible because of Wade and Edwards Mill.
    It's hard to imagine some bureaucrat saying "lets put a 500' lighted pedestrian tunnel under this freeway for this seldom used trail"

    Thanks for all the directions, I dont think I would have figured out most of those turns. I have a feeling I am still going to get lost out there, but I guess that's part of the fun.

    1. I'm so glad you found this to be useful, Anthony! This part of Loblolly will definitely serve as a lunchtime trail fix for me, too. It's not Umstead, of course. But, it's better than running around the office.

  5. Just before heading out to explore this trail with the family I came across your post. It was perfect. Descriptive and useful. Thanks!

    I haven't been running much lately but plan to put this one on my list once I build my miles back up.

    1. I'm glad this information was useful. I hope the trail wasn't too wet for you!

  6. Finally, I felt good enough to tackle this trail today.
    Thanks again for the directions, I would have given up when I got to the dead end fence, because the grass is getting overgrown. The tunnel is really bizarre. I saw a bat sleeping in there. I was having so much fun I went all the way to the fountain at the start of Loblolly, and my garmin said it was exactly 6 miles. Strangely, it was only 5.5 miles back.

    1. That's awesome, Anthony!
      My colleagues and I just moved to a new office that's far from Umstead and Schenck Forest. (Sad. So sad) So, I won't be getting any lunchtime trail runs at Richland Creek or Umstead anymore. I guess I'll have to live vicariously through others.
      Thanks for sharing the Garmin data!

  7. Thank you for this! I was wondering if and how that trail got under wade avenue.

  8. Thank you so much!!! Moving in that area so this helps a ton!

  9. I was about enter the tunnel from the downstream side one time about ten minutes after a heavy downpour when I glanced up and saw a flash flood coming at me in a foot high wave. A few minutes after that it was a raging torrent. There is a huge amount of impervious surface in the arena area that causes massive runoff, so beware.

  10. By taking the time to read a lot of information like this to add my insight .



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