Sometimes, the conundrum of trail running is choosing a trail that makes the journey to that trail worthwhile. What I mean by this is that some trails in certain parts of the world are relatively short—maybe a mile. And, it's hard to justify, in this modern, fast-paced society of ours, driving twenty-or-so minutes to a mile-long trail.
Well, this 3.1-mile (6.2 out-and-back) stretch of the Falls Lake Mountains to Sea Trail is definitely worth the trip if you're in the area. It's gorgeous.
Participants in the 12-mile version of the MST Challenge will have nothing to do with Section 6. But, the 50K runners will get to enjoy at least half of it as they begin and end their race.
Of course, I use the term "enjoy" with great liberty here, because I imagine that "joy" is not what the 50K runners are feeling as they head over the hills toward the finish line. That's a long race!
Okay, enough about the race. It's a one-day event on a trail that's available to everyone for pretty much the entire year. So, let's get on with my impressions and pictures.
I'll point you [again] to this directional account of the the Falls Lake trail from the ncmst.org site. It's useful if you want to carry instructions with you.
For the purpose of this trail review, we'll be starting on Section 6 where it collides with Section 5 in the form of a mile post (pictured above) at the base of a rocky path that leads upwards to Six Forks Rd. and a rather long causeway.
This starting point is only sensible if you're actually starting your run from the east side of Section 5 and continuing through Section 6 and back. Otherwise, it's silly to park at this point when you could drive over the bridge and park at the more official trail head with the blue sign (pictured) and plenty of gravely, roadside parking space.
Assuming you're following the guardrail and admiring the view of Falls Lake, you'll soon see the aforementioned parking space. And, you'll turn right past the blue sign, which reads "Blue Jay Point County Park.
You're on the trail now, for sure. And, you'll bound over the low crests of what used to be where the road is now long, long ago. Take note of the circular white blazes painted on the trees. These are your trail markers. And, you'll need to know that later. So, remember: white blazes.
Step downward over a couple of steps and you'll find yourself below road level now. The sounds of cars dissipate as you quickly lose interest in all that is non-natury. Views of the lake already impress you through the trees while you skirt the hillsides and switchbacks effortlessly.
The "Lower Barton Creek" section of the lake gleams in the sunlight while you feel far removed from the housing developments and highways that surround this area. One or two rocky protrusions appear almost deliberately planned. But, your senses are in full trail mode. So, you don't care what the rocks look like.
The trail remains on the easy side with seemingly few elevational challenges. And, you might start to think that this will be a fantastic trail for easy 6-milers when you feel inclined to make the trek out here. (But, you'll be mistaken if you think that)
A marvelous staircase and a bridge take you across a small ravine decorated with immense fallen trees. Interestingly, the bridge seems to be made only for narrow people. You won't notice this until the next one, though.
Your trail will begin to widen and show signs of more wear and tear. The lake's beauty continues to penetrate the foliage as you round another bend and turn away again, in order to trace the shape of another deep inlet carved by the tiniest creek you've ever seen.
Most of the foliage surrounding this portion of Trail Section 6 is deciduous. So, your path will be rather treacherous in the early Fall months. But, it's well cleared by late Winter, probably due to it's proximity to the county park.
Speaking of the county park, you'll start to see benches along the trail, maybe even another person or two. And, you'll continue along until you pass through a miniature gorge that leads to a jeep trail, which you must cross.
As you follow the trail around the park grounds, it will intersect with a couple of other trails. And, you will have to make a couple of unanticipated turns. The key to not getting lost here is watching for the white blazes painted on trees. Remember that!
Be friendly to the park goers and groups of children enjoying the hiking trails. Show them that trail runners are there to share in their enjoyment of the outdoors rather than selfishly race past them. A simple nod and smile will do.
Eventually, you'll find yourself heading toward a parking lot. There will be an informational sign and ball fields to the left. Turn right and follow the crosswalk across the pavement. Welcome to the other "half" of Section 6.
The portion of trail to the West of Blue Jay Point park is...different from the other side. There are bigger hills and a lot of pine trees. The hills are most important to your run, though. Pace yourself well, especially if you intend to run all the way back to the trail head on the East side.
I don't wish to continue with a lot of words at this point. There's a fine line between a post that's drivel and a post that's informative. And, I think I've already crossed that line. So, I'm just going to let you look at more pictures for a while:
Access Section 6 from the southeast trail head by parking on the roadside here. You can park about a tenth of a mile further south to start from the official mile marker where the guardrail begins—if you really want to experience the full distance.
The northwest trailhead is accessible on the side of Six Forks Rd. here. It has a blue sign, too.
You may also park at Blue Jay Point Park when it's open. There's plenty of parking. Of course, then you have to figure out which way to start your run, how much extra distance you're incorporating by starting from one of those parking lots in the park, backtracking over parts of the trail by accident, etc. Basically, you'd be starting in the middle of the trail. But, that's good if you think you might want to quit earlier than those who run the whole thing.
You will not be surprised to read that Falls Lake Trail Section 6 is one of my favorite trails in the Triangle, because I write that about most every trail I review. It's a good one with plenty of challenges and totally worth the drive when Umstead is just too crowded for you.
The Falls Lake Trail Section 6 Elevation Profile.
I should stop pretending that I have a decent elevation profile for you when I write about these Falls Lake Trails. Most of you have Garmin devices anyway, right?