Monday, August 26, 2013

Trail Review: Falls Lake Trail Section 7

Falls Lake Trail: Section 7

Six Forks Rd. to Hwy 98

Trail Location: Falls Lake State Recreation Area | Wake Forest, NC

Trail Distance:
4.6 miles (out & back)

Trail Difficulty:
Easy to Moderate

Awesome interactive map >>
See the Falls Lake Recreation Area map page >>

Introduction

My first venture to Section 7 of the Falls Lake Mountains to Sea Trail was on an especially hot and sticky summer afternoon. The air hung heavily and wet from the trees while insects whined loudly from their shaded daytime hangouts.

But, I was determined to make liberal use of my lunch break that day. And, noting that the drive to Section 7 wasn't much further than the drive to sections five or six, I opted for a run on the trail I'd not yet visited.

At just over four-and-a-half miles (out and back), this trail would keep me occupied for a reasonable amount of time. But, of course, the exceptional weather conditions slowed my run even more than usual. And, then, there was the fact that I got a little lost.

But, in spite of the day's atmospheric unpleasantness, the trail proved interesting and awesome the whole time. And, so, okay, I know I previously named Section 6 of the Falls Lake Trail as one of my favorites. But, now, Section 7 is definitely one of my favorites! No, really, it's such a charmingly diverse and somewhat remote piece of the Falls Lake landscape. I love it!

Accessing the Trail

Technically, for distance purists, the start of section 7 is at the end of section 6, which you can see in the picture at the end of my Section 6 trail review. But, if you're following along from where I'm starting this little overview, you're probably going to just park at the the north end of the bridge.

The trail head is not as lavishly marked as the two entry points to the prior section. As you see in the photo, there is just a small sign and another alluding to the boat ramp access. You might pass this as you speed along Six Forks Rd. But, there's an easy turnaround point just a few meters north. So, don't curse yourself if you miss it.

Roadside parking is spacious here. But, if you prefer to be somewhat less conspicuous when you exit your vehicle, you can continue up Six Forks Rd. to the boat ramp parking lot. It might be open all the time. But, I'm not positive.

Run

Enter this easy portion of the trail and prepare yourself for the beauty of Falls Lake. Inhale the aroma of trampled pine needles. Observe the chiaroscuro on the path before you as sunlight combats the shade.

And, of course, there are those phantom spider webs, most of which remain invisible until you stumble directly through them. If it's been a quiet day on the trail, you may as well just go ahead and get used to the spider webs. They're everywhere unless you're following someone else. The webs won't kill you, though. And, the spiders don't get big until late summer.

Also, this year, there are plenty of ticks. And, sometimes the horse flies are extremely obnoxious. But, yay, trail running!

Now, notice that there's a fairly conspicuous opening just beyond the trees. This is the parking lot for the boat ramp access. Run directly across it. You'll see where the trail continues as you get closer to the other side.

Section 7 descends into loveliness with a handful of make-shift bridges and slightly slippery steps. Smatterings of new-growth pines escort you from the shade of the larger trees into giant utility easement number one.

Falls Lake Trail Section 7

This easement boasts a jeep trail that leads down to the lake. So, you'll want to look ahead to the narrow trail that you're following — unless, of course, you want to take that jeep trail to the lake just to see what you see. Proceed cautiously through the high weeds in this sunny space, because they create perfect hiding places for snakes. And, I do not recommend surprising a hiding snake.

Out of the grass and into the woods again for some gently rolling single-track. The terrain consists of a relatively even distribution of technical surface and hard-packed trail. If you are used to running on trails in this area, you'll not find many surprises here.

The hills are small and occur more frequently as you progress, with one descent leading you directly into this rather cumbersome bridge. Hold your arms at shoulder level to avoid splinters.

A quaint creek crossing will give you the opportunity to soak your feet if you feel especially toasty. Otherwise, you can easily bound across and continue following the white trail blazes. Check for frogs or crayfish if you have the time.

You will find yourself blasting down a proper hill and rounding a bend in the trail to traverse a uniquely flat, clean portion of the path. A creek, perhaps dry, will be on your right. And, the landscape will appear quite different, as if you'd just entered an entirely new forest.

Focus on the trail, though! Watch for that trail marker with the white blaze that you see pictured here. Do not follow the trail on its left. Turn right and cross the creek at this trail marker. Right!

I was surprised by how easily I missed this turn and ended up wandering around for at least ten minutes while I tried to find the trail again. If you follow the trail to the left of the trail marker, you end up taking a spur that leads to one of the neighborhoods bordering Falls Lake. Not where you want to be unless you need first aid, I guess.

Anyway, you've turned right to cross the creek and happily continue your run through more easy single track with some splendid views of the lake.

Another utility easement puts you into sunlight and weedy space (eyes on the ground, runner!). Depending on the time of day, this is an opportune spot to spy a deer or two.

You'll notice a split in the trail at the top of a hill marked by a large, splintered tree stump. Veer to the left away from the lake to continue following the trail. The alternate path leads you directly to the water's edge, which is not a bad spot to chill for a moment if you have the time.

As you proceed down another marvelous hill, you'll run high above a watery inlet with the sounds of things plopping into the water below you. If you're lucky, you may see a Great Blue Heron wading stealthily in the still water.

The best utility easement of your journey opens in front of you now. And, the trail winds up a small hill before taking you down a steep descent. Look ahead toward the bottom of the hill and make a sharp right to follow the switchback over a small bridge and onward to the other side of that inlet.

This is approximately when you'll realize that the numerous, seemingly simple hills you've covered thus far will probably prove very challenging on the way back.

Keep moving forward. Watch out for hazardous trees, though.

The trail eventually takes you to a path that looks like an abandoned, overgrown greenway. Turn right as you step onto the pavement and enjoy the flatness of this reminder that civilization is not far.

The white trail blaze is low and to the left as you approach the dead end to this paved trail interlude. Turn left onto the single track and brush past the weeds that grab at your shins.

And, continue...

Run leisurely over the roots and rocks that punctuate the rolling terrain. Listen as the speeding car noises mix with the bird calls. You'll find this enormous tree standing tall beside the trail. And, it's just beyond this point that you'll descend to Highway 98.

Turn around and enjoy the run back. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, proceed cautiously across the highway and continue running on Section 8. (Turn right when you cross the highway to find the Section 8 trail head)

Notes

  • You can access the south end of Section 7 from Six Forks Rd. or the north end on Hwy. 98. See this map for visual details.
  • The trail measures 2.3 miles (one way) if you start at the Section 6 trail head on the south side of the Six Forks Rd. bridge and end at Hwy. 98. If you start at the north side of the bridge where parking for Section 7 access is easiest, the trail measure more like 1.8 miles one way.
  • Remember to turn right when you see that white trail marker beside the creek.
  • Be mindful of the fauna, especially snakes crossing the path as you run through the treeless utility easements.
  • The paved bit of path is very short. It will only seem longish because you're constantly checking the left side for the directional blaze.
  • Running Section 6 and 7 together would make for a very nice 10- or 11-mile trail run

More trail reviews, ramblings, and photos >>

Thanks for reading!

3 comments:

  1. Great photos, Ash! I have only run this section once, last spring--from the giant tree to Possum Track and back. My kiddos and husband ran that first section with me, which was awesome. I didn't remember all the details til I read your post. This series is great! I have run all the sections between the dam and Hwy 50 and look forward to exploring farther west.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Steph! I really want to see what the trails look like on the west side of Hwy 50, too. So many miles to explore!

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