Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hamilton Branch State Park: Paleo Trail (Blog Hike #667)

Trail: Paleo Trail
Hike Location: Hamilton Branch State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of McCormick, SC
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: November 2017
Overview: A winding loop through quiet Piedmont forest.

Directions to the trailhead: From McCormick, take SR 28/US 221 east/south 12.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park.  Pay the small entrance fee, then park at the park’s signed gift shop beside the entrance station.

The hike: Known mostly as a boating and camping destination, Hamilton Branch State Park (also known as Hamilton Branch State Recreation Area) occupies 731 acres on a narrow peninsula that juts westward into Strom Thurmond Lake.  The park features a 173-site campground with many sites offering lake views.  Two boat ramps allow boaters to launch their crafts into the water, and 3 picnic shelters are available for rent.  A playground and gift shop round out the park’s amenities.
            For hikers and mountain bikers, the Hamilton Branch Connector Trail leads to the 5.5 mile one-way Stevens Creek Trail in nearby Sumter National Forest.  Only one trail stays within the park’s boundaries, the 1.5 mile Paleo Trail described here.  Used mainly by campers and local residents, the Paleo Trail offers a quiet loop through mixed Piedmont forest.
Start of Paleo Trail near gift shop
            Both the Hamilton Branch Connector Trail and the Paleo Trail depart from the gift shop area.  The Hamilton Branch Connector Trail starts at a signed trailhead to the north of the gift shop.  To find the start of the Paleo Trail, walk west from the gift shop and look for a pair of white metal diamonds with black arrows that marks where the Paleo Trail enters the woods.  The Paleo Trail is marked with an overwhelming number of these black arrow markers, one about every 20 to 30 feet.  The markers can come in handy, as the trail on the ground is often hard to discern from its surroundings.
            After less than a minute of walking, the trail forks to form its loop.  For no reason, I chose to turn left and use the trail going right as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  As I looked around at this point, the overwhelming number of black arrow markers really stood out: I could see no less than 13 of them from here.
Another trail marker
            The trail continues southwest with the boat launch access road visible to the south/left.  The park roads at Hamilton Branch are seldom traveled, and only an occasional passing car or distant train horn intrude on the quiet solitude.  Some fallen pine trees, possibly victims of the southern pine beetle, had recently been cut and moved off of the trail, thus making passage easier.  I was thankful for the work park personnel had put into clearing this trail.
            A gradual descent brings you into a low area that is also the upper reaches of a shallow ravine.  Some saw palmetto lives here, and maple, sweet gum, and loblolly pines are the most numerous trees in this mixed Piedmont forest.  I could hear a woodpecker in a tree to my right, and on the return route it flew only feet in front of me.  I have read that bald eagles sometimes nest in this park, but I did not see any of those grand birds on my visit.
Granite rocks near trail
            Near 0.6 miles, you curve right to begin a long, gradual climb out of the ravine.  The trail does a lot of meandering, but the large number of black arrows keeps you on course.  Another right curve comes as the campground access road can be seen through the trees to the north.  As you near the rim of the ravine, some chunks of granite appear on the ground around your feet.  Soon you close the loop, and the gift shop is only a couple hundred feet away.  If you want to get one of this park’s famous lake views, which this trail does not offer, after your hike drive down the boat ramp access road to a nice lakeside picnic and playground area near its end.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Concord Park: Calloway Ridge Trail (334 More Blog Hikes to Reach #1000)

Trail: Calloway Ridge Trail
Hike Location: Concord Park
Geographic Location: Farragut, TN (35.85550, -84.14693)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: November 2017
Overview: A short lollipop loop around a ridge overlooking Fort Loudoun Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Knoxville, take I-40/75 to I-140 (exit 376).  Enter eastbound on I-140.  Drive I-140 east to Westland Drive (exit 3).  Exit and turn right on Westland Dr.  Take Westland Dr. west 1.5 miles to SR 332 and turn right on SR 332.  In another 1.4 miles, where SR 332 turns right at a traffic circle, continue straight on Northshore Drive.  In another 0.6 miles, park in a gravel/asphalt pull-off on the right just before you reach a bridge over an inlet of Fort Loudoun Lake.

The hike: Owned and operated by Knox County, Concord Park comprises 900 acres along the north shore of the Tennessee River’s Fort Loudoun Lake.  The park is a major outdoor recreation destination on the west side of Knoxville, and its list of amenities rivals that of any county park anywhere.  More specifically, Concord Park offers a boat ramp and marina, a par-3 golf course, baseball, softball, and soccer fields, a dog park, and a skate park.
            In terms of trails, the park features a 1 mile linear paved walking trail and 13.7 miles of natural surface trails open to hikers and mountain bikers.  While many of the trails were built to suit mountain bikers and therefore are too winding to make for good hiking, the Calloway Ridge Trail described here forms a nice single loop with almost no winding whatsoever.  Also, this trail is separate from the main mountain bike trail system, so bikers are not as prevalent here.  I hiked this loop on a chilly Saturday morning in early November and had the trail all to myself.
Trailhead along Northshore Drive
            From the gravel pull-off, cross Northshore Drive using the marked crosswalk to reach the trailhead, which consists of a sign that bears a trail map.  The paved walking trail continues west from here to cross a bridge that leads to the westernmost part of the park, but you need to turn sharply left to begin the dirt and rock Calloway Ridge Trail.  The trail climbs gradually with what appears to be an old quarry downhill to your right.  This hike passes several areas that appear to be old industrial sites, but I was not able to find any sources to confirm the history my eyes suggested.
            Ignore a trail exiting right that is marked with a black diamond sign that says “very difficult.”  While the trails at Concord Park are not blazed, signs such as this one appear at trail intersections.  Black diamonds mark difficult trails, blue squares moderate trails, and beige circles the Calloway Ridge Trail and other easy trails.  At only 0.1 miles, you reach the fork that forms the loop portion of this hike; beige circles go both directions here.  To hike the more scenic southern arm of the loop first, I chose to turn right here and use the trail going left as the return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
Hiking above Loudoun Lake
The trail assumes an eastward course just below the crest of Calloway Ridge to your left.  Fort Loudoun Lake appears nearly 100 feet below you to the right, but no unobstructed views of the lake emerge due to the dense vegetation.  The largest trees in this forest are tulip poplars and oaks, and the understory features large amounts of honeysuckle.  Ignore the signed Claim Letter Trail that exits left just before a few tall rock outcrops and boulders appear to the left.  The treadway remains amazingly smooth and flat considering the rockiness and steepness of the surrounding terrain.
Rock outcrop
The trail descends gradually via a wide switchback as the relief of the surrounding land starts to ease.  At 0.7 miles, the trail makes a broad swing to the left as it rounds the eastern end of Calloway Ridge.  Soon you start to see why the southern arm of the loop is preferred to the northern one: not only does the northern arm have no lake views, but it parallels noisy Northshore Drive less than 20 yards to your right. 
Calloway Ridge Trail
Near 1 mile into the hike, you cross an old paved road that leads to a leveled area just uphill to the left.  The trail becomes wider and straighter as you pass what appears to be another old industrial area just before closing the loop.  Retrace your steps 0.1 miles downhill to complete the hike, or extend your hike by walking the 1 mile one-way paved walking path that heads west from this trailhead across an arm of Fort Loudoun Lake.