Monday, October 3, 2011

Running at Umstead Park - A Primer

If you are from the Raleigh area, you probably already know about Umstead Park. If you're from North Carolina, you've probably heard of it. If you've never heard of Umstead Park, hopefully this piece will make you want to check it out. Based on the continued viewership of my piece on Running in Greenville, NC, and Running in Winston-Salem, NC, I wanted to do something on what I feel is the best place to run in North Carolina. The goal here is to give anyone some basic information about Umstead and what to expect with the trails, where to launch, where to park, etc. It's also a great place to train for the Raleigh Half Marathon.

Why Umstead?
Be prepared to share the trails!
Anyone that has trained at Umstead Park will tell you, it's tough. Training at Umstead makes you a better runner, period. On any given Sunday, you'll see collegiate teams from NC State, North Carolina and Duke floating up and down the hills. You see the state's best high school runners, professionals, Galloway groups and local clubs all churning away the miles up and down the hills. Why? Because Umstead works. It's the health plan that doesn't charge you monthly. It's excellent trails and water fountains every few miles make a great place to get that long run in, a recovery run or just a fun run on the single tracks of Company Mill or Loblolly. Run Umstead once and you may be huffing and puffing, but you'll be a fan for life.

Where to Start?
Parking at Reedy Creek Rd
1. Reedy Creek Road Entrance (You now have to turn left on Manorbrook and park about 100 yards down the road - Also, you can park at Schenck Forest)
Not to be confused with the Reedy Creek (pictured up top) entrance, the Reedy Creek Road entrance is my personal favorite. From Wade Avenue, take the Edwards Mill Road exit, in the opposite direction from the RBC Center, and then take a left on Reedy Creek Road. You'll see the greenway on your right and Schenck Forest on your left. Drive almost until you hit the dogleg left turn and park on the right, just before the "no parking signs." From this gate, you can go straight out the Reedy Creek Trail, or to the right on the more challenging Turkey Creek Trail. You can do the loop of the both for a good 7 miler or cut it shorter with the Cedar Ridge shortcut for 5 miles. More on the routes below.

2. Highway 70 (aka Glenwood Avenue) Entrance
A close drive from the Brier Creek area, but a longer drive from downtown Raleigh. The Highway 70 entrance is close to Carmax out Highway 70. You'll see the sign from the road and it's a lesser traveled entrance to the park for runners, as the main start is the Sal's Branch Trail, and the Sycamore Trail. If you're coming from Durham, this is a good launching point.

Bathrooms at Reedy Creek Entrance
3. The Reedy Creek Entrance (off Hwy 40 exit 287)
The Reedy Creek Entrance is the most traveled entrance, as it has a big parking lot, and bathrooms! Located just off of Highway 40, exit 287, the Reedy Creek Entrance is the only sign of life, opposite SAS and all traffic off Harrison Avenue. From the Reedy Creek entrance, you can start on the Loblolly Trail, Company Mill or Reedy Creek Lake (past Camp Whispering Pines), which takes you back to the Reedy Creek Trail.

Entrance to Lake Crabtree
4. Lake Crabtree
A more tucked away entrance that is popular with mountain bikers, the Lake Crabtree entrance is located off exit 287 as well. You go the opposite direction off the exit onto Harrison Avenue and take a right on Weston Parkway and then another right onto Old Reedy Creek Road. Once you see Lake Crabtree on the left and cars parked just after you cross Highway 40, you'll know where to start. This can launch you to the backend of the Reedy Creek Trail, or towards the Black Creek greenway (around the lake), which is an excellent place to tack on a few miles.

What Trails do I Run?
"Cemetary" Hill
1. Reedy Creek Trail
Reedy Creek is the smoothest of the trails at Umstead. It's a bridle trail that you can run 3-4 abreast, if you wish. If you start at the Reedy Creek Road entrance, you can run just over 5 miles straight out to the Lake Crabtree entrance. There's a water fountain about 5 kilometers in that comes in handy, and plenty of rolling hills to keep your heart moving.

2. Turkey Creek Trail
You can start Turkey Creek by veering to the right at the Reedy Creek Road entrance. There is a water fountain right at the start, which comes in handy when you are doing loops. The first few miles of Turkey Creek are downhill (when you go this way), but around 2 miles, it gets tough. You'll see Ebenezer Church Road on your right and the Cedar Ridge Trail on your left, before heading into the woods for some of the toughest hills in Raleigh. The first one is the hardest at Umstead, but it will prepare you for the rest. The Turkey Creek portion of the trail is about 5 miles before you hit Graylyn Trail, where you can go left up to the Reedy Creek Trail, or right and go onto Ebenezer Church Road and the surrounding neighborhood.

Savor the Single Track
3. Loblolly Trail
The Loblolly Trail is for the trailheads. Lots of great single track that stretches all over the park. You can start on Loblolly at the Reedy Creek entrance or you can hop on it off the Reedy Creek Trail and many other places. It cuts through most every trail and can get a little rooty, but is a lot of fun.

4. Company Mill Trail
Another excellent single track option. You can start on Company Mill at the Reedy Creek entrance as well, or hop on it just after "Cemetary Hill" off the Reedy Creek Trail. This trail is the most like something you would find in the Pacific Northwest, with plenty of pine needle and mulch packed trails that are easy on the legs.

5. Sal's Branch Trail
A great beginner's trail off the Highway 70 entrance, Sal's branch is a nice 2.5 mile loop that can get you started in trail running and can lead you into other area's of the park. This is an especially fun run when it snows.  You'll see many deer on this run, as it's not as frequented as other areas of the park.

6. Sycamore Trail
Also off the Highway 70 entrance, the Sycamore Trail is an excellent lollipop loop that is approximately 7 miles in length and is a mix of rolling pine needle covered trails and more technical root and stream jumps. To get here, just drive straight (all the way to the back) off Highway 70 and you'll dead end into the launch point (not the first, or second parking lot).

Popular Routes at Umstead
The Cedar Ridge shortcut
1. Reedy Creek/Turkey Creek 7 miler (with 5 mile Cedar Ridge option)
This is a popular route that takes you down the Reedy Creek Trail from the Reedy Creek Road Gate until you take a right on Graylyn (about 2 miles up). Once on Graylyn, you'll take another right onto Turkey Creek and hit the hills in reverse. You'll take Turkey Creek all the way back to the Reedy Creek Road gate for a strong 7 mile run. You can do this in reverse as well to hit the harder section on Turkey Creek early. Finally, you can cut this route to 5 miles by taking the right off of Reedy Creek Trail onto Cedar Ridge Trail at about 1.75 miles. Beware though, as right before you get to Ebenezer Church Road and back onto Turkey Creek (where you'll go right), there's a creek to cross that almost always requires getting your feet wet!

Gazebo at Lake Crabtree
2. Gate to Gate (to Gazebo, and beyond)
The gate to gate run keeps you on the Reedy Creek Trail. You'll start at the Reedy Creek Road Gate and run almost to Lake Crabtree (and back). It's about 4.6 miles and can easily be tacked on. If you go into Lake Crabtree and run to the Gazebo, you'll be closer to 12 miles for the full back and forth. And if you want to go even further, you can follow the Black Creek Greenway another 1.9 miles to Harrison Avenue for a run that's almost 16 miles.

Gateway to Reedy Creek Lake
3. Reedy Creek Lake Hills
From the bridge at the bottom of Reedy Creek Lake to the road at the top of Reedy Creek Lake Trail is just over a half a mile. This is an excellent place to do uphill or downhill repeats. Training here will get you ready for the Newton Hills at Boston or any hills for that matter!

Races at Umstead
1. The Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run
The Umstead 100 is something that I've witnessed a few times on training runs. It's usually held in late March and sells out six months in advance every year. It is sold out for 2012 already. They offer a 50 mile option as well.

Lots of water fountains at Umstead
2. The Umstead Marathon
The Umstead Marathon is a more recent event that is also very popular. This event is held in early March and is put on by the Carolina Godiva Track Club out of Durham.

3. Run for Umstead
The Run for Umstead is a four mile event that is put on by the Umstead Coalition, a non-profit organization that helps preserve the park. Join the group here

"Fat Ass" Finish
4. The Umstead Downhill Mile
Ok, so this is a pipe dream "fat ass" (aka unofficial race) that I plan to put together one day. You start at the Reedy Creek Road Gate and run (almost) to the Reedy Creek Lake sign as fast as possible! Want to try it? It's a live Strava segment (with an uphill counterpart).

I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to leave any comments on things that could be useful to the out of towner and email me with any basics I've left off!

Thinking of buying near Umstead? I can help!

Click the map for a full PDF map of Umstead:

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  1. Another great post about a great place to run! It will get a lot of traffic. I loved running there with you earlier this year for Boston training and I plan to go back next year if not sometime this fall or winter too. I love the hills there. They're tough but prepare you well for Boston. The trail is easier on the body instead of pounding the pavement all the time.

  2. This is a great description and I plan to start running here based on your post, thank you!

  3. The Reedy Creek/Turkey Creek Loop described above is actually more like 7.37 miles, (not 7 even)

  4. Sal's Branch is very good for prep for bigger runs as you mentioned. Why did you omit Sycamore Trail. It is about 7.5 miles. I call it a lolly pop trail because of its shape. It is not easy and a very good challenge for anybody who wants more than Sal's. In a month I do about 10 Sal's and then one Sycamore. I heard Sycamore and Company trails are connected. One day I want to complete both of them in one run. Sycamore is more challenging somewhere in the middle because it gets hilly and Company is challenging because it is not very even from step to step in many places.

  5. Thank you for the write up. Just moved to the area and am looking forward to lacing up!

  6. Thanks for the info! A big fan of the Reedy Creek entrance especially since you can out and back onto Reedy Creek Road for a few miles, too.

  7. Coming from Brier Creek is there a place to park if you want to run before the park opens at 8 a.m.??

    1. There is gravel for parking off the road on Ebenezer Church Road now that should suffice.

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