“Hood Branch is an incredible run with a challenging climb to begin and stunning scenery.
— Chris Chaney
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
The Hood Branch Loop has it all: stiff climbing, technical rock gardens, and nice flowy singletrack in a backwoods setting. It also takes you past the impressive Natural Bridge
The Low Gap Trail
and Rock Garden Trail
West get high traffic, but the Hood Branch Trail
is a nice change from the crowds of the state park.
State Resort Park regulations apply and this is also a state nature preserve. On weekends and holidays, the Rock Garden Trail
West and the area around the arch can be congested with hikers.
Low Gap Trail
is steep, rocky, and rooty. It is a good climb, but can be a bear on the descent. The Hood Branch Trail
gets less foot traffic and can feel isolated and remote.
Begin at the Sky Lift Parking Lot. Tackle the beastly Low Gap Trail
to gain Rock Garden Trail
West. From Low Gap head right (south) toward Natural Bridge
. Continue up through some insanely steep stairs (think Stairs of Cirith Ungol) that will make you think twice about returning the same way.
At the top of the rock steps the grade eases and you can settle into picking your line through rocks and roots along the edge of a cliff with a few smooth sections interspersed. You'll breathe a sigh of relief when you see the big arch ahead of you.
Look for the Hood Branch Trail
just before being forced into a narrow passage (Fat Man's Misery). Hood Branch Trail
is a nice quiet trail with some great views in wintertime of the surrounding cliffs. It winds back to the trailhead.
Flora & Fauna
All kinds of flora are visible along the trail. Watch out for copperheads and rattlesnakes. Bears have been spotted in the area and likely travel the further reaches of this trail and Sand Gap Trail