This is a great loop for hikers who like isolation, streams, gorges and forests. While there aren’t any views or towering waterfalls, you will see beautiful forests of hemlock and pine, the stunning old growth forests of the Dutlinger Natural Area, and cascades along scenic Summerson Branch. The loop is about 10.5 miles long.
The hike begins off of Trout Run Rd. There is a small pull off, or you can drive down a camp road to park and begin the hike. The trail is blazed yellow. Cross Trout Run, there is no bridge, and follow the road to a car camping area. Veer right and cross the creek to begin a gradual climb on the Lock Branch Trail. The trail follows an obvious grade and makes a steady climb; as far as climbs go, this one is almost enjoyable. The trail hugs the side of a steep, narrow gorge and passes through forests of stately hardwoods and tunnels of hemlock and pine. It is a beautiful hike. In winter there would be views of the gorge through the trees. Some small side streams cascade down, but they only have water after a heavy rain.
At the top, the trail levels off in a beautiful hemlock forest with some small spring fed streams. A slight climb brings you to another tunnel of hemlock and pine. After that is a grove of old growth hemlock, a beautiful spot with towering trees. Cross a pipeline swath with a trail sign and short push through some moderately thick laurel. Reach a meadow with a small concrete obelisk for the Texaco Co. The trail veers left and re-enters hemlock forests. Reach a trail sign for the Beech Bottom Trail, turn right to hike this spur down into the old growth hemlock forest.
This trail is also blazed yellow and is a little hard to follow at first, but the blazes are there. We hiked down to the trail register and returned to the loop. Enjoy this spectacular old growth hemlock forests- a true cathedral of trees.
Back on the loop, we continued on an old forest road with some yellow blazes. Soon, the trail was unblazed, but still easy to follow. There was laurel, hemlock and pine. We reached an intersection with an old forest road with a trail sign (if hiking clockwise, this juncture can be easy to miss). Turn right here; this was unblazed as well, but easy to follow. This trail, the Trout Ridge Trail, was more open with meadows and hardwoods. We dropped down into a valley and reached a trail sign for the Summerson Trail, on which we turned left.
This yellow trail was not as established as the others, but we were able to navigate it. It descended down the valley and soon mossy cascades appeared along the clear creek. The hike was scenic. At times we followed an old grade with original stonework. We really enjoyed the isolated nature of this valley. Soon, the cascades grew larger with mossy boulders, and hemlocks became more common. This is a beautiful valley. There are a few stream crossings, but nothing too difficult. Some advice- before Lock Branch joins from the left, the trail ascends onto some narrow, sketchy sidehill. It is not an ideal trail. Just stay along the creek, it is easier and more scenic. Return to the trail where Lock Branch joins Summerson Run.
The trail descends along the valley and across a meadow. Reach the car camping area and complete the loop.
Pull off parking is roughly at 41.445994, -77.932090.