Salem Lake Trail: Counterclockwise Ride

Since I ride the Salem Lake Trail so often, I have most trail obstacles memorized and try to avoid them whenever possible. However, due to other users on the trail, sometimes you cannot avoid the obstacles even though you know they are there, but at least you can slow down to protect others, yourself, and your bicycle.

Most of the obstacles encountered on the trail are no problem for casual (slow) riders. However, the faster you ride, the more of a problem they become.

This ride starts at the trailhead at the main parking lot on Salem Lake Road and travels counterclockwise around the lake. The south side of the lake seems to get the most pedestrian traffic. It may be because many walkers just walk the half mile to the small bridge and then return. When you start your ride, you will see many caution and information signs along the first few yards of the trail.

South side of lake

  • At the trailhead at the eastern end of the parking lot, there is a bulletin board with useful information. The first obstacle is just in front of this sign. Rainwater running from the parking lot crosses the trail here and causes a series of ruts; they sometimes get large. The ruts get repaired periodically but wash out again when it rains.
  • About a hundred yards down the trail you may notice a well-made wooden cross just off the left side of the trail, To read about the reason for the cross, check out this newspaper article.: 
  • About a quarter mile down the trail, there is sharp left hand curve leading into a short sunny stretch of trail. The curve is no problem from this direction but you must watch for riders coming from the clockwise direction. For them, the curve has some rocks and ruts at the entrance that may disrupt their concentration and then, halfway through the curve, the trail curves even tighter. This may force unprepared or faster riders to swing into the left lane into oncoming traffic. Another potential problem for them is a rock in the center of the trail as they exit the curve. If they swing wide and hit the rock, it could force them into oncoming traffic.
  • On the straight stretch leading up to the short bridge, there are exposed tops of some buried boulders in the center of the lane. Stay to extreme right or cross into the left lane to avoid them. Stay to the right or left a little longer since right after the rocks there are some exposed roots in to center of the lane.
  • The short bridge can handle two-way traffic but it is located in a curve so be careful. The leading edge of the bridge is metal, so, when moving fast, stand up to protect the rear tire and jerk up on the handlebar to protect the front tire when going over the lip.
  • Shortly after the bridge are two permanent wet spots. I think the hill has a small spring on it that keep the area damp. When it rains, they turn into puddles that are easy to avoid, depending on oncoming traffic.
  • Next comes the big dirt hill. This western uphill side is long, steep, and has a curve leading onto it. D. Be careful in the curve, downhill traffic may be going too fast to maneuver safely, may lose control, or may be on the wrong side. After heavy rains, the hill gets many, deep ruts and lots of loose sand and gravel, which makes you lose traction when climbing, and causes problems for the downhill traffic. Many casual riders usually walk up the hill. Also, due to the runoff from the ruts on the hill, a wide pile of sand a few inches deep extends across the trail at the bottom of the hill. The sand is not a problem for those going up hill, but the downhillers may lose control in it. The eastern downhill side is shorter, a little less steep, and has two curves, the last of which is tight and has a rut across the trail at its entrance.
  • Then there is a short straight way leading into a short downhill with a deep rut across the trail at the bottom. Sometimes there is path over the rut on the far right or far left but most times, you just have to hop over it or go over it slowly.
  • The next obstacle is very sharp right curve with zero sight distance. Hug in the inside of the curve and be prepared to slow or stop for overtaken traffic ahead or for wrong side traffic. There is loose sand on the inside of the curve. From this direction, this is a very dangerous curve.
  • Just after the sharp right is short uphill and a short, rutted, rocky downhill that leads into a seemly easy left curve. However, the curve quickly tightens, forcing you toward the outside of the trail into very slippery loose gravel. I have slid there before and went down there last week. Everyday you see fresh slide and skid marks where riders have had problems there.
  • Next is the dirt causeway over an estuary. Watch for stopped traffic and illegal bank fishers. At the other end is a 90 degree left turn with zero sight distance, so watch for oncoming bikers drifting into your lane. Also, on the outer edge of the curve is an information sign. Be careful of oncoming trail users suddenly crossing over your lane to the sign and sign readers who suddenly turn and step into your lane.
  • At the power line right-of-way crossing there are no trees and the trail is sunny. For some reason pedestrians like to stop along this section.
  • The next obstacle is a curve leading to a fork in the trail. The right side or the fork is a downhill entry/exit trail that connect to the Linville Road parking lot. It is not usually a problem but be aware of downhill riders who are just starting their ride or ahead traffic that is exiting. The left side of the fork is a curve leading to an uphill section of the main trail. There is a short sight distance around the curve, and sand on the inside of the curve may cause downhill riders to slide. Ruts on the trail may cause downhill riders to cross into your lane.
  • The uphill leads to the water fountain and rest station. At the top, just before reaching the water fountain, is a wide, deep rut across the trail.
  • At the fountain, be careful of pedestrians and bikers suddenly stopping or starting, or cutting across the trail.
  • Just past the fountain on the right is a short entry/exit paved trail. It is not usually a problem but be aware of downhill riders who are just starting their ride or oncoming traffic that is exiting.
  • The western end of the lake along Linville road is paved with a blind 90 degree left turn back onto the unpaved trail. Watch for oncoming traffic in the turn. Moving from bright sunlight into shade will reduce vision for a few moments.

North side of lake

  • A short downhill has some ruts so be careful.
  • Starting at the power line right-of-way crossing and for another mile or so, there are single-track trails on the right side leading into the woods. Be care of riders exiting these trails.
  • About a half mile past the power line right-of-way crossing there is a 20 yard long rut on the right side of the trail in heavy shade just as you enter a left curve. It is usually full of water and the mud never seems to dry up. It is not a problem unless there is oncoming traffic.
  • On the left side of the trail, a large domed rock extends from the lake bank into the water. Trail traffic will usually stop here for the scenery. Many dog walkers stop here to let their dogs swim in the lake.
  • The last downhill that lead down to the flat section at the long bridge is rutted heavily. You need to be careful at the sharp left turn at the bottom of the hill. In addition, a branch of the trail connects from the right side at the bottom of the hill. Be care of pedestrians, bikers, horses, and vehicles coming down the trail. Many times, novice clockwise trail traffic will go up the branch trail by mistake and have to turn around and come back. The branch trail leads to a small parking lot used by equestrians, and mountain bike riders who use the single-track trails in the woods. The branch trail continues up hill and connects to the end of Old Greensboro Road, which leads to Linville Road.
  • The long bridge is uneventful but a little curb hop on entering and exiting will help smooth out the ride.
  • The paved hill at the dam is steep but short. Be use to downshift ahead of time because the hill is seep. The fun part is that you get to coast down the chicane on the other side. Be careful in the tight right turn half way down and watch for traffic in the curves. The trail is paved from this hill all the way around the eastern end of the lake to the parking lot.
  • At the end of the hill, the Salem Lake Trail connects to the Salem Creek Greenway. Watch to the left for dam sightseers and to the right for greenway traffic. Do not swing wide when making the sharp right turn onto the greenway.
  • The greenway continues straight ahead, but you will turn left and cross the bridge. Watch for stopped sightseers on the bridge and downhill bikers coming fast across the bridge.
  • The next obstacle is a long, steep paved hill. Watch for downhill riders who are going too fast to control their bikes; some have been unable to make the curve just before the bridge and have crashed into the creek. About two thirds of the way up the hill on the left is a gate that lead to the fishing station; you may go this way to the parking lot to shortcuts the remainder of the trail. The hill will get steeper after the gate so be prepared to downshift. Casual bikers usually walk up the hill.
  • After a short flat stretch to get your breath, there is a sharp left turn onto a short, steep downhill with sharp bumps near the bottom. Stop at the bottom of the hill to check for vehicles before you cross Salem Lake Road.
  • Then you reenter the main parking lot.

Congratulations, you have ridden a counterclockwise lap of the Salem Lake Trail.

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