Sunday Stroll: Battle Branch Trail at UNC

A trail on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill offers lots of route options for hiking or trail running.

This past Sunday Kelly and I kicked off our trail running adventures (which I will affectionately call "runventures") with Battle Branch Trail. This particular trail starts at the Chapel Hill Community Center and I chose the trail as our first runventure for precisely that reason: Kelly runs a boot camp workout there on Sunday mornings so we planned on starting our trail run right after she wrapped up the Fresh Air Fitness workout.

While she was holding boot camp though I arrived early to explore the trail with my dad. I figured it would be a good Sunday Stroll option for him and it would give me a chance to preview the trail since I had never actually explored it before. I had remembered seeing it from my college days when I used to run down Bolin Creek Trail from my apartment to the Chapel Hill Community Center, and I think I ventured down Battle Branch once out of curiosity but quickly withdrew when the path started down the back alleys of apartment buildings.

This time however I was determined to give the trail its due and not get scared off by the first tenth of a mile through apartment buildings, and sure enough Dad and I soon came across a wooden bridge with a sign and we cut off into the woods and up a hill. Knobby roots wove across the natural surface path with the occasional muddy section or series of lumber logs to prevent erosion, and in the early morning the sun burned off dew in an ethereal mist.

Knobby roots wove across the natural surface path with the occasional muddy section or series of lumber logs to prevent erosion, and in the early morning the sun burned off dew in an ethereal mist.

Turning off the sidewalk away from apartment buildings and into the woods.

My dad likes hiking more technical natural trails and this offered up plenty of that. The trail alternated between rooted dirt trails, slick mossy boardwalks, and stretches of smooth gravel. I quickly realized that while the maps only displayed Battle Branch Trail or the OWASA access path they are actually two distinct trails: Battle Branch is the more technical trail marked as "lower trail" by small signs, while the OWASA access trail is much more of a smooth graded gravel trail with the occasional raised manhole - perfect for utility workers on four-wheeled gators to pop by for maintenance.

Battle Branch is the more technical trail marked as “lower trail” by small signs, while the OWASA access trail is much more of a smooth graded gravel trail with the occasional raised manhole

The OWASA access trail is on the right, while Battle Branch Trail runs along the OWASA access trail but on more technical terrain.

When the trail crosses Battle Branch Creek there are bridges.

Some boardwalks help with muddy or wet crossings.

My dad and I didn't go far, so we turned back before we reached the Battle Park sign and the short twisting trails on 93 acres on UNC's campus maintained by the NC Botanical Garden. I've been in Battle Park a few times before - once for some biology lab where we did some sort of soil sample surveys and a couple times to explore Forest Theater - but mostly I've just skirted the small park as I run loops in the Gimghoul neighborhood.

When Kelly and I ran the trail immediately afterwards though we explored all the short twisting trails in the park. We wound through the boardwalk lowlands of Battle Branch until we came across the "Battle Park" sign at the 0.9 mile mark from the community center. From there we continued onto the tangle of trails in Battle Park, looping with a couple campus roads, through Forest Theater, and connecting trails that alone were just 0.4 miles or less into a string a miles. If you asked me to recreate our exact route I'm not sure I could do it even with a map and my tracked GPS route, but roughly put we ran Battle Branch until it popped out on Park Place/S. Boundary roads at which point we ran up Boundary to Gimghoul Road and left onto Glandon where we immediately hopped back onto the trails via Sisters' Corner. We bounded down that trail until it popped out by Forest Theater and then we ran through the outdoor amphitheater and connected to Sourwood Loop. We ran the entire length of that loop and then some more to take Deer Track Trail back to Rainy Day Trail and finally back to Battle Branch Trail. When possible we veered onto side trails and explored little climbs such as Solitary Hill or other short routes until finally we ventured back to the community center after 4.5 miles.

It's amazing how much slower you run on trails, especially if you have to stop frequently and get your bearings. I'm sure if I were familiar with these trails it would not be an issue to efficiently link them together for a certain mileage, but Kelly and I were running mostly by intuition. We weren't worried about pace or mileage though - we were just getting oriented, handling the terrain and elevation, and just to have fun and get used to running trails.

And we certainly did have fun! It was a good shakeout run after 12 miles on Saturday and it was a great start to our trail running adventures - I'm already looking forward to our next one!

Hike It:

Get there: You can access Battle Branch Trail via the Chapel Hill Community Center or you can access Battle Park via UNC campus near the admissions building. (Look for Forest Theater on the campus map and you'll find yourself in Battle Park.)

Access via Chapel Hill Community Center/Battle Branch Trail:

Battle Park on the map:

Distance: You can loop trails together for as short as half a mile (or even less) to several miles, depending on what you do. Dad and I did 1.5 miles on Battle Branch Trail just as an out and back. Kelly and I ran 4.5 miles on a series of trails. Check out the trail map to plan your route.

Difficulty: Easy. There is some elevation change (they don't call it "Chapel Hill" for nothing) but there are plenty of benches in Battle Park and the trails are really short.

Dog friendly? Yes, but dogs must be leashed.

Kid friendly? Yes. Kids will enjoy exploring the creek and bridges, as well as the Forest Theater. If you go during the summer you could plan a day trip around a hike and a performance at Forest Theater.

Tips: The trails are convoluted and not well-marked. Either be prepared to go on an adventure and be flexible with your distance or make sure you bring a printed copy of the trail map to get your bearings.

What else can you do in the area? Check out all that UNC has to offer! From events on campus to touring the university to cheering a Tar Heel team to victory to great eating options on Franklin Street and the surrounding area, Chapel Hill is a great place to visit.

Park website:

Trail map:

Battle Park is a 93 acre on campus at UNC Chapel Hill. Battle Branch Trail connects Battle Park and the Chapel Hill Community Center, and you can loop various trails together in Battle Park for a range of mileage for a great hike!


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