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Runners inclined to try Hilltop Trail

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 6:37 p.m.

Trail running is always a great way to mix up the normal routine of heading out the door for a training run through the neighborhood.

You're out in nature, there's no stopping for red lights or cars, and it's a great way to explore new areas. You're also running on a softer surface, so there's less impact on the joints than when running in urban environments.

Running on trails normally used more for hiking can offer a few additional challenges than running on the open trails of bigger city parks. You may have to work around downed trees and be mindful of rocks and roots, especially now that they have leaves to hide under. I rarely complete a trail run without at least one incident of catching a toe on something and bracing for a face plant before recovering my balance. But it's worth it.

Trails also usually mean hills, and hills are your friend. At least that's what I try to tell myself whenever I realize I'm about to be tortured by one.

That happened fairly quickly on the Hilltop Trail at Moraine State Park, which can be accessed near the entrance to Bear Run boat launch on Pleasant Valley Road. The name of the trail really should have given it away. The park's brochure lists the trail at either one or 1.4 miles with a “more difficult” rating and green blazes. It also says that hikers can choose a 1.1-mile short loop or a 3-mile long loop.

Both loops are clearly marked, and I went with the long loop, starting out toward the right. Almost immediately the trail heads down and you quickly come across a small wooden bridge. Off to the right is what's left of an old springhouse, worth stopping for a few seconds to check out. Another roughly quarter of a mile and you start uphill. It's steep at first, and then gets a little less nasty, but the uphill continues longer than it initially appears it might until you're finally up in a field, well above the road.

From there, the trail has a few more dips and inclines as it winds through the woods, passing the short loop turnoff before crossing the Pleasant Valley Trail and returning to the parking lot. It certainly didn't seem like three miles, unless I'd suddenly gotten a lot faster than I was a few days earlier, so I turned on the GPS and headed back out for another loop in the opposite direction.

That turned out to be an easier option in terms of uphill, and the route measured only 1.5 miles on the GPS by the time I returned to the trailhead. The nice thing is that the trail does offer options for mileage. Reversing course on the loop makes it a different run from the first time, and by adding in the short loop, there's another opportunity to add a little more distance.

Since the trail also intersects the Pleasant Valley Trail, which connects to the Sunken Valley Trail, there's a chance to really stretch it out into a nice, long hike or run before winter sets in.

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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