HIKING THE "E"
Mt. Airy Forest's Trail "E" is a marvel of trail planning and efficient space utilization. Covering well over 10 miles, this trail completely leaves behind the big city and explores the over 1,400 acres of rolling hills and rocky streams known as Mt. Airy Forest. It is the only trail in the Forest that traverses virtually from one end of the park to the other, meandering this way and that to cover as much area as possible, exploring all that the park has to offer. It begins on Westwood Northern Boulevard at a park called McFarlan Woods, and it ends on West Fork Road after passing through the arboretum. It is a fairly easy trail to follow, marked frequently with white blazes (many of the blazes have a red "E" in the middle of them).
Due to the length of the trail and the multitude of shorter loops that are possible, I have separated the trail into segments, each of which I will describe separately. In a couple places I have put alternate loops, starting or stopping points, or other sites to see in parenthesis, these are not part of the trail but may be useful to you nonetheless. It is likely that you may not get the chance to hike the entire trail all at once, so I've tried to provide complete information on hiking the individual segments as well.
I have not provided specific directions to the areas because there are many routes that access the areas. I have provided the street and general location of the areas though, so that you may find them on a map.
1. McFarlan Woods Segment: Approximately 1.9 miles.
Drive to McFarlan Woods, on Westwood Northern Boulevard near the Maple Ridge Lodge. Proceed to the parking lot that is furthest from the entrance to the park. Walk toward the open grassy area that is past the parking lot in the direction of the shelter house, and on the left side of the clearing you will soon see, often shrouded in shrubs, a sign post that says "E START". Keep walking in the same direction and you will soon see a tree with a white blaze on it, and then another one further along the clearing, and eventually you will be walking on what looks like an old road along a ridge top. Soon after you will come to a steep descent down to a creek bed. This is a Y intersection where two streams converge into one. Cross the stream over to the bank that is the least hilly and shortly thereafter you will see a tall post that reminds me of a Totem Pole.
Turn left at the "Totem Pole", roughly Southwest, and head downstream for 0.4 mile. You will come to another confluence of several creeks similar to the one back at McFarlan Woods, except this one has a small concrete dam. (You are now just downhill from the Maple Ridge Lodge, if you were to proceed straight ahead up the hill that's in front of you, you would come to the Lodge).
Turn right at the confluence of the creeks and cross the creek and head up the hill. You will come to the high point of your climb in 0.2 mile. You will encounter some picnic tables on a ridge top, on the edge where the forest meets a marshy area. This is a nice place to stop for a break. When ready to continue, turn right into the grassy/marshy area. The trail becomes rough with horse tracks, but it is manageable. The trail does not stay in the grassy area for long before it re-enters the forest, staying on level ground for some distance before beginning a fairly steep descent. At the bottom of the descent, you will be at a service road with a streambed in front of you. Believe it or not, you are almost back where you started! (If you were to turn right here and walk along the stream for 0.1 mile, you would be back at the confluence of the creeks by McFarlan Woods, this makes a great 2 mile loop hike).
This concludes the McFarlan Woods Segment of the hike. Using the loop that I mention in the above paragraph, this segment produces a 2 mile loop hike that's perfect when you want a short hike after work.
2. Diehl Road segment: Approximately 1.3 miles.
At 0.3 mile you come to a creek bank, walk across the creek to the other bank, and head left along the stream for about 50 feet until you find a trail that goes uphill to your right. At 0.5 mile of hiking the trail skirts around a several acre flat, open area that is used for dumping fallen trees, telephone poles, railroad ties, etc… Hike uphill for a short distance and you will come to a closed-off paved section of Diehl Road. Hike uphill up the road; you will come to a gate across the road. Now you will leave the closed-off section of Diehl Road and continue walking along open road for the next half mile.
You will walk along Diehl Road until it comes to a dead end at a stop sign at 0.8 mile from the start of this segment. Now turn right onto Shepherd Creek Road and hike downhill along the road, crossing under the I-74 bridge. At 1.3 miles, you will see the wooden marker for trail E pointing you into the woods to the right, there will be a gravel parking lot just in front of the wooden marker. This concludes the Diehl Road segment of the hike.
3. West Fork Segment: Approximately 1.8 miles.
Beginning at the wooden "E" marker on Shepherd Creek Road (just uphill of it's intersection with West Fork Road), follow the easy trail that runs between West Fork Road and I-74. On this segment you will be hiking up hillsides and along a hilltop for most of the way, a nice change from the low streambeds that the previous segment hiked along. The key features found on this segment are the large sinkholes that dot the hillside.
At 0.8 mile you will begin descending gradually. At 1.1 miles you take a sharp right and descend more steeply, the trail does not follow the wide old roadbed that is straight ahead. At 1.4 miles you will come out of the woods along West Fork Road near a concrete bridge. There is a parking area to your right, but the trail turns left and goes across the bridge. Walk northwest along the road for 0.4 mile. Across the road you will see a wooden footbridge with an "E" blaze on it. Go to the wooden bridge to begin the next segment.
4. Blue Spruce Segment: Approximately XX miles.
This section begins at the wooden footbridge that is visible along West Fork Road, there is a gravel parking lot here as well.
At 0.8 mile you will come to a sign for Area 12. To your left, a short side trail will take you to some picnic tables. At 1.2 miles, you will see some restrooms on your left. You will now hike around and just below the end of the ridge top that the restrooms are on, and at 1.5 miles you will see on your left a shelter house with picnic tables. This shelter is actually right next to the restrooms you saw at 1.2 miles.
At 1.7 miles you will come to a nice overlook area on your left. The path forks here, the right fork is the correct one. At 2.4 miles the trail will come to a "T" intersection, go right at this intersection. At about 3 miles you will come to another "Totem Pole" marker, and to your left will see a brushy clearing up on a hill with a huge old dead tree at it's center. There is a very old fire hydrant hidden in the woods near here, indicating that at one time this area must have been something other than forest. To your right, a very long series of old stone steps leads steeply downhill, but I do not know where they go.
At 3.5 miles the trail will turn right and cross a bridge over a wash. You will do the same again at 3.9 miles. At around 4 miles you will see a "Totem Pole" sign with a red/orange marker that says "P2" on it. At around 5.2 miles you will see a picnic area to your left.
Unfortunately for you readers, I moved to Colorado before finishing this hike, so you are on your own from here! Hopefully I have given you a good start toward completing this fascinating trail system.