Hood Branch

Natural Bridge

Route 66 Cities Beaches

Hood Branch Trail carves down through the South Central part of the park, that is, the low ridges and broad valley beyond the Bridge, as seen at right. This is the newest trail in the Natural Bridge network. It was laid out by a ranger who wanted visitors to see the beautiful forest down in that valley. To hike this route you take The Original Trail up to the Bridge, then look for the Hood Branch sign at the far right corner. Once it makes a broad mile long curve descending the shoulder of Sand Gap Ridge, the trail picks up and follows Hood Branch all the way to the base of the chairlift.

Hood Branch is a classic example of human behavior in large parks. 90% of all visitors see only the "front" attractions. You may very well hike Hood Branch without seeing a single other person. Yet, were it not for the Natural Bridge up on top, THIS would be the main reason to come to the park. This is a photographer's paradise, a place Hollywood could film a wilderness adventure.

Many hikers think this is the prettiest trail at Natural Bridge and one of the prettiest in the whole state. Hood Branch itself is one of those charming deep forest streams that splashes and gurgles over rocks between towering trees, broadening into long pools and narrowing into waterfalls.

Hiking this trail is an overwhelming lesson in the regenerative power of Nature. Hard as it is to believe, this terrain was completely stripped 120 years ago. The timber company logged the level valley floor plus the hillsides, leaving nothing but slash piles, and shipped the huge logs by the same railroad that brought passengers to Natural Bridge. So the incredible forest and stream you see have evolved together in a little over 100 years.

You are also MUCH more likely to see birds, lizards, snakes, and small mammals along Hoods Branch than on the "front" trails. There is not enough traffic down here to worry the animals. All you have to do is walk quietly and watch carefully.

This is a great hike for a hot Summer day because the deep forest and stream keep it much cooler than the "outside" temperature. You can notice a definite drop in temperature once you leave the Bridge and begin hiking along the trail, and it cools more the further you walk until you reach the stream.

The forest floor here is an ecozone all by itself. The sun has not reached this floor in half a century. These are plants that perform photosynthesis from the indirect light filtering down from above.

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