This hike starts in area overgrown with cedars and honeysuckle, but quickly leads to open oak hickory forest. The route runs by the best bluff overlook views in in the park. A short side trip will include another scenic viewpoint that makes it hard to believe you are looking toward the city of Columbia. There is a nice flat stretch in the bottom and a long satisfying switchback along the way, making for a varied hike.
To complete this loop, do not cross Gans Creek. The part that goes through the group camp may be confusing, but is blazed on both sides of the opening. There are restrooms located at the group campsite. Stop by the Pierpont General Store for refreshments.
Starting by hiking counterclockwise from the Shooting Star Trailhead, this route starts in dense growth of cedars and exotic honeysuckle. Take the Gans Creek Main Loop
to start. As you move different directions around the loop, the color of the blazes will change. Heading counter-clockwise the blazes will be red, and heading clockwise the blazes will be blue.
It will only be a short while before you detour to the west on the #3 Connector Trail
. This trail will lead you through an oak hickory forest to great bluff views overlooking Gans Creek. The trail goes down to the creek, but this loop does NOT cross. Instead, take a left hand turn to head south on the #2 Connector Trail
. Here there is a great flat stretch of singletrack that leads up the valley. Once you've enjoyed the flat, a big switchback up will climb through a small valley. If you're up for a short side trip (west) to one more great blufftop view, hang a right at an intersection with the Gans Creek Main Loop
, following that trail out to a viewpoint before retracing your steps.
Return east and make your way back toward the parking lot on the Gans Creek Main Loop
trail, which here has a red blaze. You'll pass through the group camping area where there are restrooms, and continue back into the thick cedars/honeysuckles to return to the trailhead.
Heard tanagers, vireos, wood thrush, and a Louisiana waterthrush.