The highlight of this loop is the views from Lookout Mt and Widow Mt. The trail travels through many distinct types of forests as well as high grass meadows. Some smooth trail, but you'll remember the trail for the sections of rock, loose dust, and creek crossings.
This ride does cut through a Wilderness Study area meaning that it could easily be taken away from us at any point.
There are trail signs present at almost all intersections. Trail signs were knocked down at the intersection of Trail #251 and Trail #261 (end). The shorter variation of this ride is to park a few miles up from Marble Creek on Homestead Creek Rd and there is a trail out that cuts out 4 miles of road in the beginning, however you lose two miles of trail at the end (tough up and down river trail).
The ride starts at Marble Creek and proceeds to climb up Homestead Creek Road for 14 miles. The road is drivable and this part could be shuttled, but it's an easy climb due to the length and a great warmup for a really tough trail. Four miles up Homestead Creek Road there is a trailhead that would be a good shortened version of this route. I would suggest it for many riders. Parking is marked on the map and the road to there was in good shape.
The trailhead for Lookout Mountain Trail #52
is well marked and hard to miss. For the first few miles of #52 the trail is in pretty good shape. Lots of rocky outcrops expose views out of the forest. Continuing toward Lookout Mt along the ridge the trail becomes more rocky and near unrideable for many sections. It's a quick hike-a-bike to the summit, however. The descent off of Lookout Mountain is difficult. Loose moondust with big flat rocks floating in or on the dust. It was a big workout riding, but is also easily walked.
After hitting the saddle above Lost Lake the trail changed immensely. The trail pops into open forest with sinuous singletrack that climbs back up towards the south side of Widow Mountain. When you reach the spur trail for Widow Mountain it can be easily missed for how fun the trail is at this point. This is a fall line trail straight to the top of Widow Mountain. We only went to the first summit on this ride, but the trail to the second summit is also very fun and adds one mile or so out and back. The descent off the top of Widow Mountain is amazing. Big open beargrass meadows with an unencumbered fall line descent.
After descending, the trail splits. Take the direction to Orphan Saddle, a nice campground in some great woods with no amenities except a vault toilet. Turn onto the trail to the right, Delaney Creek Trail #271
. #271 travels down the drainage until it meets Marble Creek Trails #261. After this the trail turns to a true river trail, up and down into and out of drainage after drainage. After a few more miles the trail meets Gold Center-Marble Creek Trail #261. Here the trail offers you some options. First option - Go northeast up the hill, you can get out to the Homestead Creek Road for a shorter options. Second option - continue down trail #261 back to the trailhead and parking.
USFS Maps of the area:
There's a history of logging and mining in the area. Splash dams, flumes, and steam donkeys can all be found in the area. Down #251 near the end of the loop there is a historical splash dam along the river. To see it you add about a mile to the trip.