The Cadillac Graveyard Trail (Lake Heritage Trail)
By John Kalin and David Yon
Yes, amidst the splendor of nature, there lies a graveyard for old cars. And, I suspect, a few runners who did not pay enough attention to where their feet landed. If you can figure out how these vehicles wound up along this trail you can win a free pass to run on the trail. Ok, so there is normally no charge anyway. The Cadillac Graveyard Trail is about four miles long, running point-to-point between Tom Brown Park and Swift Creek Middle School. It runs roughly parallel to the Lafayette Heritage Trail, along the southern shore of Upper Lake Lafayette and Piney Z Lake. This roughly three-mile portion of single track is the Cadillac Trail proper. The Lake Heritage Trail has is the smoother wider choice. The merge to cut across a levee between Piney Z Lake and Lower Lake Lafayette and head northward toward the school, maybe another mile away. Or you can bear to your right and head for the Alford Greenway. Total out and back mileage with no side trips is about 7 ½ miles.
The terrain and topography of The Cadillac Trail is something of a blend of the Fern and Red Bug trails, with some easy rolling pine groves thrown in for variety. You will find some magnificent vistas and opportunities to view lots of waterfowl. There is a restoration project underway for one or more of the lakes, so you will find a lot of dry lakebed right now in some spots and low water exposing dikes in others. There is plenty of water to support wildlife, though, and you will discover lots of waterfowl and osprey nests on your run. Much time will be spent climbing and descending a very narrow trail. It was built by mountain bikers to be different and challenging and they succeeded. It was "completed" late in 1999, but it is constantly being modified and crosses and sometimes blends with the Heritage Trail. There are workarounds to avoid some of the more technical sections.
To find the west trailhead, go to the back of Tom Brown Park. Tom Brown Park is located off Capital Circle North East, near where Park Ave dead ends into Capital Circle. You can enter the park by Easterwood Drive or Conner Blvd. Across from the softball fields and Easterwood Drive is a BMX track. Go down hill behind the track and proceed downhill (east), past the police K-9 training pen. Continue east downhill a hundred yards or so until you reach a small grassy field with a railroad trestle on your left. Diagonally across the field (southeast) you'll find a bridge to the trailhead. Make sure you cross the bridge and don't take the path that leads you back to Tom Brown. To find the east or Swift Creek Middle School Trail Head, drive east on highway 90. Turn right on Bucklake road. Proceed to Pedrick road and turn right. Continue until the road dead ends, just past Swift Creek Middle School. The trailhead in on the right after the pavement ends.
Starting from the west trailhead, you'll be climbing. The rewards on this trail come quickly. Check out that view, but be prepared to do a face plant! As you come to forks in the trail, you can go either way for the most part. Stay on the most traveled part for your best entertainment value. Typically, the darkest dirt is the right way, but alternate routes reconnect quickly to the main trail.
Your pace will vary, but I timed the following points of interest running about an 8:00 8:30 minute pace:
0:00 - Start at west trailhead.
5:00 - Steep switchback with sudden descent and climb. Hold on!
9:30 - First pine grove.
10:30 - "Cadillacs" - actually 50s Fords, and maybe a Buick.
13:00 - Levee between Upper Lake Lafayette and Piney Z Lake. The trail dips down towards the parallel jeep trail here. Getting off Cadillac here, going all the way across the levee to the RR tracks and back will add about 5 minutes. Highly recommended. Great view, flat (for some rest), ospreys on patrol.
14:30 - Steel gate straight ahead. This is the access point into the park from Piney Z Plantation. (To find this gate via car, go to Conner Boulevard off US 27 South or Capital Circle near Tom Brown Park. Turn at the main entrance to Piney Z Plantation, Heritage Park Boulevard. Go ½ miles to where this road dead ends. Look to your left and you will see the steel gate. Turn left before the gate, then right when you see the single track heading back into the woods. This would be a great place to park a car to start your run or to leave water.)
16:30 - Another steel gate, this one on your left as you come to a T in the trail. (If you go right at this T, and follow the jeep trail around to the left, you'll end up on March Road. This is another way into the park.)
26:00 - East end of Cadillac Trail proper. Down a STEEP hill to the levee between Piney Z Lake and Lower Lake Lafayette. Visualize mountain bikers climbing/descending this hill. Look for blood. Continue across the levee.
30:00 - RR crossing. Go left about 50 feet, cross the tracks at the white painted RR tie, climb dirt hill, then go left. You can sort of take your pick here, but take the first singletrack to your right, then stay left until you see the school through the woods.
34:00 - End at South Pedrick Road dead end by Swift Creek Middle School. If you want to access Cadillac from Buck Lake Road, park and start here. From this end there are multiple trails through the woods. Try them all to tack on extra mileage before heading back across the RR to Cadillac.
As with all single track trails shared with cyclists, step off the trail to let the bikers get by. It's considerate to be out of the way BEFORE they're forced to unclip from their pedals. Without the cyclists, most of these trails wouldn't exist.