Smile Politely

Walkin’ in the Woods: Abandoned Observatory Trail

In keeping with last month’s theme of shorter, flatter, and closer, this month I headed south to the Abandoned Observatory Trail in Walnut Point State Park. I had attempted this trail in April but was unable to complete the loop due to large sections of the trail being completely underwater. Given the pervasive drought conditions, I assumed it would be passable this time, and I was correct. Since it’s a short, flat trail clocking in at less than three miles, I also decided to bring my dog, Elmo, on his very first hike.

It’s important to note that if you’re hiking with a dog, you should check park rules about having dogs on trail. Walnut Point State Park allows dogs if they remain on leash. So along with my trusty AllTrails app, I brought a leash, a collapsible water bowl, and extra water. 

Photo of the article's author standing in front of the trail holding her dog. Mara is wearing a purple t-shirt and the dog is small, beige, and scruffy with his tongue out. There are trees in the background. Main background colors are brown and green.

Photo by Mara Thacker.

Getting There and Parking

If you were wondering if AllTrails continues to be horrible at getting you to actual parking near the trailhead, you would be correct. Your best bet is to put “Walnut Point State Park” in your GPS. It’s a scenic 45 minute drive down south. Once you enter the park, make a left and follow the winding road. The trail name sign you’re looking for is the “Whispering Pines Nature Trail” and there is ample parking (and bathrooms!) nearby. 

Trail Conditions


Photo of Mara standing in front of a murky body of water where the trail was intended to continue. Main colors are browns. This photo is from April 2022 whereas the other photos are from August 2022.

Photo by Mara Thacker from April 2022 demonstrating when the trail was flooded.

The drought has done it’s work to dry out the trail, which was in pretty good condition. The trail is wide, well-maintained, and frankly it would be difficult to get lost on this one. There are even regular signs to point walkers towards campgrounds or the observatory. As a side note, despite following signs for the observatory I never did see anything looking like an observatory. This might be me lacking, ahem, observation skills because I was distracted trying to make sure Elmo wasn’t overheating. Still it was a lovely trail, and my only real “complaint” is that I must have walked face first into one million spider webs until I remembered to use to a stick to clear my path in advance. 

Photo of scruffy, beige dog standing in front of a sign that says

Photo by Mara Thacker.

The Bathroom Situation

This is a short trail so if you plan it right, you won’t need to worry overly much about bathroom availability. That said, there are a number of campgrounds and shelters within the park that have adjacent bathroom facilities. I saw a few signs warning about high tick activity in the woods so I’d recommend using one of the bathrooms instead of crouching in the woods, but that’s just me. 


This felt like a pretty safe trail over all. I only came across one other hiker during my visit so if safety in numbers is important to you, just know that on weekdays the park feels somewhat empty. The biggest safety issues at this time of year is insect bites. Along with walking into spiderwebs and seeing warning signs about tick activity, there were also a lot of mosquitos. I usually prefer to wear leggings tucked into tall socks to deter ticks and other insects, but bug spray is also super helpful. 

Photo by Mara Thacker.

Wildlife & Scenic Views

I expected to see a cool abandoned observatory. I did not. That was probably my fault. But also it was totally okay because I was delighted by everything else I saw. The park’s name for the trail, Whispering Pines, is apt because there is a gorgeous stretch of massively tall, skinny pine trees. It was chock full of beautiful butterflies, flitting songbirds, and wildflowers. There were some especially cute little yellow songbirds out and about. I also briefly saw my holy grail of nature sightings, a barred owl. 

Photo of purple wildflowers on the side of the trail. Main color in the photo is green.

Photo by Mara Thacker.

Final Thoughts

The Abandoned Observatory trail is definitely on the easy side, so if you’re looking for a challenging workout there are better choices out there. That said, this trail would work well for running and is also a good option for bringing a pooch to test their hiking acumen. I’d also recommend this park for families not only because the trails are well maintained, but also because with so many playgrounds and picnic shelters around, if there are family members who don’t want to hike, they could hang out for the hour it takes to complete this loop. Incidentally, this park also has a short wheelchair accessible trail which is unusual and welcome. All in all this was a nice little trail with small amenities that make for a pleasant way to pass an afternoon.

Top photo by Mara Thacker.

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