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Guide to Hiking in the Triangle

guide to hiking in the Triangle

As the weather gets increasingly favorable, many residents of the Raleigh-Durham metro area head to local hiking trails for some fresh air and an active, yet relaxing activity. Thanks to our beautiful North Carolina terrain, there are limitless options for hiking and outdoor activity in the immediate area. Below is a guide to some of the most well-known places for a hike, along with some hidden gems. 

William B. Umstead State Park

Known by the locals as Umstead, this state park is located a short 20-minute drive from downtown Raleigh, and also has an entrance in Cary. With more than 20 miles of hiking trails and also a 13-mile multi-use trail (for hikers, bikers and horseback riders), this park is popular amongst athletes and casual hikers alike. Trail difficulty varies, so there is something for everyone, from the family spending the day in the park with young children, to the trail runner training for a competition or race. One of the more challenging routes is Sycamore Trail, which is a 7.2-mile loop through the heart of the park. It is very common to meet some of the wildlife residents in the woods, including squirrels, deer and snakes. The park gets crowded on the weekends, so going during off-hours is the best way to avoid the rush of weekend warriors. 

“William B. Umstead State Park main entrance” by Gary Dincher, licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Located on the border of Cary and Apex, Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve is a great park for some short, yet challenging hikes with elevation. The four trails all loop back to the Stevens Nature Center. Difficulty in these trails is created by the several sets of stairs and inclines throughout the way. The foliage is well-showcased and descriptions of the plant life can be found throughout each trail. 

Lake Crabtree County Park

Located minutes from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Lake Crabtree County Park is a great choice for a challenging hike around Lake Crabtree, with many spots to relax, picnic, and even play volleyball. The entire loop around the lake is 10.2 miles and there are also mountain biking trails throughout. Be sure to wear hiking boots or shoes designed for trails, as some spots can get a little bit slick. 

Lake Johnson Park

Part of the Walnut Creek Greenway Trail, Lake Johnson Park includes 2.8 miles of paved hiking trails, with 2 trailheads located in southwest Raleigh, along with 1.5 miles of unpaved, natural trails. These trails are great for a leisurely stroll through nature, or for a short walk while spending the day at Lake Johnson, taking advantage of the other activities, including boating, fishing, wildlife viewing, swimming in the pool, and much more. 

Neuse River Greenway Trail 

Another popular trail for weekend warriors, specifically for people living in northeast Raleigh and Wake Forest,  is the Neuse River Greenway Trail. This 27.5-mile trail runs along the Neuse River and offers a scenic walk or ride along the way. The trail is part of the Mountains to Sea trail, which crosses the entire state of North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks, and connects to Abbotts Creek Trail, Buffaloe Road Athletic Park, Anderson Point Park and Milburnie Dam. The Neuse River Trail is the longest greenway trail in North Carolina, and the longest paved trail from Northern Virginia to Georgia.  There are plenty of places along the way to stop and take a break near gorgeous scenery and spots for fishing and tubing. 

“Neuse River Greenway” by James Willamor, licensed CC by SA 2.0

North Carolina Museum of Art Park

Situated on the west side of Raleigh, the Ann & Jim Goodnight Museum Park, located at the North Carolina Museum of Art,  combines an afternoon at the park and an easy hiking trail. With a mostly paved loop trail of 2.2 miles, this trail is great for everyone, from the hardcore runner to the family out for a Sunday stroll. There are several art installations through the 64-acre grounds, both temporary and permanent, along the trail and there is plenty of space for hammocking, picnicking, and relaxing. This greenway connects to Meredith College and NC State via a pedestrian bridge, as well as the  Reedy Creek Trail that connects to Umstead State Park. 

Shelley Lake Park 

A favorite trail for residents in the North Hills area of Raleigh, Shelley Lake Park is a 2.2-mile paved, shaded scenic greenway looping around Shelley Lake. This is a great trail for a short stroll with kids, dogs, or a short run. The park also includes playgrounds, basketball courts, and Sertoma Arts Center, which hosts a variety of classes weekly. 

Lake Lynn Trail

This 2.8 mile greenway loop around Lake Lynn is a favorite of residents in North Raleigh, especially in the Leesville Road area. With entrances at both the Lake Lynn Community Center and on Leesville Road, this trail is perfect for a short hike with a few small hills and a lot of wildlife to observe most notably the turtles that sun themselves near the wooden boardwalks that complete the loop around the lake. 

Historic Yates Mill County Park

Yates Mill is the only working water-powered gristmill remaining in Wake County, which has been serving the area since before the Revolutionary War. The park has been built around this historic building in southwestern Wake County.  With three short trails, measuring between 0.8-1 mile, this is a great place to take a short hike while enjoying historic scenery. There are also three gardens open for public viewing and enjoyment.

“Yates Mill County Park” by Sergey Galyonkin, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

Raven Ridge Mountains to Sea Trail

If you are looking for a hike that’s a little bit of a challenge, this 6.8-mile trail runs along the banks of Falls Lake, and is a leg of the Mountains to Sea Trail that runs from the Outer Banks to the Great Smoky Mountains. This part of the trail is broken into two 3-mile sections, making it more accessible to families and people looking to not take a two-hour hike. This trail also runs into the Neuse River Greenway Trail. This trail winds through the aged pine trees and wooded, secluded areas for a serene hike. 

Durant Nature Preserve  

This beautiful nature preserve in North Raleigh has 5 miles of hiking trails to enjoy the natural scenery that the park offers. The trails run throughout the preserve, with mountain biking permitted on designated trails. Each trail brings you close to the beauty of the preserve and the wildlife that lives there, including the butterfly and bird gardens. 

Photo courtesy of the City of Raleigh

American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail is a 22+mile paved route that runs through three different counties, Chatham, Durham and Wake, but most notably running through the City of Durham. The American Tobacco Trail used to be a railroad line that was essential in the transportation of tobacco throughout the state in years passed. This trail is a hit with cyclists and hikers looking for a little bit of different scenery, while also welcoming moms with strollers and casual walkers. 

“American Tobacco Trail” by Eric Alix Rogers, licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Eno River State Park

Looking for a vigorous trail? Spend the day in Eno River State Park, which has approximately 31 miles of hiking trails, broken up over 18 trails. The scenery varies greatly, from following the Eno River, to climbing up Cox Mountain, and also passing by 19th century housing that is still standing along the way.  Located on the north side of Durham, this expansive park caters to everyone from the casual hiker to those who want an additional challenge. The river is also a popular swimming spot, especially on the weekends. 

“Enon River State Park” by Sergey Galyonkin. licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the major benefits of living in the Raleigh-Durham metro area is the close proximity to a wide variety of outdoor activities, especially hiking in naturally beautiful scenery without having to drive very far. The above list is by no means exhaustive, but includes some of the biggest and most well-known hiking areas in the Triangle area.

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