Durant Nature Preserve: White House Road & South Lakeside Trail

This past Spring we took advantage of warmer days and met friends at Durant Nature Preserve for easy family hiking (about one total mile), playground time and a picnic at the nearby Compass Rose Brewery. Durant Nature Preserve is a quiet, woodsy park with hiking trails, lakes for fishing, playgrounds, a nature play space, butterfly garden, open fields, great engaging programs, and more. We’ve explored this park several times in the past, and love discovering something new each time. For this visit, we drove to the park’s north entrance at 8305 Camp Durant Rd and parked near the small open field to access White House Road Trail.

White House Road Trail is a wide, unpaved trail in a heavily wooded section of the park. Leaves and pine needles covered most of the trail, and its flat surface made it easy for kiddo running. The kids enjoyed sprinting ahead to find flora and fauna. Most of their findings consisted of moss, sticks, and listening for birds. Then, we crossed over the small gravel path that separates the lakes and turned left towards the South Lakeside Trail. 

South Lakeside Trail is a narrow dirt trail that meanders up and down along the south side of the Lower Lake. The kids enjoyed crossing small streams, finding pine cones, and throwing rocks into the lake. The trail’s gentle banks make it easy for younger children to access the water’s edge. After finishing our half mile hike along South Lakeside Trail, we walked across the lake to the playground. Finally, we finished our morning outing with a quick drive to Compass Rose Brewery for beers and a picnic lunch. 

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: quiet outdoorsy park, easy family hiking, variety of activities to do, easy access to water’s edge

Thumbs down: lacks helpful trail signage

Umstead Park: Oak Rock Trail

In January we headed with friends to Umstead Park to explore the super kid-friendly Oak Rock Trail, which is only 1/2 mile long. This is a great hike for young families or large groups with young kids. The trail has easy access to clean restrooms and picnic tables, and shallow stream access for water fun in the warmer months. It’s also part of the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails program that provides self-guided brochures for outdoor adventures.

We accessed Umstead Park from the Highway 70/Glenwood Ave entrance at 8801 Glenwood Ave. Recalling the mobile map, we drove past the Visitor Center and then parked in the first parking lot on the left. Unfortunately there weren’t signs from the main road directing you to the trail. After parking, we walked straight, following the signs for Oak Rock Trail and Kids in Parks.

Since it was wintertime, the leaves covered the ground making it a little tricky to notice tree roots. Luckily, the girls heeded our suggestion for walking slowly. We zig-zagged over the small creek several times, throwing sticks and stones into the water and looking for tadpoles. The girls also enjoyed hopping on large stones to cross the streams.

Even though the trail is short, we spent extra time listening and looking for birds, picking up leaves, and finding moss. The girls enjoyed looking at the tangled tree roots coming out of the ground near the creek and the fallen trees along the way. At the end of the trail we enjoyed a picnic lunch while the girls traversed a large fallen tree. The nearby restrooms were clean and easily accessible. 

Thumbs up: easy family hike, great for young kids, self-guided scavenger hunt brochure, plenty of picnic tables, creek for splashing

Thumbs down: poor signage to trail from main park road

Forest Hill Park (Richmond, Va)

forest hill parkLast fall we headed to Richmond for a little man’s 1st birthday party. Before the big party we headed with friends and all our littles to Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Va. Forest Hill Park is located south of the James River at 4021 Forest Hill Ave. It features an amazing farmers market open during the summer and fall months, paved walking trails, playgrounds, a pond, unpaved bike trails through the woods, wide open fields, picnic shelters and tennis courts. If you’re looking for a fun morning outing for the family, this is the place!

Once an estate owned by different families and then an amusement park, the City of Richmond bought the land in 1933 and turned it into the present-day urban park. They preserved some of the old stone buildings including the circa 1840s Stone House and old stone gazebo with fire pits by the pond that once served as a warming hut for ice skaters.

DSC_0163Farmers Market, Trail Walking & Pond

During our visit we parked at the northern entrance along New Kent Ave and first walked through the farmers market. We visited with the woolly sheep, watched a short acrobatic demo, bought coffee and donuts, and admired the local artisan’s goods. We enjoyed our breakfast goodies at the old brick shelter near the entrance and then walked down the adjacent paved loop trail.

The loop trail starts off wide and downhill, and surrounded by dense forest. The beautiful morning sun casted warm glows and soft textures – perfect for documenting our walk with the little babes and friends. The kids enjoyed watching mountain bikers hit the trails in the woods. We walked to the hexagonal stone shelter (formerly a warming hut for ice skaters) near the pond so the kids could feed the ducks. After exhausting our bread supply, we continued walking along the flat trail that soon shifted uphill. Near the top of the hill the trail narrowed as it opened to large rolling fields. We meandered along the trail passing picnickers and large, sparse oak trees until we arrived at the playground.

Playground

DSC_0222The playground features two play structures divided by age group and swings for all ages. The younger child playground contains slides, a spiral ladder, and nearby teeter totters. The older child playground contains steeper slides, arched ladders, double “racing” slides, monkey bars and zipline. The kids loved racing each other down the slides and swinging across the monkey bars. The playground’s hardwood mulch surface lessened the monkey bar falls. The original 1840s Stone House, picnic tables and tennis courts are also just a short walk away. 

After a long time on the playground, we continued on the trail back to the parking lot. Though we walked about 1.5 miles, the full loop trail is about 3.2 miles. The northern section of the trail connects to the Reedy Creek Trail and feeds into the much larger James River Park System. The James River Park System contains acres of shoreline for fishing, biking, running, walking, rafting, and canoeing. I’m excited to explore the river during my next trip to Richmond and see first-hand its importance to the large biking and running community of Richmond.

Thumbs Up

beautiful scenery, open fields, playground features, variety of vendors at farmer’s market, wide trails, preserved stone buildings

Thumbs Down

lack of restrooms near playground

Yosemite in a Day with Young Kids

Yosemite with young kidsWho’s up for a last minute visit to Yosemite with young kids during the super busy summer months? We are! Capitalizing on our successful Norther Ca trip, we rolled the dice on our final full day and drove our family two hours west to explore Yosemite for the day. With plans to rendezvous at my uncle’s rural 1910s family cabin situated on original Yosemite roads, we left early in the morning with a full tank of gas, fully charged iPads, open minds, and lots of food.

Yosemite National Park spans nearly 1200 sq miles in Eastern Ca, making it about the size of the state of Rhode Island. It reaches across the Sierra Nevada mountain range and is mostly known for its mammoth granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoias, and diverse plants and animals. The geology of Yosemite National Park is a result of a combination of volcanic activity, uplift, erosion, exfoliation (responsible for the dome-shaped granite areas), and glaciation that happened over 25 million years ago. Starting in the 1850s, explorers, artists, and writers advocated for preserving Yosemite Valley and slowly expanded the protected area to include nearby forests and mountains. Yosemite switched from a state park to a National Park shortly after the National Park Service was started in 1916. We visited 100 years later!

Getting There

IMG_6941Since the Yosemite trip was last minute,  intermittent cell service limited my mobile-friendly research as we drove through harrowing switchbacks and rural towns.  Following my aunt and uncle’s advice, we headed to the popular Valley area of Yosemite in hopes that we could catch glances of El Capitan, Half Dome and some of the waterfalls. Driving from Sonora, Ca we drove along 120 East through Groveland and the Big Oak Flat Entrance.  The drive through Yosemite starts out hilly with dense conifers and then becomes hillier with sparse shrubs, dead underbrush, sand, rocks and old dying pine trees. Then, suddenly before crossing into the big tunnel, the massive granite rocks explode before your eyes. You catch really quick (yet far away) views of El Capitan and Half Dome before going through the tunnel. After the tunnel you wind through switchbacks catching different views of the granite formations. Yosemite is enormous – it takes at least 40 minutes to drive from the main entrance to the bottom of the park.

Bridalveil Fall Trail

IMG_6947Knowing the park would be busy, we aimed for short hikes easy in difficulty and with easy access. Using the simple Yosemite Valley day hike chart, we hiked the 0.5 mile (round trip) Bridalveil Fall Trail on our way into the park. We parked at the trailhead and follow the paved path to the 620 ft waterfalls. Since we visited in late summer, the waterfalls trickled, but I imagine in spring time after snow melts the falls are quite a spray. Other visitors climbed along the large boulders to the bottom of the light waterfall. Even though the waterfall spray was barely visible, it was amazing to look up at the massiveness of the rocks and feel so tiny.

After Bridalveil Fall Trail, we parked in the main parking areas near the Visitor Center/Museum so we could scope out the center and easily hop on the free shuttle buses. In my little research, I learned the shuttle buses were key to getting around busy Yosemite Valley. The trailheads and points of interest are spread out so we either walked along the wide bicycle paths or rode the bus. Wishing for more time in the museum and to see the short Spirit of Yosemite film, we pushed on and walked about a half mile along the bicycle path to access the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

IMG_7088Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is a one mile paved trail with little elevation change making it an easy walk for everyone. The path is mostly shaded with giant sequoias and huge slabs of granite rock making for nice photo backdrops. About half mile into our walk we arrived at the observation bridge of the falls.  Lower Yosemite is the bottom waterfall section of the three-part Yosemite Falls. Unfortunately, with it being late summer the waterfall sprayed a mere trickle, but we tried to imagine the command it carries in spring after the snow melts. Before leaving the falls we admired, in jaw-dropping fashion, as pea-sized rock climbers scaled the mountain.

 

Views of Half Dome

IMG_7016Wanting to get closer to Half Dome I quickly researched places within the valley to catch a glimpse. I learned the meadows behind the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel) provide good views of the massive mountains, so we rode the shuttle bus to stop #3 outside the hotel. The hotel was built nearly a century ago with the design influences of Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern, and Arts & Crafts Movement. We walked to the back of the hotel, through a small path and turned left on the pedestrian path. Before crossing over the pedestrian bridge we arrived at the best spot we could find with a good glimpse of Half Dome (elevation 8800ft) in the background. Even from so far away it’s amazing to imagine people (including my crazy aunt) hike the 16-mile round trip.
After capturing a few pictures with Half Dome in the background, the girls and I splashed around in the crisp, cool Merced River that flows behind the hotel.  We were hot and tired from the long day and we felt refreshed after a quick dip.

Driving out of Yosemite Valley, we followed my aunt’s handwritten directions for meeting them at my uncle’s rural cabin. After a harrowing 7 mile drive up original access roads into Yosemite, we arrived at the cabin. I immediately relaxed after enjoying a beer on the hammock and we took in the beautiful sites of the meadow from the back deck. My aunt and uncle planned a delicious steak dinner with all the trimmings – it made for a very memorable early birthday celebration! After a restful night’s sleep, we left for San Francisco the next morning feeling very accomplished as a young family of four and thankful to experience Yosemite! We can’t wait to return to Yosemite and spend an entire week camping and exploring the different trails – maybe one day we’ll even hike to the summit of Half Dome!

Looking Ahead & Tips For Young Families

Having spent only about 5-6 hours in Yosemite, we definitely maximized our visit with seeing a few waterfalls and catching a glimpse of Half Dome and El Capitan (on the way out). The girls pushed through the early afternoon hour when they’re usually quietly relaxing, but felt refreshed with our backpack snacks and a quick ice cream treat. 

  • Plan ahead and stay for a few days – camping spots in the park fill up months in advance, so plan your trip early or stay outside the park
  • Less is more – bring a small backpack to carry around the park with essentials and snacks; visit the convenience stores and restaurants to refill with snacks and treats
  • Bring a good camera – I’m kicking myself for not having my big camera with me
  • Park & ride – park your car in one of the main lots and ride the bus as much as you can
  • Do some swimming – there’s lots of options for cooling off in the creeks and Merced River
  • Visit in late spring when the waterfalls are at full peak
  • Wear your patience pants – if visiting in summer be aware of the large crowds and take breaks accordingly

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: breathtaking views, massive rock formations, free shuttle bus rides, bike/pedestrian path connecting many points of interest, paved trails provide accommodations for everyone

Thumbs down: little time for planning on my part, drier waterfalls in summer mean less dramatic views, busy summer crowds

Columbia State Historical Park (Columbia, Ca)

Columbia Historical State ParkFor part two of our northern California park visits we visited the Columbia State Historical Park. Columbia is a real working town that was restored to its 1850s gold-rush business district. Visitors travel back in time to the gold-rushing days where business staff dress in period clothing so visitors can experience stage coach rides, mine for gold, and much more!

Columbia State Historical Park is located at 11255 Jackson St, off highway 49 in Tuolumne County, Ca. Columbia has seen its ups and downs since its cry of “Gold” in 1850 – it survived multiple fires, water supply troubles, and population decline. In 1853 Columbia was one of the largest cities in California with a population of nearly 30,000. When the town became a state park in 1949, restoration efforts preserved the buildings and history.

IMG_6899Strolling down Main Street, we first stopped at Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop to watch the workers forge iron into handmade goods. They make interesting outdoor art, decorative indoor items, horseshoes, unique furniture and more! Then we visited the museums, including the interactive old-fashioned bowling alley. The dentist office exhibit gave us lots of “eeks” as we glimpsed into some of the old fashioned tools and supplies used to clean and pull teeth.

Then we visited Nelson’s Candy Kitchen, a fifth-generation owned and operated candy store. My aunt and uncle are personal friends with the current owner, Janice Nelson, who was extremely kind and patient to give us a personal tour of the candy making.  Needless to say, the girls’ bright eyes didn’t miss a moment of this tour! The shop uses a lot of the same recipes and equipment from when Janice’s family opened the store in the late 1800s. During the tour we talked to some of the candy makers who prepped milk chocolate chocolate turkeys for the busy Thanksgiving season. They dressed in period clothing and hand mixed all of the milk chocolate. The smells were priceless!

IMG_6908Janice showed us how they mixed and rolled the jelly candies, candy canes, and ribbon candies.  The process is very exact and relies on the mechanical workings of old machines, molds, and ovens. We were so grateful for Janice’s personal tour of her beloved candy shop – it was so neat to learn about candy making and hear her personal stories about the shop. No candy store visit would be complete without buying some nibbles. The girls loved gawking at all the sparkly candies and squealed in delight while tasting the different jelly candy and chocolates. My personal favorite was the salted chocolate almonds while the girls loved the flavored jelly candies.

To come down off our sugar high we continued walking down Main Street towards the old Wells Fargo building. Sadly we didn’t have time to pan for gold or ride the old-fashioned stage coach, but we did quickly walk through the old Wells Fargo office that features original scales, maps of stage coach routes, and other banking exhibits. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an afternoon or a few overnights exploring the gold-rush days, be sure to visit the small town activities and special events of Columbia. I only wish we had more time to explore the local businesses, especially the saloon!

Thumbs up: uniquely restored businesses, museum exhibits, kid-friendly activities/exhibits, town’s friendliness

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Historic Murphys Park (Murphys, Ca)

IMG_6879And so begins my multi-part series on public parks we explored in Northern Ca.  At the end of the summer we took the girls on a huge adventure to visit my aunt and uncle in Northern California.  It’s unfortunate we waited so many years before visiting them – we made amazing memories this trip and I’m so glad we shared it with our kids.

My aunt and uncle live in the small town of Sonora, Ca., and one morning they drove us over the dramatically high New Melones Reservoir bridge into Calaveras County and the small town of Murphys, Ca. to explore the small city park and have lunch downtown.  Historic Murphys Park is located at 505 Algiers Street in Downtown Murphys, a mid-1800s gold mining town turned charming Main Street with upscale retail shops, an inn, yummy restaurants and bars, and 20+ local winery tasting rooms.  Here’s a side note about Murphys: the town narrowly escaped the too-close-to-home Butte Fire, a fast moving wildfire that spread during the 2015 California wildfire season.

img_1773Murphys Park is a true community park – built by the people, for the people.  The all-volunteer, non-profit Murphys Community Club opened the park in 1948 and maintains the park for the public through membership dues, donations, and use fees for special events.  Upon entering the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the white wooden gazebo – perfect for photo ops, picnics, and outdoor music.  I was shocked to see rotisserie spits, presumably for hosting the exciting summer concerts that were advertised on big banners throughout the park. The shallow Murphys Creek runs through the park creating a relaxing and water recreational aspect. We splashed in the creek to cool off and enjoyed watching other park-goers gently tube the creek. Picnic tables and benches also align both banks of the creek.

After splashing in the creek the girls played in the playground area. The smaller-age playground contains a slide, interactive spin toys, and climbing stairs.  The playground for older children features several tall slides, monkey bars, climbing ladders and walls, tunnels and shade sails. Two tot swings, two traditional swings and picnic tables are adjacent to the playgrounds.  Family names are carved into the nearby fence pickets, probably signifying park donors.

IMG_6924After exploring the park we visited retails shops in downtown Murphys and ate a yummy lunch at Firewoods. Before leaving Murphys, we visited the tasting room of Villa Vallecito Vineyards, which is owned by dear friends of my aunt and uncle.  The vineyard is a 20 minute drive from Murphys and features amazing views of the rolling hills and overlooks the New Melones Reservoir.  The owners treated us to the most delicious wines and snacks and gave the girls the most sincere hospitality. You can even rent the casita at the top of their property. If you’re heading to the Northern California area, include Murphys on your stop for wine, food, and community feeling – I can’t wait to come back with my wine glass in hand!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: small-town feel, seating options, splashing in the creek, Villa Vallecito Vineyards wines and property views,

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Marla Dorrel Park (Cary, NC)

IMG_6770Over the past few years I’ve continually heard about the amazing “dragon” park in Cary with great play areas for all kids.  Well, we finally ventured to the super popular Marla Dorrel Park, which features the Kids Together Playground at the end of summer with friends.  With its unique play areas for graduated levels of difficulty, variety of wheelchair-accessible play equipment, nicely landscaped areas, and abundance of seating it makes a great park for everyone!

Marla Dorrel Park is located near Tryon Rd/Cary Pkwy at 111 Thurston Dr in Cary.  It features a basketball court, access to MacDonald Woods Park via Henshaw Greenway, covered pavilion, and the Kids Together Playground, a playground inspired by two girls whose sisters have special needs where kids of all levels of physical and mental ability can enjoy fully-integrated play. There’s a longer walk to the playground from the parking lot than most parks so make sure you have everything you need when get out of the car.  As you walk towards the park your eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful crape myrtles and flowering plants near the pavilion. The large pavilion provides a great meeting spot for birthday parties and picnics and an easy place to spot the restrooms, which even has shorter toddler-level sinks.  Just past the pavilion is the infamous climbing dragon sculpture, Katal, resting in full sun while the kids run up, down and all over it.  Heading in the other direction, follow the widely paved sidewalks where you’ll pass interactive purple whisper benches on the way to one playground area full of tunnels, arched ladders, fire poles, shade sails, and more.

IMG_6761Beyond this playground is another play structure with graduated levels of difficulty that feature wheelchair ramp access, twisty slides, arched ladders, a fun rolling slide, interactive play items and so much more.  Tot swings, traditional swings and chair swings are also located nearby including a swinging platform with wheelchair accessible ramps.  The playground surface is mostly sand so bring your sand toys or enjoy the diggers; but wide paved sidewalks wind throughout making it easy to access all areas.  They even have wheelchair-accessible sand tables along the pathways!

After exhausting a lot of time on the bigger playgrounds, we visited the partially fenced-in toddler area, which features a playhouse, river of sand, water sources, sand table, and small climbing structures.  While our girls felt they have mostly outgrown this area, the shaded benches made for a nice place to stop for a snack.  And everyone enjoyed walking through the misting fountains.

This park is loaded with a variety of play structures and picnic spots – we played and snacked for over 2 hours.  And, while it may be a super popular park (parking lot was almost full on our way out) it is so big and has so many play areas it doesn’t feel overflowing with people.

Thumbs up: variety of play equipment for all ages/abilities, lots of shade, abundance of swings, well-maintained landscaping, great picnic areas

Thumbs down: lush landscaping can be hard to see over when trying to keep watch on more than one child!

Biking To & Around North Wake Landfill District Park

IMG_6714If you can’t tell by the themes of some of my latest blog posts, biking has been our family’s new passion.  Having a bike hitch, bike trailer and at least one child biking on her own really opens up the family bike outings to beyond the driveway or cul-de-sac.  Even though Bill is usually the one to strap the bikes onto the hitch and gather all the gear, I’ve made it a point to learn how to do it on my own in hopes that I could take the girls out by myself.  Feeling rather confident about strapping all the bikes onto the hitch, remembering all the gear and snacks, I took the girls for a bike ride on Abbotts Creek Trail one summer morning in August.

For this trip, we parked at our tried and true parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood.  After biking down the access path we turned right on the Neuse River Trail.  We then turned right onto the beginning of Abbotts Creek Trail.  We biked past the blue heron habitat and over a large wooden walkway before coming to Falls River Ave.  There wasn’t any obvious directional signs for how to stay on the greenway, but remember my past time on this trail, we turned left on the sidewalk of Falls River Ave.  After mostly walking our bikes up the hill, we then made another left to stay on Abbotts Creek Trail, which continues to be more hilly than the first portion of the trail.  Ashley walked her bike up several of the hills, but made up for it on the downhill portions of the trail. After about 1/2 mile of riding we turned left into the entrance of the North Wake Landfill District Park and biked/walked up the steep trails to the playground area where the girls ran around and climbed like monkeys for over an hour.

IMG_6703The bike ride back to the car was successful and even a bit adorable as my stop-and-smell-the-flowers daughter took advantage of light greenway traffic with her simultaneous bike ride swaying and singing.  Despite the hot weather, the girls made the trip so much fun and were so patient with me as I carefully installed the bike equipment back onto the car.


Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we headed back to the landfill park (9300 Deponie Dr, just off Durant Rd) with our bikes, but this time we drove in and parked at the playground and rode our bikes around the road surrounding the big hill.  The road around the hill has been updated from a two-lane car road to a two-lane road with one dedicated bike/pedestrian lane and a one-way car lane.  The road is about 1 1/2 miles long and a short median separates the bike/pedestrian lane from the car lane and has several pedestrian crossing areas.

DSC_0220We biked to the bottom of the trail that leads to the top of the landfill, parked our bikes and walked to the top.  I’m the only one in our family who has ever been to the top of the landfill, so I was excited to share the views with everyone.  The little ones took turns exclaiming their discomfort for walking up the hill, but it’s such a short walk (less than 1/4 mile) that they pushed through it.

Even though it was a cloudy morning, we could still see some downtown Raleigh buildings.  The beautiful blue sky poked through, which gave great contrast to the super lush grass on top of the mountain.  The girls loved being up so high and enjoyed playing photographer with my new big camera. We had the top of the hill to ourselves that morning, making it a really fun family outing!

With the girls being a bit older now, we really were able to utilize this park for all its assets – greenway access, advanced climbing features on playground, and large open spaces.  I look forward to bringing them back when they’re much older to explore the mountain bike skills course. It’s hard to imagine this place was once a fully functioning landfill.

Thumbs up: park located along the greenway, great playground areas with variety of features, separated two-lane road around landfill hill, clean and fully functioning restrooms

Thumbs down: poor signage along Abbotts Creek Trail at Falls River Ave

Durham Central Park

IMG_6488Part of my summer bucket list for the past few years included a trip to the Durham Farmers’ Market.  Unfortunately, we never made time to visit Durham during the summer (unless it was for a Bulls game) until this summer.  A few weeks ago we had an atypically quiet weekend at home so we decided to head out to the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning.  Little did we know the farmers’ market is just one piece of a very fun and popular urban park, Durham Central Park.

Durham Farmers’ Market is located at the pavilion in Durham Central Park at 501 Foster St in downtown Durham.  After hunting around for a parking spot (there’s a lot of nearby construction), we parked in what seemed like a valid spot at a local business that is closed on Saturdays.  We then walked the few blocks to the farmers’ market to find a mecca of food, art, and fun!  The main farmers’ market area is located under the covered pavilion, but there are also dozens of pop-up tents and food trucks nearby.  We strolled by all the pop-up tents in the lawn area, which featured mostly artists selling handmade jewelry, doggie products, art, iron-made products and much more.  Then we walked through the main area, sampling fresh fruits, cheeses, and veggies and looking at the local art.  We bought some amazing corn, tomatoes, edamame, and fresh blackberries.

IMG_6484After exploring the main area, we walked across the street to the mini food truck rodeo area, where we bought some fresh tea and loco-pop popsicles.  There were tons of vendors at the market selling clothing, unique handmade items, cold drinks, household items and more.  After window shopping we walked across the bridge at the intersection of Foster and Hunt St where it dumped us out into the large lawn area, also part of Durham Central Park.  We walked up the hill to scope out the skateboard park, which is also located across from a police station.  After watching the skaters for awhile we headed back down the hill past the Leaf open-air performance area to the fabulous playground area, Mt. Merrill.

IMG_6504The playground features amphitheater-style rock climbing, two slides, climbing net, and some shade sails.  I especially loved the cute bird cut-outs perched on top of the poles.  There are also some benches sprinkled along the nearby sidewalk and some shady spots in front of the playground by the wooded area.  We grabbed a few of those shady spots and had a quick picnic with our edamame and blackberries. The girls loved jumping back and forth between having a snack and playing on the playground.  It was neat and unusual to see large boulders used as a climbing element in a playground.

Not wanting our fun morning in Durham to end, we headed back to our car and drove the short distance to Fullsteam Brewery for some yummy summer beers and lunch from the rotating food truck.  A heavy rainstorm popped up while we were there so we enjoyed our lunch to the tune of loud rain pinging off the metal warehouse roof.  In reading up about Durham Central Park since visiting, it seems like there’s some momentum for making improvements and continual development.  I look forward to visiting again in the future and seeing how the park shapes up over the years!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: playground’s close proximity to fun and food, climbing boulders on playground, diverse mix of artisans and farmers at market,

Thumbs down: I don’t recall seeing informational plaques about Durham Central Park while there, needs more picnic tables/benches

Fuquay-Varina Splash Park

Fuquay-Varina Splash ParkWhen we didn’t travel this summer, we explored lots of different places in Raleigh – the library, nature parks, the pool, and trampoline parks.  After feeling like we exhausted places in Raleigh, we mixed things up and visited different places outside Raleigh.  First on our stop was the Fuquay-Varina Splash Park with dear friends who have girls the same ages as ours.  The splash park is located inside South Park, about 40 minutes south of Raleigh at 900 S Main St.

Splash pads (separate from a pool) are few and far between in Raleigh and can offer a fun alternative to the pool.  Fuquay’s splash park is 6,000 sq ft of fenced-in water happiness for all ages!  Its most popular feature is the large green bucket that fills up and dumps like a big waterfall every few minutes.  Before the bucket nears its tipping point, most of the children line up below to squeal in excitement after the water dumps.  If being drenched isn’t your thing (or your child’s idea of fun), there are smaller water spray features throughout the splash pad including water guns, misting tunnels, gentle short sprays great for early walkers/babies, and taller sprays for bigger kids to run though.

IMG_6454The splash pad costs $2 per child for non-residents (cash only) and is free for Fuquay-Varina residents with a Resident Splash Card.  During the summer, the splash pad opened at 11am so there was quite an initial rush and it was at capacity by the time we got there at 11:15am.  After about 15-20 minutes the attendant called for everyone inside the splash pad to exit while the next group entered.  This juggling of guests continued for a few cycles before the crowds naturally evened out.

 

After spending our time in the splash pad, we headed to the large adjacent pavilion for a picnic lunch.  There is also a nearby playground and swings for all ages, but our girls wanted to quickly eat and head back to the splash pad.  Despite little shade, the playground was wildly popular among other park guests and provided a nice option while waiting to go back into the splash pad area.

After another splash session, we packed things up and headed home with a quick stop in downtown Fuquay-Varina for froyo at Sweet Creations.  It’s been at least four years since I’ve visited Fuquay-Varina and it’s neat to see all the new and established downtown businesses doing so well.  I look forward to exploring the new Fainting Goat Brewing Company during my next trip!

Even though several area pools have closed for the season, the Fuquay-Varina Splash Park is open through September 11 with limited hours.  Despite its shorter hours, the splash park will still make for a nice reprieve especially from the upcoming weekend’s heat.

Thumbs up: large park with fun recreational options, fenced-in splash park area, inexpensive entry fee, well managed crowd control, shaded dry seating areas outside the splash pad, large family-friendly restrooms
Thumbs down: earlier opening time might help with large crowds