Umstead Park – Sal’s Branch Trail

Over the years I’ve spent a bit of time biking (if you call it that) the Umstead Park trails between the NC Museum of Art and the Harrison Ave entrance. Having a new baby makes it a bit tough to get back into exercising, but when our hiking enthusiast friends from Hokie country, Greg and Randi, came to visit in May I made it a point to include Umstead Park in our weekend plans!

We were looking for a trail with some good views, shade, and moderate mileage, so we opted for Sal’s Branch Trail (only 2.75 miles).  To get to Sal’s Branch Trail, turn into the park at 8801 Glenwood Avenue (Route 70) and continue on Umstead Parkway bearing right after the Visitor’s Center.  We parked in the shady parking lot that is used for several of the hiking trails.  We headed into the clearing above the parking lot in search of Sal’s Branch Trail.  Despite walking around for awhile trying to find the beginning of the trail, we eventually found the trail head and began our adventure!

The baby bjorn is a must-have for hiking on the trails
Use extreme caution when placing babies into the baby bjorn
View of the clearing above the parking lot
Hiking the Umstead trails is great exercise for the BTs
And we're off....

Shortly into our hike, we walked by Big Lake (no, I’m not making this name up).  Feel free to fish or kayak, but don’t plan on any swimming as it’s not allowed.

Once you pass Big Lake, your journey will take you on a moderately sloped and well cleared trail.  There were quite a few roots to keep an eye on, but we were able to successfully hike the trail with a baby and BTs without tripping.  This is a great trail to take with a baby or young children and dogs as you’ll pass the Visitor’s Center during your hike, which offers a great resting spot or quick bathroom stop (some of the nicest bathrooms I’ve seen).  Besides the scenic views around Big Lake there’s not much else to see other than the typical NC vegetation along the trail. However, Sal’s Branch Trail is great for getting some exercise with the baby and doggies.

Thumbs up: clear trail, visitor’s center, scenic views, doggie and baby bonding

Thumbs down: signage near parking lot

Historic Oak View County Park

Historic Oak View County Park is a must-see park for people of all ages located at 4028 Carya Drive in east Raleigh.  I had first visited this park several years ago when I volunteered with the Raleigh Jaycees and Wake County Animal Shelter during their Annual Mutt Strutt and was so surprised at how large and unassuming it was given that it’s right in a business park.

As you pull into the park you pass a small pond, large open fields, and shelters to the left and limited parking on the right.  There’s a walking path that snakes through the open fields.

 

Keep straight on the road to get to the main attractions of the park – Visitor’s Center, Cotton Gin Museum, and Main House.  First, check in at the Visitor’s Center and get a walking map of the area.  Inside the Visitor’s Center, you’ll find some agricultural exhibits to visit and a ton of educational activities for children to do.  It also seems like the center has children’s programs available during the week, so call them to learn more.  Begin your journey by heading out the back doors through the patio.

Benches outside the Visitor's Center

Our first stop along the paved walk was to the cotton fields and the Cotton Gin Museum.

Signs directing you to the different attractions
Plaque with information about the Cotton Gin House
Cotton fields that are available for groups to help with throughout the year
Plaque explaining the seasonal work for producing cotton
Wagons outside the Cotton Gin House
The Cotton Gin House showcases historical and educational information about producing cotton

Just past the Cotton Gin House is the Williams family cemetery.

The Williams family cemetery
Head stone marking the Williams family

Next, we visited the gorgeous Main House, which is an 1855 Greek Revival home.  During our visit the temporary exhibit, “Morning to Night: Domestic Service in the Guilded Age South” was being showcased.  The exhibit tells the story of the African-American work force in the south.

Entrance to the Main House
Front side of the Main House
Another view of the Greek Revival Main House
Inside the Main House

Just outside the Main House is the Cedar Plank Kitchen, which was unusual for this part of the country because of the costs of cedar.  The kitchen was built separately from the main structure in the event a fire broke out it would not destroy the entire home.

Back side of the kitchen
Plaque of the Cedar Plank Kitchen

Another site to see on your trip through the park is the Herb Garden, which has everything from basil to horseradish!

Other buildings to explore on your visit include the Barn, Carriage House/Tenant House

Carriage House
Barn
Information about the Farm House
Brick walkway through the park
Great spot for photos
Benches along the way

Thumbs up: Visitor’s Center, educational activities, cotton museum, walking path, herb garden, signage, benches, shelter areas
Thumbs down: location of park being within business park

Rose Garden

For my first Mother’s Day we spent the weekend in Nags Head with great friends and the pups for our traditional Yuengling 5K race. When we got home on Sunday we walked down to the Rose Garden, which is just two blocks from our house. We were too late for their annual Mother’s Day brunch celebration (mimosas and yummy food) so we just walked around and enjoyed the fantastic sights, smells, and company.  The Rose Garden can also be rented for weddings and other events (hint: no money needed on decorations).



Wandering through the rows and rows of roses


Lovely shades of peach, hot pink, and light pink roses



The rose garden is located in the circular, below-street level area at 301 Pogue St.  Parking is limited to around the circle and the nearby neighborhood streets.  There are a few different entrances with stairs or you can walk down the paved entrance way near the theater. The grass height in the gardens is kept pretty low so you can easily push a stroller.

There are over 50 varieties of roses to touch (no snipping) and smell. One end of the garden has a beautiful pergola covered in white roses and the water feature and the other end has a gazebo with other varieties of shade-loving plants. There are benches and picnic tables covered with large shade trees for great picnic spots.

The pergola at one end covered with white roses
The other end of the garden
Some of the shade-loving hostas

You can’t visit the Rose Garden without scoping out the latest plays at Raleigh Little Theater, which is adjacent to the garden. RLT is a community theater that produces 11 shows each season. I’ve been to a few shows and know folks who work on the production so be sure to check them out!

Thumbs up: picnic spots, shade, sights/smells, photo ops, gardens, theater

Thumbs down: parking (at times)

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

We’re not in Raleigh anymore! Yes, we did venture out to Durham in early April to see the Sarah P. Duke gardens on the campus of Duke. My best friend, Kelly, was coming into town to meet Ashley so the timing was perfect for my inaugural visit to the gardens.

We went mid-morning on a Friday and had to circle the hourly pay parking lot for about 15 mins before a spot opened up. We stopped off at the Visitor’s Center first to get a map and use the restrooms. Not knowing much about the gardens (besides it being a great spot for weddings), the folks at the front desk were extremely helpful with explaining the different gardens. We decided to first visit the Terrace Gardens. The walk to the garden is a rocky, dirt path that was partway under construction so it was somewhat difficult to push the stroller. However when we got to the top of the terraces and walked under the gazebo, the breathtaking views were so worth it! It was April which means tulips, tulips, tulips in bloom everywhere! Most of the paths along the terraces are compacted mulch, which made for easy strolling. After walking through the rows of tulips and other flowers we checked out the water lily pond, but nothing was in bloom yet so we walked along the South Lawn.

Tulips and other flowers in the Terrace Gardens


Tulips, tulips, tulips!


More pics of the Terrace Garden and Kelly with Ashley at the top


Views of the South Lawn


After that we made a short trip to the Native Gardens before deciding they were a little too native for the stroller.

We had worked up a sweat so we stopped by the Terrace Cafe in the Terrace Gardens for a lunch. They sell pre-made sandwiches, chips, drinks, ice cream, fruits, and coffee. All of the shady spots in the garden were taken so we ate in the cafe’s shady courtyard. It was a fun, relaxing lunch after all the walking and stroller pushing.

We ran out of time to visit the other gardens, but we’ll be back soon. Next time we’ll bring the Baby Bjorn instead of the stroller.  Afterwards, we headed back to Raleigh to cool off with ice cream sandwiches from the Cupcake Shoppe on Glenwood Ave.


Thumbs up:  flowers, gardens, views, picnic spots, photo ops

Thumbs down: pathways for strollers

Pollock Place Playground

When Ashley was 2 weeks old my best friend, Jennie, came to visit with her mom and son, Dean. At the time, Dean was an 18 month old energizer bunny so we headed out to the neighborhood playground half a mile away. We took a few pictures that day but since Ashley is 3 months today we decided to head back to the same place our adventures first started, Pollock Place Playground.

Pollock Place is a fantastic playground located between Dixie Trail and Meredith College at 3301 Pollock Place. It is in a quiet neighborhood in a triangular median between Taylor St, Merriman Ave, and Pollock Place streets. There are two jungle gyms with slides for different age groups, a swing set, metal benches with artsy designs, 3 picnic tables with a charcoal grill, and a sandbox. The playground is covered in a hardy mulch base, which is not a bad surface for strollers. My favorite parts of this playground are the enormous trees that provide an abundance of shade and tranquility.

Ashley at 2 weeks with Bill and Jennie


The hardy mulch base and Ashley at 3 months still napping at Pollock Place Playground


Picnic tables, grills, and benches


Swing set and jungle gyms



Raleigh really is an amazing city with great places to explore! It seems like with every street or neighborhood you drive by there’s bound to be a nearby park, trail or playground. Raleigh has several neighborhood playgrounds throughout the city so take a walk through your neighborhood and explore!

Thumbs up: shade, tranquility, jungle gyms, swing set
Thumbs down: none, unless you think napping all day under the shade trees is wrong 🙂

Adventures at Jaycee Park

Oh the Jaycee Park…something for everyone!  As a member of the Raleigh Jaycees since 2007, I’m proud of this park and what it provides to the community. The Jaycee Park was built in the 1960’s and the Raleigh Jaycees were instrumental in helping raise funds by selling targets at the Turkey Shoot at the NC State Fair. Since then it has provided years of recreation for people of all ages.  There’s such a wide variety of things to do here, it’ll take you half a day to explore them all.

If you’re looking for recreational activities, this is the park!  It has 3 lit baseball fields, a large community center, 6 lit sand volleyball courts, 2 lit tennis courts, and a large sandy playground. Next to the sand volleyball courts there’s even a shower faucet for post-game rinses.  The shade trees and benches next to the playground provide great picnic spots. There is also a large recycling drop-off area, community center, administration building, pavilion with charcoal grill and restrooms, and a hemerocallis (daylily) garden.

This park is located at 2405 Wade Avenue inside the beltline and has two entrances with parking lots, one from Wade Ave and one from Chamberlain St.  From Wade Ave, you can easily get to the community center, administration building, and hemerocallis garden.  To get to the recreational areas you can walk up a hill or drive around to the other parking area.  The hill isn’t very steep, but there’s not a paved path so I don’t recommend it with a stroller.

Views of the baseball fields


Tennis courts and sand volleyball courts


Wade Ave entrance, administration building, and community center


Pavilion with restrooms and charcoal grill and playground


Ashley enjoying a shady spot near the playground


Raleigh Hemerocallis Garden and gazebo within the garden


3 of the 50+ different species of daylilies featured in the garden


Brick path that allows you to meander through the daylily garden


A plaque memorializing the daylily gardens in honor of Charles Benjamin “Ben” Huyett



Enjoy your time at Jaycee Park and don’t forget to appreciate how it came to be!  If you’re interested in learning more about the Raleigh Jaycees come visit us at a meeting or better yet…come out to the Beer & Wine Tasting tomorrow night at Tir Na Nog to benefit the HOBY NC East program.

Thumbs up:  condition of tennis/volleyball courts and baseball fields, landscaping, shady spots for picnics, daylily gardens, playground, parking

Thumbs down: Wade Ave entrance, lack of sidewalks near Wade Ave entrance, lack of signage

Shelley Lake

Shelley Lake is a large park in the North Raleigh area. It is located at 1400 W Millbrook Rd and is a popular place to walk and run, especially in the evenings. The lake is surrounded by a portion of the Bent Creek greenway trail that is 2.08 miles. The Lake Park trail (unpaved .42 miles) also connects off the greenway.  A lot of the trail is shaded, but there are also long stretches of full sun.  When you pull into the parking lot follow the snaking trail to the left where you’ll connect to the greenway.

As we walked around the trail we came across several different things this park has to offer.

The parking lot off Millbrook Rd and signage about the park

 

Condition of the trail
Pier and boat house
Access to the fishing pier
Restrooms on one side and scenic views on the other
Water fountain outside the restrooms

Beautiful viewing area overlooking lake

 

Continuing on, you’ll notice that the signage throughout the park is pretty thorough. This park has a lot to offer and it could be easy to get lost along the way. Luckily we didn’t have to leave bread crumbs to help us get back to the parking lot.  The signs direct you to the Lake Park Drive (the unpaved section of the greenway), the Sertoma Arts Center, restrooms, and the Shelley Lake Trail around the lake.  We didn’t venture up to the Arts Center, but it has a plethora of adult and youth art classes available.

As you continue on the trail, you’ll come across a wooden bridge where you can stop to take pictures and visit with the ducks and geese.  Here are some pictures of Ashley with her own Duckie Wubbanub.

In addition to the amenities listed above this park also contains benches along the trail, workout stations, large open fields, and additional access to the other portions of the greenway trail.  Here are some more spectacular views of the lake and open fields.

Thumbs up:  spectacular views, great jogging trail, signage, access to other greenway trails, art center

Thumbs down: popular spot so it’ll be busy, litter in the lake

Crabtree Creek Trail near Crabtree Valley Mall

Continuing on our greenway adventures, my next stop with the honey badger was to the portion of Crabtree Creek Trail directly behind Crabtree Valley Mall. I’ve been to the mall a trillion times and was always curious about this trail. So we parked in the gravel lot near the McDonald’s on Crabtree Valley Ave and headed north on the paved trail.

Views of the trail looking towards the gravel parking lot

 

Crabtree Creek with turtles basking in the sun

 

Pedestrian access to the mall (I’m sure the hotel-goers are thankful for that).

 

Heading north on the trail

 

Trail marker and Edwards Mill Rd bridge (a bit noisy)

 

The swampy creek on the other side of Edwards Mill Rd

This part of the trail itself is in good shape with benches placed throughout, but a portion of it is located along side an abandoned lot with rusty construction debris. I think this is near where the infamous Soleil building was supposed to be. Since I was by myself on this trip it made me a bit uneasy so after a mile into our stroll I turned around and headed back.

Despite walking in the middle of the day, the traffic on nearby roads was pretty steady making our walk more noisy than peaceful. In the future I would recommend bringing a buddy to walk with and walking in the morning hours.

Thumbs up: paved trail, access to mall

Thumbs down: noise, construction debris, darkness under bridge, general uneasiness

Lassiter Mill Park

Lassiter Mill Park is a hidden gem of a park.  It is located inside the belt line at the intersection of Lassiter Mill Rd & Lassiter Falls Circle and is home to a beautiful dam where Crabtree Creek flows through.  You can see remnants of the old working mill on the far side of the creek. There is also a plaque with information about the mill on the bank of the water.

Ashley sitting near the information plaque for the old mill
View of the dam from the bank of the creek
Old mill on the opposite side of the creek

This is a great spot to bring a picnic lunch and eat in the open fields or on one of the few picnic tables. For the adventurers, shimmy down the rocky stairs for a closer view of the water. I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a baby unless you have a helper (thanks Bill).  There are also plenty of spots for fishing and signs along the water displaying fishing rules and regulations.

Bill with Ashley on the rocks near the dam
Ashley and I looking across the dam
Another view of the dam

Parking is rather limited so come early.

After you’ve finished exploring the park, walk on the paved path towards Lassiter Mill Road and make a left. After the bridge, cross the street where you’ll find access to the Crabtree Creek Trail, which is perfect for biking, walking, or running. We walked for about a mile on this paved section and then had a picnic on one of the many benches along the greenway. There is an open field with picnic tables but we weren’t up to pushing the stroller through medium-height grass. Along the way we also walked over a beautiful bridge that would make for great photo ops!

The open area with a few picnic tables
The bridge we crossed over is great for photo ops
Crabtree Creek Trail is paved and wide – perfect for all adventures!
The entrance to the trail from Lassiter Mill Rd

Thumbs up: beautiful scenery, walking trails, picnic/photo ops

Thumbs down: access to dam

Hello World

So, what do you do when you have a new baby, are no longer working, and have lots of free time? #1 Get out of the house (baby cries are less ear-deafening with trees, cars, and people to absorb them) and #2 find free things to do. Since I’ve got baby Ashley with me we needed to find some appropriate mommy/daughter things to do (unfortunately free beer/wine tastings were out…so sorry Wine Merchant and Lonerider).

Growing up my mom spent a lot of time taking me and my brother and sister to the local county parks and pools in Stafford, VA so I thought it was only natural to introduce baby Ashley to the various parks throughout Raleigh.  Unfortunately the county and city websites in Raleigh lack a lot of details on each park and there’s not an easy way to search for what you’re looking for in a park.  So, we’ve decided to venture out to all the parks, playgrounds, trails, and pools in Raleigh and report back with photos, details, and our general feedback on each one.

My husband, Bill, and I have been to several of the Raleigh parks in the past but we were more interested in the bike trails and tennis courts.  With baby around now, I’m looking for even sidewalks, shade, and long trails.  Even though baby Ashley is years away from personally enjoying my crazy get-out-and-explore mentality I’m sure she’ll enjoy looking at the pictures and stories of our adventures when she’s old enough. Who knows…maybe she’ll take her daughter on similar adventures one day 🙂  So, here we are at one of our first adventures at Lassiter Mill Park:

Sitting at Lassiter Mill Park
One of our first adventures to Lassiter Mill Park