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

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

East Fork Mine Creek Trail: MP 1 to 2.5

IMG_3485When the weather hovered in the high-70s on Christmas Eve, my family headed to a newly opened section of greenway for some exercise before filling up on holiday libations and rich foods.  East Fork Mine Creek is a 2.5 mile north-south paved trail that runs along Mine Creek near Lynn Rd to the north side of Strickland Rd.  We drove to one of the entrances of the trail near the intersection of Newton Rd and Sandy Creek Rd and parked in the shopping center across the street (note: take note of “no parking” signs; we arrived before the shops opened so we thought we’d be fine with parking in the center).

After crossing Newton Rd and heading north on the trail we quickly passed mile marker 1.  With the recent rains the paved trail was pretty wet with debris and the nearby Mine Creek flowed quickly.  This section of the trail runs behind a residential area of houses and apartments.  We also passed by a large section of tall bamboo on the side of the trail opposite the creek.

IMG_3489We continued north on the trail until we came to Old Deer Trail, a neighborhood street in the Summerfield subdivision.  We crossed over Old Deer Trail and followed the Capital Area Greenway signs as we winded our way through this cute, low-traffic neighborhood.  We passed a few other bikers and walkers along the way before coming to Strickland Rd.  We crossed Running Cedar Trail, heading east on Strickland Rd where we also passed West Millbrook Middle School and mile marker 2.5, the end of East Fork Mine Creek Rd.  At this point of the trail there is a well marked pedestrian crossing area designated for crossing over busy Strickland Rd.  My aunt and I opted to head back to the car while the rest of the group crossed Strickland Rd to extend their run on the connecting Honeycutt Creek Trail (more on this hilly trail in a future post).

A morning run on this section of East Fork Mine Creek was the perfect pre-Christmas exercise to involve all ages.  This section of the trail is pretty flat and offers lots of creek views, houses and people for little ones to view.

Thumbs up: flat trail, creek/residential views, safety, well-marked pedestrian crossing at Strickland Rd

Thumbs down: designated trail parking near Newton Rd

Umstead Park – Company Mill Trail

IMG_6227

If you combine a preschooler, some hiking and a little water play you’re guaranteed to have some fun! A little while ago, Ashley and I enjoyed some mommy and me time during her first “big girl” hike where she wasn’t riding in a backpack and we had an amazing time.  I have such great childhood memories of my aunt taking my brother, sister and me hiking in the Shenandoah National Park just outside Charlottesville – we hiked, splashed in the streams and ate yummy treats along the way!  Ashley would’ve loved some Oreos (like my aunt always had on hand for us), but unfortunately for her, all she got was banana chips and apples on our hike!

IMG_6206So, for our hike we headed out to the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park.   The Company Mill Trail is a looped trail of 5.8 total miles, but we only hiked a two mile trip that consisted of one mile down to the water/old mill and one mile back.  The entrance to the trail is located in the back left corner of the main parking lot of the Harrison Ave entrance to Umstead.  As you head toward the trail head you’ll pass several picnic tables and a large pavilion, which would be a great spot for a large group cookout followed by a short hike. This trail is very shaded and moderate in difficulty with lots of tree roots and a few narrow or steep parts, so Ashley held my hand while we hiked. Her preschooler legs go faster than her brain can account for so I wanted to prevent as many scrapes and bruises as I could.

IMG_6233So we set off and hiked for a mile until we came to the creek.  Before heading across the bridge we walked down some steep rocks and had a snack along the creek’s edge near the remnants of the old mill wall.  According to an information board near the parking lot, Company Mill was built in 1810 by Anderson Page and was used for grinding wheat and corn.  It was also a popular spot to have fish fries, weddings, and social gatherings before being washed away by a flood in the 1930s.  There are several flat spots below the old wall and near the water that are great for stopping.  A friendly photographer took our picture for us and then warned us of some water snakes he saw (luckily we didn’t see any).  After our snack we headed across the bridge and turned right to join the few crowds on the large rocks near the opposite side of the creek bank.  Ashley loved scooting down to the water and got tickled when I told her she could take her shoes and socks off and soak her piggies in the water.  This child was in heaven!  And, after a short while later we hiked the one mile route back to our car.  She was pretty exhausted for the last half of the hike home, but stayed in good spirits and finished on her own…I was so proud of her!

So, if you’re looking for a short yet fun hiking trail to conquer with little ones the Company Mill Trail in Umstead Park is an excellent option.

Resources: Great Outdoor Provision’s description of Company Mill Trail

Thumbs up: creek for splashing, views from bridge, shady, family friendly hiking option

Thumbs down: signage from parking lot to trail head

MacDonald Woods Park in Cary

img_6023

We had a jam-packed spring break staycation this year with trips to local parks, dance class, and a visit to Fearrington.  The beautiful weather stayed around all week and one day we met some dear friends in Cary at MacDonald Woods Park.

MacDonald Woods Park was our second choice for a park after we learned that Marla Dorrel Park was closed for renovations; lucky for us, MacDonald Woods Park was a short 2 mile car ride from Marla Dorrel.  MacDonald Woods Park is located at 1601 Seabrook Ave and is connected to Marla Dorrel Park via the Hinshaw Greenway, which is part of the pedestrian bridge that crosses US-64 highway. This park has on-street parking and sits below the road so it seems rather hidden at first, but based on the amount of people it’s a popular spot!

img_6008MacDonald Woods Park has playground areas for the 2-5 and 5-12 age groups with two swings for both groups. The 5-12 age playground is rather large with several ladders and slides, monkey bars, and climbing wall with rope. The loop-shaped ladder was by far a challenging favorite for this duo. The younger playground is very small with only 2 slides, steps and a platform ladder. There are a few bouncy rides and a small low-to-the-ground structure for early walkers. A small elevated sandbox is located between the two playground areas. But, by far, the best feature of this park is the merry-go-round. Yes, that’s right…they have a merry-go-round! Go Cary! Of all the parks we’ve been to this was a first so you can imagine the confusion when the girls first saw it. Having never been on a merry-go-round they watched several groups of people get on and off before getting on with a group of toddler girls. These sweet maniacs quickly caught on as to why you hold on to the bars but also moved into more challenging feats such as dangling their feet over the edge. That proved to be rather anxiety-ridden for us but they had fun and no one went flying off the thing, so it was a success!

After some playground time we had a picnic in the grassy area near the basketball court and then explored the nearby paved trails to the bridge and open grassy field. After some more trail exploring the girls were pretty exhausted so we headed home. I’m not sure if it was the fact that kids were out for Spring Break but I’ve got to think this park is naturally popular with its fun features and entrance to Hinshaw Greenway.

Additional resources: Hinshaw Greenway, MacDonald Woods Park

Thumbs up: merry-go-round, nearby creek to explore, landscaping
Thumbs down: small tot playground, few picnic tables

North Cary Park & Black Creek Greenway

img_5029This past winter has been one of the longest I’ve seen since moving to Raleigh over 11 years ago so when the temps hovered above 45 degrees in January we headed to North Cary Park with a friend and her girls for a short run and playground time.  North Cary Park is located at 1100 Norwell Blvd in Cary off of Cary Pkwy.  It’s a very large park situated along the northern end of Black Creek Greenway.  Before having kids we used to bike through Umstead Park on the Reedy Creek Trail and connect to Black Creek Greenway at Lake Crabtree.  This was a fun way to extend our mileage and explore the Town of Cary greenway system.

But, back to our recent trip.  After arriving at North Cary Park we winded through the park’s slightly confusing trails and eventually met up with Black Creek Greenway where we headed south.  The trail itself is a paved 7.1 total miles and winds between various neighborhoods and the creek.  We passed several bikers and runners along the way so we felt very safe.  We ran until the 2.25 mile mark of the greenway and then headed back.  The creek will make for some fun water playtime in the warm summer months.

img_5043

After running, we had some sweet, patient toddlers who needed to get exercise on the playground.  This playground area has a large sandbox area, several slides built into the small hills, a rock climbing area, tot swings, regular swings, a jungle gym for ages 5-12, and a small rubberized area great for the crawlers and early walkers.  With the dense landscaping and so many park features that are spread out, it made it harder for us to keep track of the toddlers while also tending to the babies.  After lots of toddler wrangling we were able to enjoy some time in the sandbox area, which has several benches along the perimeter.  Claire even enjoyed her first tot swing and Ashley was able to practice her potty training at the nearby restrooms, complete with a toddler-height sink.

Other than the playground and greenway, this park also has a large pavilion with a dozen tables overlooking 4 sand volleyball courts named after Julie Robison, 2 basketball courts, and a soccer field.  Benches and picnic tables are scattered throughout the playground area and before heading down to the greenway.  With so many friends with kiddos who train for running races, this is a great place to run solo or with kids combined with a playground visit!

More resources:

Thumbs up: variety of park features, safety of greenway, rubberized option for infants/early walkers, running/playground combo for those with strollers and kids

Thumbs down: confusing signage leading down to greenway trails, playground features being so spread out making it harder to keep an eye on independent toddlers