Mingo Creek Trail MP 0 to 2.25

IMG_8407Looking for a fun family bike ride over the holiday weekend? Discover the Mingo Creek Trail of Knightdale where it features flat rides, long causeways and interesting creek life!

We love finding new (to us) greenway sections to explore, so we headed to Anderson Point Park to access the Mingo Creek Trail. Mingo Creek Trail is part of the Town of Knightdale’s greenway system that connects from the Neuse River Trail. We parked in the large parking lot (just outside the main entrance to Anderson Point Park) and biked north on the Neuse River Trail.

We shortly passed MP 17 for the Neuse River Trail and then turned right, following signs for Mingo Creek Trail. Then, we winded up a paved path before biking across the Neuse River. The trail eventually led to a clearing with residential homes on one side and railroad tracks on the opposite side. Around MP 1, the trail’s gradual hill leveled out to the Princeton Manor neighborhood at the Hodge Rd intersection.

IMG_8426We maneuvered through the neighborhood sidewalks and carefully crossed Hodge Rd to continue on Mingo Creek Trail. Shortly after, we biked along the half-mile causeway, which was sandwiched between marshy areas and residential homes. We stopped on the causeway to watch the turtle and duck families sunning in the water. A great heron (or egret) also caught our eye.

Eventually we biked under the I-540 bridge and turned around at the Lynnwood Rd Connector at MP 2.25. Knowing we’d have a 2.25-mile return trip, we enjoyed a picnic on the side of the trail before calling it a successful ride. I hope to bring the girls back to finish biking this trail over the summer where it ends at Mingo Creek Park.

Thumbs up: easy to read Town of Knightdale greenway map with incremental markings and mileage table, connection to the larger Neuse River Trail for longer rides, interesting wildlife viewing in marsh, great family bike ride, sunny bridges and causeways make for great photo ops

Thumbs down: lack of signs made maneuvering through neighborhood near Hodge Rd confusing

2017 First Day Hikes

2017 First Day HikesLace up your hiking boots and head outside on New Year’s Day for an organized hike in a local park.  Every state park in NC (city parks are catching on, too) organizes 2017 First Day Hikes to encourage fitness and reconnecting with nature in the new year. Last year we visited Murrells Inlet, SC for the first time, but this year we’re staying close to home and hope to discover something new (weather forecast at publication: a little chilly and dry)! 

List of organized First Day Hikes at parks and greenways within an hour of Raleigh:

  • Durant Nature Preserve – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 8305 Camp Durant Rd (north entrance); pre-registration is suggested but not required; prepare for natural surface walking; non stroller-friendly; event information
  • Walnut Creek Wetland Center – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 950 Peterson St; pre-registration is suggested but not required; wheelchair and stroller-friendly; event information
  • IMG_5058Falls Lake State Recreation Area – scavenger hunt with hike along Rolling View Track Trail (0.75 miles); start times at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm; pre-registration is required; prepare for natural surface walking; event information; my 2015 First Day Hike review
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – 2.7 mile hike of Blue Loop along New Hope Overlook trail; start location: New Hope Overlook by boat ramps; 9am start time; event information; my 2012 review of New Hope Overlook trail
  • img_4160Umstead State Park – 1.3 mile hike along Pott’s Branch Trail; start location: small parking lot by Pott’s Branch trailhead (Hwy 70/Glenwood Ave); 9am start time; event information; my 2014 review of Pott’s Branch Trail
  • Eno River State Park – options of 2 mile or 4 mile hikes; start location: Fews Ford Access; 2pm start time; arrive early as this is a popular event and parking can be hard to find; event information
  • Raven Rock State Park – 2.5 mile easy hike along Raven Rock Loop Trail to the park’s centerpiece, Raven Rock; start location: picnic shelter at Raven Rock Loop trailhead; 2pm start time; event information
  • Kerr Lake State Recreation Area – 1 mile nature hike; start location: park office (6254 Satterwhite Point Rd); 1:30pm start time; event information
  • First Walk Cary at Morris Branch Greenway – bring the family for a walk along Cary’s Morris Branch Greenway; parking location: 115 Allforth Pl and follow signs for walk start; 10am start time; stroller-friendly; event information 

If the above times or distances don’t work with your schedule, visit a park and explore on your own. Check out my list of previously reviewed trails in the area.

Summit Trail: Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

IMG_5612On the way home from our mountain trip in West Jefferson we decided to take advantage of the close proximity to Mount Jefferson and pay a visit.  Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is located just east of US 221 at 1481 Mt Jefferson State Park Rd in West Jefferson (elevation 3000ft).  It lies along the drainage divide between the north and south forks of the New River, which influenced the size and shape of the mountain. Mount Jefferson and its nearby peaks are remnants of a once lofty, mountainous region but weathering and erosion over millions of years wore away the softer, less resistant rocks. The more resistant rocks, amphibolite and metagraywacke of Mount Jefferson, were slower to erode.  The mountain received its name in 1952 in honor of Thomas Jefferson and his father, Peter, who owned land in the area and surveyed the nearby North Carolina-Virginia border in 1749.  In 1956 the mountain became an official state park.

The main access road up the mountain is easy to navigate and offers two beautiful overlooks.  The small parking lot at the top of the mountain provides quick, easy access to the mountain’s trails, large pavilion, and picnic tables.

IMG_5615We walked through the picnic area and followed the short Summit Trail (0.3 miles) up the mountain.  Although the website lists this trail as strenuous, we felt it was more on the moderate side.  Due to our haste planning half of us wore flip flops, but could easily walk the gravel trail.  The gravel path is wide and shady giving a cool mountain feel to the hike. Along the way we saw butterflies, rhododendrons, mountain laurel and red-starred flowers; though stop by the park office for official plant and animal checklists. We visited the bathrooms along the way, which were super convenient and an easy walk from the main path.  We passed access to the Kids TRACK trail, which is part of the longer Rhododendron Trail (1.1 miles).  Near the top we turned left to the Mount Jefferson summit, which has an elevation of 4683 feet.  I climbed out a little further to catch the beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Even though this is a smaller state park in size, it offers 5 moderate to strenuous hikes that are great for quick hikes with beginners or young families.  It would also be a great spot for a quick picnic if you’re out and about in West Jefferson or on the way home like we were.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: quick, easy access to hiking trails from the parking lot, easier hikes for beginners and families, beautiful views of mountains from Mt Jefferson summit, picnic spots are plentiful

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Canoeing the New River in NC

New RiverLast month good friends invited our family to their mountain cabin along the South Fork of the New River near West Jefferson, NC.  Though this was my first time on this river in NC, being back on the New River reminded me of past trips whitewater rafting through West Virginia or lazily tubing the New River Junction near Blacksburg, VA.  We made those trips before we had kids so it was fun to share this trip with our kids and new friends we’ve met since having kids.

The New River is unique in that it flows south to north and is believed to be one of the oldest rivers in North America, and maybe the world.  This ancient river begins in the mountains near the TN-NC border, flows north through NC, VA and WV where it joins with the Gauley River (I’ve always wanted to raft during the fall release dates) to become the Kanawha River and eventually flows to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio & Mississippi Rivers. Portions of the New River in NC flow through different access points to the New River State Park where you can camp, hike, canoe, kayak, fish, or any combination of those.  While we spent a lot of our weekend exploring the private area around the cabin, wading in the family-friendly river, or teaching the kids to kayak, my friend Annie and I got out for a few hours on Saturday afternoon for a relaxing canoe trip.

IMG_5566After an exhilarating drive down one-lane gravel roads in an old Chevy truck with a canoe in tow we arrived at a small put-in near the intersection of Dog Creek Rd and Joe Little Rd.  The bank is steep and the pathway to the water is narrow and overgrown on the sides, but it made for a quick water entrance.  Joe Little Rd is a narrow one-wayish road, so use caution when driving.  It was a beautiful day to be on the river so we passed quite a few tubers, kayakers, and fishermen.  The water was pretty brisk, so it felt good to be dry in the canoe.  Along our way we passed Wootens Mill on Dog Creek Rd, which is no longer in service but dates back to the 1770s.  We also passed the Wagoner Access portion of the New River State Park on the south side of the river.  We saw lots of tents set up for weekend camping and canoe put-in areas.

We made a quick pit stop back at the house to refill our cooler before heading further upstream (remember, the river flows south to north).  We made our way over a few mini rapids and shortly passed the River Bend campsite area of the New River State Park that features primitive canoe-in only camping.  With the exception of the flowing water and birds (and our girl talk), the river is void of any other sounds as it snakes through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  After awhile we pulled the canoe out near a shallow rocky area to take a break.  The river rocks feature those smooth, round shapes so we easily laid down in the water to chill.  After a few more minutes of deciding we needed to start a yoga retreat on the river we paddled some more to a popular swimming hole.  We pulled the canoe out near a small island and swam to the large rock to jump into the deep water below.  It was heavenly!

After paddling a bit more we called our ride home as we reached the take-out spot near Absher Rd/Gentry Rd Bridge.  It was late afternoon when we got out, so we had to wait a few minutes before we could pull out the canoe.  With stops, it took us about 3 hours to go about 6 miles on the river. With its gentle, shallow waters and tranquil rapids the South Fork of the New River offers so many family-friendly or beginner adventures.  The river’s beauty is something to experience first-hand and I can’t wait to get back here again!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: lots of shallow wading spots for little ones, camping/canoe options at New River State Park, beautiful scenery along river, river’s beauty and tranquility, gentle and mild rapids are great for families and beginners

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Pilot Mountain State Park: Jomeokee Trail

pilot mountain state parkTwo months ago our family headed west to Dobson, NC to visit old neighbors and friends whose son was having a first birthday.  Wanting to extend the trip so we could explore more of the Yadkin Valley area, we made it a three-day trip so we could visit Pilot Mountain State Park, the nearby towns, and vineyards.  Having passed Pilot Mountain dozens of times via US-52 on our way to Blacksburg, VA we had always wanted to explore this area.

We tried our luck with Airbnb and rented Stony Knoll Vineyards Wine Lodge from the Coe family, a really interesting pre-Civil War log cabin that was renovated in 2007 with all the modern necessities.  The cabin sits across the street from Stony Knoll Vineyards, also owned by the Coe family.  The cabin, which has been in the Coe family ever since 1896, was the perfect blend of rustic and coziness for our family. It’s a two-story cabin with a king-size bedroom and loft with twin bed upstairs; full bath, double bed, TV/sitting area and fully-equipped kitchen on the first floor.

Big PinnacleAfter a restful sleep on Thursday night we got up early and headed for Pilot Mountain State Park.  We made a beginner’s mistake by going to the Bean Shoals Access of Pilot Mountain and after a 20 minute detour we found the main entrance to the park (1792 Pilot Knob Park Road) and winded our way up the 2 mile curvy, paved road past the visitor center to the parking lot at the summit.  Pilot Mountain has a uniquely shaped mountaintop, Big Pinnacle, with bare rocks on the steep sides and vegetation covering the top.  This mountain is part of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. Big Pinnacle served as a landmark for Indians and pioneer settlers back in the days.

The parking lot area has several overlooks for catching beautiful views of the valleys below and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  It was a super chilly yet sunny morning so we quickly made our way to the trailhead by following the path behind the bathrooms.

Rocks on Big PinnacleJomeokee Trail is a short 0.8 mile looped hike around the base of big pinnacle sitting at 2400 ft elevation.  To the Saura Indians, the earliest known inhabitants of the area, the mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.” We headed around the trail counterclockwise, climbing up and down rock steps.  There was little up and down terrain on the trail, but the cliff views were impressive to say the least.  The trail can get rather narrow and offers some really up close views of the 200 ft Big Pinnacle.  After making it about halfway around the base, our crew decided to call it a success and head back, given the cliff views were getting a little too hairy and too close for comfort (there are no railings).

So, we walked back down the main path passing the trailhead to Ledge Spring (1.8 miles, strenuous trail) and Little Pinnacle Overlook (0.1 miles, easy trail).  We took the easy, short 0.1 mile walk to the Little Pinnacle Overlook so we could get another great view of Big Pinnacle across the way.  Amazed at the massiveness of Big Pinnacle and the valley below, we took in the sights a few minutes more and then sat on a bench near the kid-friendly TRACK trail for lunch.

The kid-friendly TRACK trail follows the moderate 0.3 mile Sassafras Trail along a fire-based ecosystem with great views of Big Pinnacle.  It leads to an overlook inhabited at the time by hungry-looking vultures that we avoided!  We saw deer and lots of different vegetation along the way.  TRACK trail is part of the Kids in Parks initiative that was started in 2008 as a way to encourage families to get outdoors and explore.  This regional network of trails has proved so successful it’s expanded to 7 states and DC and includes more than just hiking trails.

After a day of hiking we visited the nearby town of Elkin, NC where we walked around the busy main street area and had a delicious dinner and craft beers at 222 Public House.

Stay tuned for my next post highlighting a different section of Pilot Mountain State Park!

More Resources

  • Pilot Mountain State Park map
  • History of Pilot Mountain State Park
  • Kids in Parks network of family-friendly adventures

Thumbs up: beautiful views, family-friendly trails, access to overlooks, having public bathrooms at top of mountain, well marked trails and maps

Thumbs down: nothing to report

First Day Hike 2015 – Falls Lake Rolling View

IMG_5058On New Year’s Day 2015 we visited the Rolling View section of Falls Lake State Park to participate in the NC State Parks First Day Hike.  The First Day Hikes are organized hikes designed to encourage folks and little ones to get exercise and explore nature in the great outdoors.  We decided on the Rolling View hike because there were several scheduled on the hour, leading me to believe the hike would be a short one – perfect for a restless toddler in a backpack.  After a 35 minute drive northwest to the Rolling View entrance of Falls Lake in Durham, we followed the main road to the back of the park before turning left into the large parking lot.  This part of the park is also where the recreational swimming area, playground, and picnic shelter 12 are located.

IMG_5080Once the families gathered at the trail head, the park rangers explained more about the short .75 mile hike and gave each child a scavenger hunt brochure of things to look for along the way.  Ashley was a little too young for the scavenger hunt, but the older kids had a great time.  They also explained the Kids in Parks Track Trail initiative that several parks are doing throughout the country as a way to encourage kids to experience the outdoors through a network of family-friendly adventures; this trail happens to be one of those adventures!

IMG_5074In the past our hiking experiences with our kids have mostly been self-guided with very basic objectives: 1) survive (Grandfather Mtn Profile Trail & Calloway Peak were the ultimate test), 2) limit the crying (adults included), and 3) have fun (no brainer, that’s why we do it)!  With the Rolling View hike being a guided tour by a park ranger, I wasn’t sure if Ashley was too young to feel engaged, but the park rangers were amazing at interacting with all the kids.  They kept the hike going while pointing out really neat nature things on/off the trail, answering questions, prompting the kids with questions, and giving some history about the park.  We definitely experienced things in nature we wouldn’t have had we been on the hike by ourselves; we saw animal footprints in the puddles and streams, learned about the importance of controlled burns, discovered deer bones, gained appreciation of decaying stumps as a food source, and so much more!

After our short .75 mile hike, which took less than an hour (of which Claire screamed most the way) we headed to the nearby playground.  The playground is designed for those ages 5-12 and has several climbing ladders, swings, a tire swing, and bridge.  It is very close to the swimming recreation area, bathhouse, and picnic tables, making this a great spot for warmer weather.  The recent rains caused the lake water levels to come very to the playground so after our short playtime we headed home for some much needed grub.

Check out the Kids in Parks Track Trail website – the search and filter features make it easy to find outdoor adventures close to home!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: friendly and knowledgeable park rangers, guided hike, nature experiences for kids

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Neuse River Trail: MP 13.25 to 15 & Suspension Bridge

IMG_7529

While I’ll be at the beach over Labor Day week, I wanted to share a must-do item for exploring Raleigh over the holiday weekend.  If you’re looking for some exercise, flora, fauna and beautiful scenery, this portion of the Neuse River Trail is it – it has a suspension bridge, croaking frogs, majestic herons, and an old dam!

Most recently we explored the Neuse River Trail from milepost 13.25 to 15.  We parked in the small paved residential lot at 2894 Abington Ln in east Raleigh.  After a short run down to the trail, we came to the compass in the greenway and decided to head north for a bit in search of the huge suspension bridge (by looking at the online greenway map, it looks like you cross the river just north of here).   Within 1/4 of mile we came upon the suspension bridge at milepost 13.5, which seems to come out of the middle of nowhere!  It seems so unique and breathtaking to me to have a suspension bridge on the greenway; I’m pretty sure I got goosebumps (granted it was 100+ degrees outside) and felt very sentimental for my city!

IMG_7513

We ran another 1/4 mile north until milepost 13.25 and then turned around and headed south.  We ran back over the suspension bridge where we saw some fisherman casting lines.  Further along we passed residential homes to the west and wetlands to the east with several overpasses in between and white barn fencing in certain areas that gave this trail a farm-like feeling.  There are more stretches of sunny parts along this trail than what I’m used to, I think mostly due to the neighborhood developments; it added some intensity to this hot summer run so don’t forget extra water!

We ran south until the Milburnie Dam, which we have explored in the past.  Again, it’s amazing to see what parts of Raleigh you’ll miss if you don’t get on foot!  So get out and explore this weekend!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: beautiful views, wetlands with information signs, suspension bridge, parking lot with access to trail, mile markers

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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