2017 Holidays in the Parks

Even though Pullen Park’s Holiday Express has been sold out since July, there’s still plenty of other Holiday happenings in local parks. If you can’t make it to an event, explore a park soaking up Raleigh’s inevitable sunny winter days (remember Christmas Eve two years ago when it was almost 80 degrees). Grab coffee (and goldfish) to go and meet friends at a park, meet a friend for a bike ride or run on the greenway, or take a solo walk around a lake. Here’s a list of several indoor and outdoor programs sure to keep the kids busy (and the parents sane) happening across different parks through New Years including First Day Hikes.

City of Raleigh Programs 

  • Wednesday, 12/13 (8-10pm) – Skywatching at Dorothea Dix Park – join volunteers and staff from several local astronomy clubs and the Morehead Planetarium to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower of 2017; Free; Meet at the Big Field
  • Thursday, 12/14 (5-6pm) – Creative Crafts Throughout the Holidays at Hill St Community Center: create a Christmas-themed craft; Free; program barcode #210494; ages 5-12
  • Friday, 12/15 (5-7pm) – Holiday Pajama Party at Greystone Community Center: bring the entire family dressed in your pajamas for a holiday movie, cocoa and cookies; $2 per participant; program barcode 210518; all ages, not many spots left
  • Saturday, 12/16 (7am-noon) – Christmas Bird Count at Walnut Creek Wetland Center: stroll along the greenway looking and listening for birds. 2016’s Christmas Bird Count netted 49 different species. Please bring your own binoculars, or you can borrow a pair of our children’s binoculars. Free; ages 12+; registration required; program barcode 217570
  • Saturday, 12/16 (10am-12pm) – Snacks with Santa at Chavis Community Center: enjoy holiday games, arts and craft activities and story time with Santa. Bring your camera to capture a photo with Santa. Please bring two nonperishable food items for this event; Free; ages 12 and under; program barcode 211028
  • Saturday, 12/16 (1-2:30pm) – Gingerbread House Decorating Competition at Method Rd Community Center: they provide the gingerbread houses and supplies and you build; $20 per family; program barcode 211845
  • Saturdays in December, January and February (11:30am-12:30pm) – Yoga at the COR Museum – bring your yoga mat and water for a free yoga class instructed by yoga studios from around Raleigh

Wake County Parks & Recreation

  • Sunday, 12/17 (2-3pm) – Family Feature: Winter Wrap Up at Crowder County Park: winter is a great time to explore nature at the park! Join a naturalist and learn how to identify tracks, explore conifers, and drink pine needle tea. Then, observe snow and ice through hands-on science experiments. Don’t forget to bring your scarf and mittens! For all ages; $1/person; Registration is required for all family members and children must have an adult accompaniment.
  • Dec 22 (10:30-noon or 2-3:30pm) Field School: The Ingalls Long Winter at Historic Yates Mill County Park – Learn what Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family did to survive one especially long winter and find out how the family celebrated Christmas. Taste an old-fashioned peppermint candy stick and bring home a home-made holiday craft. Feel free to dress in your best pioneer outfit! For ages 7 and up; $6/Child. Registration is required. This is a drop-off program but adults are welcome to stay – however, seating is limited.
  • Dec 30 (2-3pm) – FWS: Green and on the Scene at Blue Jay County Park – Join Blue Jay staff for an outdoor adventure hunting winter plants and trees that are green and on the scene. All participants must be independently mobile or in child backpacks. No strollers please!; $1 per participant; open to all ages though most appropriate for ages 5+

NC Parks

  • Sunday, 12/17 (2pm) – Holiday Sing-a-Long at Eno River State Park: Join a park ranger at the historic Piper-Cox House for cookies, hot chocolate and the chance to sing historic carols sung by the inhabitants of the Eno River Valley.
  • Saturday, 12/23 (2pm) – Happy Holidays to You & the Birds at Falls Lake State Recreation Area: meet at Shelter 24 at Beaver Dam Lake area to make bird feeder ornaments and decorate a tree in the park with wildlife friendly decorations.
  • Thursday, 12/28 (2pm) – Winter Wonders at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: explore the nothern portion of the lake with a Ranger!  Observe bald eagles, winter birds and water fowl.  The deck is located approximately 150 yards from the gravel parking lot with the walk being very easy.  Dress for the weather as it’s usually colder on the deck. Meet at observation deck off Martha’s Chapel Rd.
  • Friday, 12/29 (2pm) – Winter Wonders at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: explore the southern portion of the lake with a Ranger!  Observe bald eagles, winter birds and learn about the lake’s history.  Meet near the volleyball court at the Ebenezer Day Use Area.

First Day Hikes on Monday, January 1, 2018

  • William Umstead Park (9am): meet at Reedy Creek parking lot off Harrison Ave exit on I-40 for a moderate 4-mile hike that will be a bit off trail, on the Company Mill Trail; highlights include two millstones in the woods that were never finished, the old Craggy Garden Scout camp and the biggest rock formations in the park. Please call the park for more info or to register.
  • Walnut Creek Wetland Park (2-4pm): Jump-start your New Year’s resolutions and join our staff for a scenic guided walk along the Walnut Creek Greenway. Be prepared to walk at least a mile. Strollers are welcome! Preregistration is helpful but not required. FREE; all ages; program barcode 209308
  • Falls Lake State Recreation Area (10am & 2pm start times) – Meet at the Rolling View Recreation Area for a hike on the kid-friendly Neuse Bend Trail; join a park ranger for an easy scavenger hunt/hike on the 0.75 mile Neuse Bend Trail in Rolling View Recreation Area. The Scavenger Hunt Hike is designed for ages 6-12 but all ages are encouraged to participate; Pre-registration is required and spots are limited: 919-676-1027
  • Eno River State Park (2pm) – meet at Fews Ford Picnic Shelter and choose between two hiking options: easy 2 mile hike or moderate 4-5 mile hike
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Hike #1 (9-11am) – meet at the New Hope Overlook Recreation area and hike the challenging 2.7 mile Blue Loop Trail; no pre-registration
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Hike #2 (1-3pm) – meet at the Ebenezer Church Recreation Area shelter #8 for an easy 1 mile hike along the Old Oak Loop Trail; great for families; no pre-registration

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.

2015 Holidays in the Parks

IMG_3193With school out for a few weeks over the holidays are you looking for some activities to keep the kids entertained?  Or do you need last minute gift ideas? Check the Leisure Ledger and gift a loved one an experience! From crafts, games, movies and nature hikes, the local parks have fun activities for all ages!  Here’s a list of several indoor and outdoor programs sure to keep the kids busy (and the parents sane) that are happening across different parks through New Years.

City of Raleigh programs (contact local park to register or register online through RecLink)

  • Holly Holidays at Optimist Community Center – Fri, Dec 11 or Sat, Dec 12 at 12:30pm; ages 3-5; make a craft or edible creation; $6 per class; registration is almost full
  • Calling for Owls at Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve – Sat, Dec 12 at 4pm; ages 3-5; read a story, make a craft and try to call the owls; $3; registration is almost full
  • Holiday Gifts from Nature at Durant Nature Preserve – Sat., Dec 12 from 2-4pm; ages 6+; make a creative gift from items found in nature and sip hot chocolate; $5
  • Holiday Tours at Mordecai – several tour times starting at 5pm on Sat., Dec 12; all ages; take a guided lantern tour through the Mordecai house and grounds to see how the holidays would have been celebrated in the past; $5
  • Kritter Kids at Lake Johnson – several Tuesdays starting Dec. 15 from 4-5pm; ages 4-9; play a game, make a craft and try to spot a different animal in the wild; different theme each week; $5
  • Creative Crafts throughout the Holidays at Hill Street Center – Wed, Dec 16 at 5pm; ages 5-12; make a fun holiday-themed craft; FREE; registration is required
  • Cool Artsy Crafts at Sanderford Road Park – Thurs, Dec 17 at 5:30pm; ages 5-14; enjoy a cool arts and craft experience; FREE; registration is required
  • Ornament Decorating at Pullen Arts Center – Fri., Dec 18 from 5-7pm; ages 5-11; drop the kids off for a fun evening of ornament making and decorating; $10; registration is almost full
  • Santa’s Night Out at Marsh Creek Park – Fri., Dec 18 from 6-9pm; ages 5-12; monthly program with a Santa theme for December including crafts, games, snacks and a movie; $20
  • Snacks with Santa at Chavis Park – Sat., Dec 19 from 10:30am-12pm; ages 1-12; enjoy games, arts and crafts, and take a photo with Santa; FREE; bring two non-perishable food items as donation
  • Kidz Crafty Cooking at Chavis Park – Tues., Dec 22 from 6-7pm; ages 5-8; celebrate the month of December by cooking a tasty treat; $5
  • New Year’s Day Hikes – jumpstart your New Year with a guided nature walk of about 1 mile at one of the following parks:
    • 10-11am at Durant Nature Preserve, Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve or Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve
  • Friday Night Movie at Lions Park – several Fridays beginning Jan 1; ages 2+; enjoy a family-friendly movie along with popcorn and drinks; $1.50

IMG_3292Wake County Parks

  • Winter Wrap-Up at Crowder District Park – Sun., Dec 13 from 2-3pm; all ages; join a naturalist and identify animal tracks, explore conifers, drink pine needle tea and do a science experiment; $3/individual, $5/family
  • Night Tree & Wildlife Treat Creation at Harris Lake County Park – Fri., Dec 18 from 3:30-5pm; enjoy a reading of Night Tree by Eve Bunting followed by making tasty treats for your backyard friends; all ages; $8/family
  • Wagon Ride & Cocoa with Santa at Harris Lake County Park – Sat., Dec 20 from 1-2:15pm; enjoy a wagon ride while singing Christmas carols and enjoying hot cocoa with Santa; all ages; $10/family
  • Crafts & More for Kids at Harris Lake County Park – Mon., Dec 21 from 10am-2pm; kids will enjoy hikes, crafts, and games for 4 hours while you run errands and do last-minute shopping; $16; send lunch and water
  • Fossil Fundamentals at Blue Jay County Park – Wed., Dec 30 from 2-3pm; ages 5+; learn about fossils and how to start a collection; $3/individual, $5/family
  • New Year Celebrations at Historic Yates Mill County Park – Sat., Jan 1 from 11am-12pm; all ages; learn about New Year traditions around the world and create a Chinese New Year
    lantern to take home; $3/individual, $5/family

img_4946NC Parks

First Day Hikes at NC State Parks – enjoy a guided hike (at varying levels) or explore a park on your own; here are some highlights of guided hikes in the nearby state parks

  • William Umstead Park – meet at the Reedy Creek side of the park at Loblolly trailhead for a photography-focused hike at 8am
  • Jordan Lake State Park – meet at New Hope Overlook for a challenging hike along the 2.7 mile Blue Loop Trail at 10am or meet at Seaforth Recreation Area for a 1.25 mile gentle hike along Pond Trail at 3pm
  • Falls Lake State Park – join a park ranger at Rolling View Recreation Area for a guided .75 mile hike and scavenger hunt; hikes will start at 10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm; check out our 2015 First Day Hike
  • Raven Rock State Park – join a park ranger for a 2.5 mile hike to Raven Rock at 1pm
  • Carvers Creek State Park – at 1pm choose either a 1 mile Hansel and Gretal hike, a 2 mile nature hike through the Longleaf pine ecosystem or a 3 mile history hike
  • Eno River State Park – meet at the Fews Ford Access for either a 2 mile or 4 mile hike at 2pm

NC Art Museum

2015 First Day Hike

Stream along Falls Lake hike

I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions many, many years ago so last year on New Year’s Eve, we started a new tradition of documenting our top 10 moments from the previous year.  It was a fun way to recall great memories without the disappointment of forgotten resolutions, and we plan to continue the tradition this year.  Like the start of 2014, we also hope to kick off 2015 with a First Day Hike.  Every state park in NC organizes First Day Hikes to encourage exercising and reconnecting with nature in the new year. Last year we hiked Falls Lake for the first time, so maybe we’ll try something new this year (weather forecast: chilly and dry)!

Jan 1, 2014

Here’s a listing of organized First Day Hikes at state parks in the Greater Triangle Area:

  • Eno River State Park – options of 2 mile or 4-5 mile hikes; 2pm start; start location: Fews Ford Access; event information
  • Falls Lake State Recreation Area – scavenger hunt with hike along Rolling View Track Trail (by the swim beach); various start times from 10am-2pm; call ahead to sign up; event information
  • Umstead State Park – fun hike for all ages; 10am start time; start location:Crabtree Small Parking Lot on Oak Rock Trail (Located off Highway 70/Glenwood Avenue); event information
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – 2.7 mile hike of Blue Loop along New Hope Overlook trail; 9am start time; event information

If the times or hiking distances don’t match your schedule, there are loads of other hiking trails and greenways to explore in the area.  Here’s a listing of previously hiked and reviewed trails to help you decide (side note: you may want to call the city or county parks before heading out to make sure they’re open):

Falls Lake Hike Day Hike A: Raven Ridge Rd towards Dam

img_4946Every New Year’s Day, NC hosts First Day Hikes all over their state parks to promote a healthy start to the year. Even though the organized First Day Hikes didn’t exactly work with our kiddo schedules we drove up for a short hike of our own near Falls Lake.

Falls Lake is a state recreation area just 10 miles north of Raleigh with 7 individual parks, a 12,000-acre lake and 26,000 acres of woodlands.  For our hike, we chose one of the southeastern fingers to explore.  The portion of the trail we hiked is from Day Hike A (from Shinleaf Rec Area to Falls Lake Dam) of the Mountains to Sea Trail.  Mark Edelstein provides a very detailed description of the hiking trails through Falls Lake, which I used to help navigate the area.  We hiked a portion of this trail heading west to east.

img_4947To find the gravel pull-off parking area (noted at the 3.5mi mark in Section 1) we drove north on Falls of Neuse Rd and turned left on Raven Ridge Rd and parked along the side of the road shortly after passing Annie Wilkerson Nature Park.  After getting everyone strapped in their gear, we set off by following the small sign pointing east towards Falls Lake Dam, which is 3.5 miles away.

This is a very moderate hike with small hills and a fairly wide trail throughout.  It is a heavily wooded area, giving a lot of shade to the trail.  Most of this section also closely follows much of the lake, so there are several lake inhabitants and small waterfalls to discover along the way (great for puddle stomping during summer time).  We also passed a trail entrance into Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Park, which happened to be closed for the New Year holiday, but would be fun to incorporate into a short hike.

We only hiked about 2.4 total miles that day and didn’t make it to Falls Lake Dam, but I’m looking forward to starting at the dam and heading west on our next hike through Falls Lake.


  • list of day hikes through Falls Lake as compiled by the Mountains to Sea Trail campaign
  • Detailed hiking descriptions from Falls Lake Dam to Raven Ridge Rd
  • Falls Lake map (although not detailed enough for hiking trails)

Thumbs up: views along stream, clear hiking signage along trail, great shade

Thumbs down: planning a hike in Falls Lake using NC Parks online resources (use the Mountains to Sea Trail site instead)