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

Pilot Mountain State Park: Ivy Bluffs Trail

Ivy Bluffs trail in Pilot Mountain State ParkOn day 2 of our Pilot Mountain State Park adventures, we headed to the Ivy Bluffs section of the park to check out the sites along the Yadkin River.  The Ivy Bluffs access point is located along the southern part of the Yadkin River in Yadkin County (northern side of river is in Surry County) off Shoals Rd at coordinates 36.25315, -80.50842.  This section is about 20 miles from the main mountain but offers some gorgeous views of the Yadkin River.

We arrived early on a cold Saturday morning and had the trail to ourselves.  There is a looped parking lot with a helpful map of the river/trail near the trailhead.  We started on the 1.3 mile moderate Ivy Bluffs trail, which began on a steady 1/4 mile decline down to the river level.  Along the way we saw gorgeous views of the wide, but fast-flowing Yadkin River through the barren trees from the bluffs.  The cliffs were high but nowhere as dramatic as the ones around Jomeokee Trail. When the trail flattened out near the river we passed a canoe put-in and large camping area complete with picnic tables and designated camping spots.  We continued on the trail, which parallels the river for 1/2 mile and circles back around near the large camping area.  Before looping around we stopped near a sandy spot by the water for a short picnic break.  After we got going again, we spotted several animal footprints and checked out the rocks and moss along the backside of the looped trail.

IMG_4189This trail is about 1.3 miles in total length and is marked as being moderate.  The only moderate part of the hike was heading up the bluffs on the way back.  The parts along the river were flat and quiet, the only sounds coming from the river and wee ones.  In the future when the kids are much bigger I’d love to explore this area further by canoe and camping!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views of river, great trail for hiking with kids, future canoeing/camping opportunities

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Falls Lake Day-Hike D: Flipped Car Hike

IMG_3606We took advantage of the gorgeous weather over Christmas break and spent a lot of time exploring new places outside.  The day after Christmas we drove north to Falls Lake for a 2.5 mile morning hike.  If you haven’t checked out the day hike ideas by the folks at Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), make it something you do this Spring.  The day-hike information includes detailed directions (including distance, difficulty ratings, for day-hikes in the mountains of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Raleigh-Durham (Triangle) region and the Coastal Plain.

IMG_3612We hiked Day-Hike D that starts near 15009 Possum Track Rd with roadside parking.  After getting the backpack gear on, we headed for the nearby trailhead with “Mountains to Sea Trail” markings and hiked in a westerly direction. This complete hike is about 2.9 miles one way, but we hiked about 1.25 miles out and back for 2.5 total miles.  This stretch of the trail features mostly flat land, hardwood forests with pines, a few views of the lake, some creek views and a flipped vintage car (about a mile into the hike).  According to an MST hiker, this car might be a 1951 Hudson Pacemaker. Ever so often we came to a clearing that was pretty muddy due to all the recent rains.  Before we turned around we stopped in a clearing for a quick apple snack and also caught sight of a few residential homes.

Along our hike we also passed several hunters (and hikers, too) so be sure to wear bright colors if you go on this hike.  Some or all of this land is on game lands and hunting is allowed (I overlooked this detail when initially planning our hike).  The hunters we passed were friendly, they just caught us off guard.

The girls are starting to get to the ages where hikes are more fun than work (imagine less complaining and more smiling).  Ashley likes to point out things in nature (the girl loves identifying some moss) and Claire enjoys looking around in her backpack and pretending she’s riding a horse.  After our last hiking fiasco in Nags Head, it felt rewarding that we didn’t leave any tears on this trail!

Thumbs up: easy family hike with little ones, cool vintage car to gawk over

Thumbs down: be prepared to share the land with hunters as this is part of game lands

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

Crabtree Creek Trail: MP 0 to 4.75

IMG_3014Back in November we took advantage of my aunt visiting and went on a greenway biking day date!  We biked along Crabtree Creek Trail from milepost 0 to 4.75, completing the final segment of this greenway that we had left to explore.  We parked at Anderson Point Park and biked past the traffic circle near the park’s main entrance to the Crabtree Creek Trail greenway entrance and headed west (note: there are also signs for Neuse River Trail).

This portion of the greenway was pretty flat, but offered a lot to look at along the way.  We biked almost 5 miles and crossed several bridges and went under several overpasses on this trail segment.  From Anderson Point Park, we headed west where we biked under Rogers Ln and US-64, S New Hope Rd, I-440, New Bern Ave and then followed the sidewalk along Milburnie Rd before connecting up with more of the greenway.  After Milburnie Rd, the trail was covered in leaves and got rather hilly.  We saw some pretty water views from the high banks of Marsh Creek but also saw less desirable views of the abandoned nightclub, Envy.

IMG_3008We biked until about mile marker 4.75 where we turned around at an abandoned commercial building with a gantry crane to ensure we returned to the park before sunset (note: just past this spot is Lockwood Park).  The ride back was as refreshing and quiet as the ride in, covering more wooded areas than residential areas.  We passed a few runners and bikers along the way, but this section of the trail definitely felt less travelled compared to others.  After our bike ride, we quickly came home to change and then hopped back into the car for part 2 of our date at the new Cinebistro movie theater in Cary where we saw The Martian…a relaxing end to a fun date!

Thumbs up: road signage at highway overpasses, quiet/relaxing ride

Thumbs down: lack of signage about upcoming parks/playgrounds along bike route

Neuse River Trail: MP 0 to 1.5

IMG_9816.jpgFor the few days it’s been sunny and above 40 degrees this winter you could easily find us at a park or greenway soaking up the fresh air.  Even though we’ve explored a lot of the southern end of the Neuse River Trail, we hadn’t run along the northern portion (aka Upper Neuse Greenway) until this winter.  It’s a great location to get some exercise and then have a picnic along the shores of the dam.

The Neuse River Trail is nearly 28 miles long and officially starts just south of the Falls Lake Dam.  We parked in the lot adjacent to the dam, which is near the intersection of Old Falls of Neuse Rd and Pleasant Union Church Rd.  From the parking lot, walk along Pleasant Union Church Rd and bare left onto the paved trail that goes under Old Falls of Neuse Rd.  As another parking option, turn right onto the service road before crossing the bridge over the Neuse River.  Follow the road 100 yards to the greenway parking lot, which has space for about 30 cars and is across from the canoe launch.  I prefer to park in the dam parking lot because it offers amazing views and has picnic tables for post-run picnics.

IMG_9828.jpgOn this particular day the water level was elevated, so it was relaxing to hear the rushing water flow over a screaming 18-month old (yes, she screamed for about 95% of our run).  Regardless, this trail is great in that it parallels the river offering great water views and glimpses of the native flora and fauna.  We saw herons, beautiful budding red berry bushes (maybe winterberry shrubs) and tall native grasses.  We passed under Falls of Neuse Rd and over small bridges.  We also passed by the Bedford at Falls River neighborhood with greenway access to Falls River Ave and then turned around at the 1.5 mile mark, which is by the fork in the trail; keep left to stay on the greenway or stay straight for another access point to Falls River Ave and a greenway parking lot.  The steady stream of foot traffic and proximity to made me feel secure about returning on my own and the relatively flat, wide trail might make it ideal for kiddo balance biking!

After finishing our run we enjoyed a picnic lunch near the dam and then walked down to the shore line for some good ol’ rock throwing.  If you’re still looking for something do after exploring the greenway and dam, hike up the nearby unpaved trail to the top of the dam for more gorgeous views and some playground time.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: safety of trail, beautiful views, relatively flat trail, abundance of parking lots

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Abbotts Creek Trail

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It might be snowmaggedon part 2 in Raleigh right now, but months ago it was a beautifully warm day for a run in North Raleigh along Abbotts Creek Trail.  Abbotts Creek Trail is 2.9 miles and connects Simms Branch Trail with the Neuse River Trail.  We parked on-street near the intersection of Falls River Ave and Ashmead Ln.  Abbotts Creek Trail is connected by the sidewalk near where we parked so after some walking back and forth, we got our bearings and headed north on Falls River Ave where we shortly caught up with Abbotts Creek Trail.  Again, I’d love some directional signage throughout the greenways.

Abbotts Creek Trail is a wide, flat, and paved trail that runs between the Bedford at Falls River subdivision to the north and Abbotts Creek to the south.  It nicely carves a path through a moderately wooded forest (great for shadiness in the hot NC summer).  Along our run we passed several bikers and joggers, crossed multiple bridges, and explored the blue heron habitat.  While we didn’t see any blue herons, we did see evidence of their nests, which were easy to identify with help from the information guides.  Near the habitat are several benches, great for resting while doing some bird watching.

img_4316When we reached the end of Abbotts Creek Trail we turned left north onto the Neuse River Trail for a bit before turning around.  While on the Upper Neuse River Trail we passed the 2 3/4 mile mark and were impressed with the information guides about the floodplains and benches along the way.  Our out and back run was a total of 3.2 miles and I look forward to getting back up here again to explore the southern half of Abbotts Creek Trail, which I think leads to the North Wake Landfill District Park.

Thumbs up: flat and wide trail, lots of shade, fun nature stops along the way, busy foot traffic

Thumbs down: signage

Lake Lynn Trail

img_3803When I decided to run the City of Oaks 10k this past November, I used my toddler-free Tuesdays and Thursdays (thanks to preschool) to do my longer runs at Lake Lynn Trail. During these times I only had Claire with me, which meant I could run longer with the single BOB stroller. Pushing a double BOB stroller is exhausting!

Lake Lynn Trail is part of the Hare Snipe Creek Trail and about a 2.15 mile loop around Lake Lynn in North Raleigh. There are two entrances from where you can access the trail – one at Lake Lynn Community Center (7921 Ray Road) and one near the intersection at Lynn Rd and Leesville Rd.  Both entrances have large parking lots with easy access to the trail.  If you’re trying to get a good run in and need to avoid the playground, be sure to use the Lynn Rd entrance.  The Lynn Rd entrance is also where the mile marker starts at 0.

One of the main reasons I enjoy the Lake Lynn loop so much is that it’s a relatively flat trail that follows along the perimeter of the lake, offering nice views.  I knew the City of Oaks 10k would be pretty hilly (and it certainly was) but I was banking on the fact that I’d survive the race since all my runs were completed pushing at least one child in a stroller.  I also enjoy this loop because there’s a good amount of traffic so I feel safe when running by myself, although it can get rather crowded at peak times (mornings, weekends, and I’m sure evenings too).

Lake Lynn trail is paved with large sections of wooden boardwalk near the northern part of the trail.  It’s pretty noisy on the boardwalk so if you’re planning for little ones to sleep on this run, they will probably wake up when you reach the boardwalk.  The water level is pretty low near the boardwalk and has become a popular hangout for children feeding the ducks and geese so you may have to play Frogger™ to get around that area.  But, please remember to follow all city regulations and DO NOT FEED THE GEESE….they are a nuisance and will survive just fine without the extra feedings.  Instead, take the kids around the trail and look for the sweet sunning turtle families.  There are also several apartment complexes located around the lake, so it’d be a great place to live for anyone looking to be near the greenway.

Thumbs up: relatively flat and shady trail, great views along lake, sunning turtles

Thumbs down: paved portion of trail is bumpy with tree roots, bottleneck of patrons feeding ducks, entrance from Lynn Rd is initially hard to spot