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

Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve

IMG_2812One Sunday morning at the end of October I took the girls to the newly opened Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.  The park is located at 2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd in Northeast Raleigh and contains about 146 acres of property on an oxbow of the Neuse River.  The city purchased the property in 1994 as a future park site, and it is now being developed in multiple stages.  According to the city’s website, Phase I development included improvements to the entrance drive and dam, parking, signage, soft surface walking trails, connection to Neuse River Greenway, picnic shelter and restroom facility. Future phases include developing an educational center, playground, amphitheater, and canoe launch while promoting sustainability and enhancing the land’s natural characteristics.  We’ve been keeping an eye on this park ever since we explored the nearby Neuse River Trail so it’s nice to connect to a nature preserve along the greenway!

IMG_2819After parking in the main parking lot, we headed toward the large pavilion and then to the large open space to run and kick the ball around.  Down from the large pavilion is an old red farm house  and white picket fence leading to a rustic barn, all perfect for an outdoor photo op (which we witnessed while there).  In looking at future phases, the farm house looks to be used for the education/art center.

Hoping to take advantage of energetic little ones we kicked the ball across the field to the other side of the tree line in hopes of finding the nature trail.  Luckily I looked at the park’s website before coming out to the park to know a 0.5 mile natural walking trail runs along the tree line in a horseshoe shape.  There were no signs within the park indicating such trail exists, but that’s probably because of the park’s infancy.  So we headed to the tree line where you can barely make out the river through the woods and started our short walk.  The girls really got into collecting berries and learning about plants in nature this fall so they really enjoyed this walk.  Along our way we saw lots of berries, colorful leaves, tall and fuzzy grasslands, pine cones, moss, and sticks.  The main parking lot and large open fields aren’t visible from a few sections of the path, but for the most part you can see the whole park from anywhere.  The path horseshoed around toward the old farm house and barn where we saw a one year old’s cake smashing photo session going on, which was a lot of fun!  The photo op motivated me take a few pics of the girls under the beautiful maple trees, which were just starting to show their color.  I had to bribe them with the promise of chocolate once we got home!

IMG_2843After our walk we rested under the pavilion with snacks and water and then used the compost restroom facilities before heading home.  I look forward to coming back to this park over the years to see new developments and to hopefully better time the changing of the colors of the leaves.  Check out their list of upcoming park programs including a New Year’s Day 2016 Hike!

Thumbs up: connection to the greenway, open land for endless running and playing, easy 0.5 mile nature trail, future park developments, photo opportunities, compost restrooms, native landscaping

Thumbs down: lack of signage about nature trail inside park

Sweetgum Swamp Trail in Nags Head, NC

IMG_5624Believe it or not, Nags Head has hills and I’m not talking about the sand dunes near the beach or at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.  During our annual end-of-summer Nags Head beach trip we decided to break up our beach days with a hike in the Nags Head Woods Preserve.  We also make an annual trip to the Nags Head Woods Preserve every May for the Yuengling 5k race, but we’ve never had time to explore the woods other than the gravel race trail we run.  I should’ve remembered how hilly that race can be and then better prepared myself (and family), but what fun would planning be?!

Nags Head Woods Preserve is located at 701 West Ocean Acres Dr on the sound side of US-158.  We like to use the local dive bar, Mama Kwans, as a reference point for where to turn from the main road when heading to the woods area.  And, turning by Mama Kwans makes us reflect on crazy silly late-night bar stories that involve Bill ordering a bottle of Veuve Clicquot because, “I’m getting a raise next week!”  But, I digress!

Follow West Ocean Acres Dr through a small residential area until you arrive on a gravel path, which you’ll continue on for 1/4 mile.  You’ll then see a sign for the Nature Conservancy and a small parking lot for the woods.  The Nature Conservancy owns and operates the Nags Head Woods Preserve, which is over 1100 acres of wetlands, dunes, ponds and marshes.  According to their website, “Working with the towns and other partners, The Nature Conservancy has succeeded in protecting this fragile ecosystem, overseeing both terrestrial and marine research and monitoring programs and providing trails for visitors to enjoy.”

After unloading in the parking lot, we walked up the boardwalk and the little ones scoped out the murky ponds while we decided on a trail to hike.  Being overly optimistic we decided on Trail #2 – the 2.25 mile Sweetgum Swamp Trail; with three little people (and only one carrier) and five big people we figured we could handle the trail.

IMG_5631So, we set off on the trail and before you knew it we were in a dense forest just minutes from the beach.  The unpaved trail is covered in pine needles, but well marked; Ashley was even able to follow the trail markings to stay on the path.  After heading straight for awhile, we climbed steps up a steep hill to what felt like the ridge of a mountain – the trees were shorter and all of a sudden we were walking down a sandy hill.  I quickly learned that kids love sand unless they have to hike through it.  After several moments of juggling kids on shoulders and in carriers and distractions of the colorful flowers, berries, and butterflies, the sandy trail base was replaced with the preferred compact pine needle trail.  We took a right to stay onto the looped portion of the trail.  Along the way we passed by several swamps (complete with croaking frogs), more steep hills with steps, spooky Charleston-like trees, and several different plant communities.  Halfway around the trail loop is access to Trail #3 (Blueberry Ridge), but we decided to save that trail for another time.

The second half of our hike consisted of more kid juggling on shoulders and in the carrier just so we could make it back to the parking lot in one piece.  There was a lot of kiddo melting down, but in their defense it was a hot morning and we had walked almost 2 miles by this point.  When we got back to the sandy portion of the trail (that was downhill on the way in), all I could do was laugh because I knew the kiddo melting down was headed to a new level as they had to climb the steep sandy hill.

But, we all survived and cheered enthusiastically when we saw the Visitor Center signs.  It really only took us about 1 1/4 hrs to complete this hike.  After getting very hot and sweaty from our hike we rushed over to the Bonzer Shack for a hearty lunch and much-deserved beers and milks!  Despite this hike being too strenuous for our girls, I look forward to coming back to explore other trails in the future – bring on the beach hikes!

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Thumbs up: adventurous hike with lots of plant and pond life to see, contrasting landscape at beach, signage, well-maintained trail

Thumbs down: better suited for older children, hilly hike for toddlers

Eno River State Park – Cox Mountain Trail

IMG_5361This summer we explored Eno River State Park in Durham over Memorial Day weekend.  Despite a 40 minute drive and a lot of preschooler crying when we first arrived because there was no playground in sight, we enjoyed the short hike across the swaying footbridge and to the river.

Eno River State Park has several different access areas and we chose the Few Fords access area at 6101 Cole Mill Rd so we could be close to the river and explore an old cabin.  After a short drive through the park the road dead ended into a circular parking lot with nearby restrooms and several picnic areas.  We ate a quick lunch in the shaded picnic area, admired the large pavilion (great for group picnics), and set off on the Cox Mountain Trail towards the river.  The first 1/4 mile of the hike was a rather steep descent, but it was mostly graded with steps for an easier hike.  With two little ones in tow, I held Ashley’s hand most of the way to prevent her from tripping over roots or steps while Claire enjoyed the scenery from sitting high in the backpack.

IMG_5355After we reached the bank of the river, we followed the trail over a narrow suspension footbridge that seemed like a much, much less dramatic version of the foot bridge Indiana Jones crossed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It’s less than a 15ft drop to the river, but with large openings in the sides of the bridge I walked Ashley slowly across the bridge, trying to reiterate the importance of no jumping on the bridge.

After we crossed the bridge we turned left and continued along the trail and passed shallow swimming holes and small sandy “beach” areas where several families and dogs were enjoying the bank of the river.  We continued on until we came to the wilderness cabin.  There was a strange bikini photo shoot going on the deck of the cabin so we explored the inside rooms where the girls ran around and examined the window openings and log walls.  After leaving the log cabin, we walked to the nearby gazebo and made it a short while longer on Cox Mountain Trail before turning around.  Even though the whole loop is 3.75 miles and connects to more trails, we only made it about 3/4mile in before turning around.

IMG_5383On our hike back we stopped in one of the several swimming holes to splash around a bit, promising to bring the girls back again soon with bathing suits in tow.  Other than over 25 miles of hiking, Eno River State Park offers fishing, camping, canoeing, educational programs, the annual Eno River Festival and more.

Thumbs up: river access with kid-friendly swimming holes and shallow flowing water, fun swinging bridge, shady picnic areas

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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