Neuse River Trail Beach – MP 4.5

IMG_6510Last summer Bill and I biked by this “beachy” section of the Neuse River Trail and vowed we’d make it back with the kids on a bike ride someday.  That someday was this summer, with Ashley leading the pack on her big girl bike and Claire chomping on snacks in the bike trailer.    The Neuse River Trail is our favorite spot for family bike rides with young kids because the trail is relatively flat and wide with several parking spots along the way making it easy to break your ride into small chunks.

For this bike ride we parked at the trail parking lot in the Bedford neighborhood at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr, biked down the access path and turned right onto the Neuse River Trail heading south.  We followed the greenway for about 2 miles before coming to milepost 4.5 where there’s an oxbow in the river that has created a wider sandy spot along the river bank.  Note: if you don’t want to bike/run the 2 miles, you can park closer to the oxbow at 6100 Thornton Rd and bike/run 1/2 mile. We parked and locked our bikes in a grassy spot off the greenway and walked down to the beachy area with our picnic supplies and towels (everyone already had
bathing suits on).
splashing in the neuse river beachIt hadn’t rained recently so the beachy area was actually wider and longer than I’ve seen it at other times and the river flowed slowly.  The water was pretty warm except in the middle of the river, which was over our heads in several spots.  We didn’t bring life jackets with us and the water wasn’t very clear so the girls mostly played near the shore line looking for tadpoles, playing in the sand/mud, or splashing in the water with the other young family that was there.  While we were there a few paddle boarders passed by including a father and young daughter out for a ride (next summer’s bucket list goal).

After playing in the water for awhile we enjoyed our picnic lunch on the beach before heading back to the car.  The bike ride north was a bit more uphill than the ride out, but the girls kept their cool and did great.  I look forward to returning to this secret spot again next summer!

Helpful Hints:

  • Wear shoes good for getting wet in the river
  • Bring life jackets for little ones
  • Be conscious of recent rains before coming out; river levels may be too high to safely play
  • Bring towels and small sand buckets
  • Parking options: 10888 Bedfordtown Dr (2 miles away) or 6100 Thornton Rd (1/2 mile away)

Thumbs up: fun bike ride/swimming activity, exploring the shore line for tadpoles and fish, lots of shady spots, very private area where you can’t see the beach from the greenway

Thumbs down: water was murky so be careful when swimming

Update: Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park

Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve ParkOn a cloudy summer day we headed to Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park to explore the nature playground and do some light hiking.  It’d been awhile since we’d last visited this park, and now that both girls are becoming more able to hike short distances on their own without losing their minds, it’s been more fun to take them along.  This park is especially great for little ones because all of the hiking trails are short (less than 1 mile each) and several are shaded!

Annie Louise Wilkerson Park is located north of I-540 at 5229 Awls Haven Dr just off Raven Ridge Rd. Upon arriving, we visited the main park office to check out the Explorer Backpacks they lend out to children.  Both girls were super pumped about having their own hiking backpacks to use on the trails.  The friendly park staff showed us everything in the backpacks, which included binoculars, compass, nature journal (to take home), bug collection jars, park maps, and laminated animal/insect ID cards.  After suiting up with the backpacks, we visited with the park turtles outside the park office and then headed towards the pond to walk the 1/2 mile turtle pond trail.  We followed the mowed path and turned left on the trail to head clockwise around the pond.  Along the way, we walked closer to the pond to spot the turtles and have a snack on the bench.  The girls also spent some time drawing in their nature journals. After a quick stop we continued on the loop trail, which meanders through full-sun meadows around the pond.  The girls enjoyed seeing the wildflowers along the way and were impressed that the grasses on both sides of the trail are almost as tall as they are!

IMG_5356After our short hike we walked through Dr. Wilkerson’s former home, which has been renovated into an Education Center for the purpose of being a nature park research center.  The front room is a mini museum of Dr. Wilkerson, highlighting her career and time she spent on the farm.  We didn’t visit the other parts of the center, but the COR website notes it has science labs, classrooms, and kitchen area.  The girls also enjoyed playing with the working old well pump outside the center.

Then we headed back towards the front of the park and played in the natural play area, adjacent to the bathrooms and pavilion.  The full-sun play area features a teepee, natural twig tunnel, stump stepping area, and tall grasses.  Just down from the full-sun play area is a continuation of the natural play area in the wooded area featuring a large sand box, bamboo sticks for building, bamboo chin-up bar, sticks and dirt for miles, fairy house supplies, and short fairy and troll trails through the woods.  The girls went nuts for the fairy and troll trails and loved walking the trails and trying to find the next “fairy or troll” character or house along the way.  The trails are short, narrow paths through the lush green forest.  After walking the trails the girls proceeded to make fairy houses on their own for over an hour. It was one blissful hour where a 5 year old and an almost 3 year old played together and on their own with ZERO fighting.  I felt like I hit the jackpot! I just sat back on the bench or in the sandbox and watched their little minds work – asking each other for help, digging through sand and dirt to find fairy house supplies, exploring the trails for ideas.  They created and it was so much fun to watch.

We had so much fun creating fairy houses at the park that we also went to Michaels craft store to buy our own supplies and purchased the Fairy Gardening: Create Your Own Magical Miniature Garden for decorating ideas. We spent the next day at home building and designing our own fairy gardens, which was a lot of fun! Visiting Annie Louise Wilkerson Park really helped transition us from preschool to summer and I’ll always remember the fun memories we made that morning at the park!  We didn’t even have time to explore the free activities inside the park office, which we’ll plan to do for another day!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: short hiking trails great for preschoolers, friendly park staff, shaded nature playground, convenient outdoor bathrooms, Explorer Backpack lending program, enchanting fairy/troll trails and houses

Thumbs down: shorter weekend park hours

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

Ironwood Trail to Shelley Lake: MP 0 to 2

Numerous sewer/drain pipes along the way

Sunday mornings this past spring were also dedicated to exploring new sections (to us) of the greenway.  While we didn’t plan it this way, maybe we felt the need to run off our food and beer overindulgences from Saturdays?  Regardless, we loved getting out for fresh air and exercise with our recent run along Ironwood Trail.

Starting at North Hills Park we set off towards Shelley Lake via Ironwood Trail.  After slowly walking down the steep hill, we followed signs towards Shelley Lake and turned right onto Crabtree Creek Trail.  A very short run later we turned right again towards towards Shelley Lake where Mine Creek and Crabtree Creek intersect.  The greenway parallels Mine Creek, offering close-up views of the rushing water.  We soon crossed over North Hills Drive and ran behind Northbrook Country Club, which sits at ground level with the greenway.  Having been to that pool before, it was neat to see a different perspective of that area.

Running under Millbrook Rd

As we continued on our run, the greenway trail got narrower and bumpier; this seems to be a much older section of the greenway that has seen the effects of tree roots under the path.  Passing by the plentiful sewer/drain pipes along the way reminded me of being in a Mario Bros video game.  We crossed over a wooden bridge at one point before running under Millbrook Rd and arriving at the bottom of Shelley Lake.  It was a nicely shaded 2 mile run to Shelley Lake (4 mile out and back total for us) with lots of foot traffic along the route.  Being a north/south greenway connection to Shelley Lake (and the trails surrounding the lake) it allows for those runners or bikers needing a longer run to increase their mileage.  While the signage along the trail indicates we were running on Ironwood Trail, the online COR maps label this same trail as Mine Creek Trail, so that was a bit confusing.

More Resources:

Thumbs up: views of creek, shaded trail, being the north/south connection from North Hills Park to Shelley Lake and beyond

Thumbs down: narrowing path, signage discrepancies between trail/online maps

Falls Lake Dam

IMG_4949This fall we wanted to further explore Falls Lake so we set off with intentions to start closer to the dam and finish Day Hike A of the Mountains-to-Sea trail.  Falls Lake Dam is on the eastern side of the lake (see map) and has helped control flooding from the Neuse River ever since its completion in 1981.  Having previously hiked a portion of Falls Lake starting at Raven Ridge Rd we wanted to start closer to the dam in hopes of actually seeing it before the kiddos got too tuckered.

Unfortunately the main entrance gates to Falls Lake park were closed on this Sunday morning so we had to park in the small parking lot near Falls Center Management Rd/Falls of Neuse Rd intersection.  After a long walk into the park on the paved trail that parallels the road, the little ones in the group were restless for any trail hiking so we explored the areas around the dam including the (surprise!) playground instead.

IMG_4938The playground is designed for ages 5-12 and includes a few slides, climbing structures, tic-tac-toe, and several nearby picnic tables and benches.  It’s a small playground, but the perfect size for a park with so many more activities.  After taking in the views from the top of the dam, we walked down the unpaved trail adjacent to the playground where we got up close and personal with the beginning of the Neuse River.  The girls enjoyed throwing rocks in the water while we saw fishermen and birds.  There’s also a small parking lot, canoe launch, restrooms, information map, picnic tables, and access to the start of the Neuse River Trail greenway at the bottom of the dam.

Even though we didn’t make it to our planned trail that day, everyone had a fun time whether it was on the playground, along the river bank, or finding furry caterpillars.  I look forward to attempting Day Hike A again sometime soon where we’ll park in the lot closest to the dam!

More Resources:

Thumbs up: views from top of dam, playground, considerable amount of picnic tables

Thumbs down: signage in park, nc state park information online lacks details (no mention of gate closure, playground, parking near dam)

Lake Lynn Playground Update


I spent some time again this fall running around Lake Lynn with the girls while training for the City of Oaks 10k race.  After a few laps around the lake we spent time at the playground so they could get their own exercise.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a few updates to the playground area.

Lake Lynn Park & Community Center is located in North Raleigh and has two entrances.  If the kids are with me I’ll park at the main entrance near the community center and playground off Ray Rd, but if I’m going there for a solo run I’ll park at the smaller entrance with immediate access to the trails off Lynn Rd.

The tot playground area has a new climbing area with a vertical climbing bridge sandwiched between two rock walls, which was a big hit for Ashley.  The older tot swings and small tot jungle gym and bigger kid playground haven’t changed.  Adjacent to the playground is a new large pavilion with about 12 picnic tables, making it a great spot for group gatherings and birthday parties!  The nearby bocce ball courts also seemed to have gotten a small facelift and there seem to be several more picnic tables scattered around the perimeter of the playground.  There’s a lot of other amenities at this park (baseball fields, tennis courts, batting cages), but having a playground area near a covered picnic spot and restrooms is usually what we’re looking for these days!  Most recently we enjoyed a Halloween party with our Stroller Strides friends where kids of all ages enjoyed the playgrounds and there was easy access to the nearby pavilion and community center.

More Resources:

Thumbs up: proximity of playground area to pavilion/community center

Thumbs down: nothing new to report

Simms Branch Trail


Oh, Summer! What began as a daunting three months of partially empty calendars quickly filled with pool trips, swimming lessons, park time with friends, family visits, and so much more.  One August morning Ashley started another week-long stint at a City of Raleigh summer camp.  I’ve been so pleased with her introduction into the city summer camps and can’t wait for her to continue with them through the years.
IMG_7586So, after a Monday morning camp drop-off at Greystone Rec Center, Claire and I researched nearby greenways to explore using the RGreenway app.  After some deliberation, we drove east for a run along Simms Branch Trail. We parked along a residential street at 9410 Cub Trail (parking spot #4 on the Capital Greenway map) near the Falls of Neuse and Durant Rd intersection.  The greenway entrance was clearly marked so we set off on this relatively flat and shaded trail.  We winded through various residential areas and a small stream to the south of the trail.  We passed a few school yards along the way and had to cross a few residential streets and small bridges before coming to the end of the trail, which is just past the entrance for Durant Nature Park.  This out and back trail is about 3.25 total miles.

After our run we headed over to the super kid-friendly Lafayette Village shopping center to experience Jubala coffee (another recommendation from fellow blogger TriangleExplorer).  Claire and I shared some delicious homemade biscuits and I enjoyed a fresh cup of coffee.

Thumbs up: proximity to residential areas, nearby stream, easy access, shady

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Top of the Hill Trail @ North Wake Landfill District Park


A few weeks ago, I woke up before sunrise and headed downtown with just a coffee and my camera in hand.  I have a lot of photos of parks and greenways throughout the city, but not many personal photos of downtown Raleigh.  It was a muggy Sunday morning, so downtown Raleigh had a faint Bourbon Street-like smell with evidence of a super fun Saturday night.  I’ve always had a lot of respect for real photographers, but after this personal quest to capture photos to print for our house I have so much more appreciation for the pros who can really nail down the fine details of light, exposure, camera angle, etc.  It was fun, but exhausting hopping around downtown from Boylan Bridge, near the Shimmer Wall, on McDowell St looking North into downtown Raleigh, and on Fayetteville St.

IMG_4781After about an hour of exploring and taking photos of downtown Raleigh, I headed back to North Raleigh to capture photos from one of the highest places of elevation in Raleigh – Top of the Hill trail in North Wake Landfill District Park.  I’ve visited this park before, mostly for the kids to play on the playground, so it was nice to explore a park solo.  After entering the park, which is under construction, I parked in the small parking lot and made a short .1 mile walk up the gravel trail.  The 360-degree views from the top are amazing!  Despite a muggy morning, I could still see several downtown Raleigh buildings (thanks to the bright red Redhat sign), neighborhoods and water towers in the distance, and trees for miles!  It was so comforting to see how green Wake County still is!

IMG_7333Other than great views from the top, there are several picnic tables, benches, and a bike rack. Even though my downtown Raleigh pictures didn’t turn out as well as I would’ve liked, the whole experience certainly fueled my desire to practice and learn more about photography.

More Resources:

          • previous post about North Wake Landfill District Park
          • Park brochure

Thumbs up: beautiful views, quiet mornings Thumbs down: lack of signage directing you to the trail inside the park

Abbotts Creek Trail


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

Umstead Park: Pott’s Branch Trail

img_4165At the end of last summer we ventured out for some hiking at Umstead Park.  Since Claire was only about a month old at the time, we wanted to keep it pretty easy so we explored Pott’s Branch Trail, which is only 1.6 miles and easy on the difficulty scale.  To get to Pott’s Branch Trail, use the park entrance at 8801 Glenwood Ave and continue straight to the back of the park where you’ll come to a large parking lot.  We parked in the larger, two-level parking lot and after a lot of configuring backpacks and bjorns we set off to find the trail head.

img_4155For some reason, even for two directionally-sound people we had a hard time finding the trail head for Pott’s Branch Trail.  From what I remember the signage was horrible and after a lot of stumbling around, we eventually found it.  Lucky for us, this is small looped trail so regardless of where we got on, we’d eventually get back to the parking lot.

Raleigh had a very wet summer last year and the trail was evidence of such.  Portions of the trail parallel a small stream, which had debris filled branches indicative of higher water levels.  There were also some large downed trees and muddy areas, which made us think the stream must have risen over the bank in areas.

The trail itself was very easy; other than a few downed trees that we walked around and large tree roots along the way, the trail is very flat and comfortable for most any fitness level.  Along the way, you’ll pass a large wooden deck, picnic table and small grill, and roads in the very far distance.  Since this trail is on the opposite side of the road from Big Lake, you won’t see any large bodies of water, but the flowing stream offers some interesting views and holds the attention of toddlers!

Thumbs up: quick and easy hike, nearby stream, wide and shady trail

Thumbs down: poor signage from the parking lot to trail head

Sal’s Branch Trail Photo Update

Labor Day weekend my sister and brother-in-law visited so we headed back to Umstead Park where we hiked Sal’s Branch Trail again.  Be sure to read my first review of that trail, but again, I love that it’s a good distance (2.75 miles) and has nice views of Big Lake.  We got such an early start on the hike that we were able to grab lunch to go from Moe’s and visit the nearby Gizmo Brew Works for some much needed beers and a picnic lunch! Gizmo Brew Works is nestled in an industrial park off Glenwood Ave and has an array of inside seating (couches, tables) and some picnic tables outside. Albeit, probably not designed to bring kids, but we made it work! They don’t serve food, but we’re fine with us bringing outside food so plan accordingly.

Helpful Links: