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

Robertson Millpond Preserve

Robertson Millpond PreserveOne Sunday at the end of April we headed out to Wake County’s newest park, Robertson Millpond Preserve for some fishing.  Not knowing what to expect from this new park, we quickly discovered that Robertson Millpond Preserve is a local natural refuge for recreation and relaxation.   Its main attraction is the blackwater cypress-gum swamp, making you feel transported to the lowcountry!

Robertson Millpond Preserve is an 85-acre park located 25 minutes outside of Raleigh at 6333 Robertson Pond Road in Wendell, NC.  The millpond dam was created in the 1820s when the Avera family owned and operated a 600-acre farm and gristmill on the property.  They lived in a federal-style home, which they re-located to a new site on Robertson Pond Rd that still exists today.  The Robertson family, for which the pond and road are named for, bought the land in the late 1800s/early 1900s and probably operated the mill until the 1940s.  After the mill stopped operating in the 1950s, recreational fishing and boating became the focal point.  Decades later, the mill was removed, and in 2013 the land was purchased through the Wake County Open Space Program and the park opened in late October 2015.

IMG_4859This particular Sunday we enjoyed the park all to ourselves for several hours.  We explored the boat ramp (only non-motorized boats are allowed) down to the pond where we heard and saw a variety of birds and insects.  Sitting on the boat dock, we gawked over the large cypress trees that envelope the pond.  The park staff have installed numbered buoys in the water to created a 1/2 mile paddling trail through the pond.  Since our visit, Paddle Creek has started offering hourly kayak rentals on Saturdays only at the pond.

Then we walked over to the small shore area to set up for fishing.  Before heading out that morning, the girls and I collected live worms from our backyard for bait, but our bait didn’t stand a chance.  Bill and the girls had a few nibbles and saw some tadpoles, but this morning was more about just having fun, which everyone did!  After fishing we walked closer to the dam, which is about 20 yards wide and sits in front of Robertson Pond Road.  You can’t get very close to the dam, but the sounds are amazing and future projects include adding a short boardwalk and an interpretive display near the mill’s old foundation.

In addition to the pond’s recreational activities, the park also features a picnic shelter, open space area and nonpotable water station for cleaning your boat.  After this past weekend’s canoeing and kayaking adventures down the New River in West Jefferson, NC, I can’t wait to return on a Saturday and take the girls kayaking!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, boating options, preservation of pond and history of area, on-site station for cleaning your boat

Thumbs down: lack of weekday hours

Crabtree Creek Trail MP 4.75 to 7 & Lockwood Park

IMG_2172Before summer ended, we explored a new section of Crabtree Creek Trail via bike.  With the hot and humid weather, we knew pushing a double stroller would be tough, so why not pull the girls by a bike trailer?!  The girls were super excited about the prospect of riding in a bike trailer and despite having to cut our trip short because of a busted bike chain we had a great morning ride and even stumbled upon a new park.

After borrowing a friend’s bike trailer, we parked along the street at 2497 Ratchford Dr near the intersection of Capital Blvd and hopped on the nearby Crabtree Creek Trail at milepost 7.5.  We turned left onto the wooden boardwalk heading south east along the trail.  After a short ride on the boardwalk we biked under Capital Blvd and under the train tracks before coming to another long boardwalk stretching over a large pond near the intersection of Raleigh Blvd.  Along this long stretch of the boardwalk are a large gazebo and marsh lands, great for stopping to check out the turtles, frogs and insects inhabiting the water.

After crossing over the pond we arrived at the busy Raleigh Blvd/Crabtree Blvd intersection.  It was a bit hairy with the bike and the trailer, but we survived and crossed at the cross walk near milepost 7.  Continuing on we followed the paved trail, which was mostly flat with a few hills scattered throughout.  Around milepost 5 we stumbled upon a neighborhood park, Lockwood Park, at the intersection of Crabtree Blvd/Remington Rd.

IMG_2198Lockwood Park is small fenced-in park designed mostly for ages 5-12.  It has a large climbing rock boulder, sand box with diggers, swings, and large playground with slides and various climbing structures.  The playground has a rubberized surface with a picnic table and benches and a nearby open grassy field.  The girls loved climbing on the boulders the best, but were also excited to get back into the bike trailer to continue on our ride.

We weren’t 5 minutes back into our ride before Bill’s bike chain completely broke in half going up a steep hill.  Luckily we weren’t far from the playground, so we walked the bike and trailer back to the playground while I booked it 2.75 miles back to retrieve the car and rescue them.  Despite having our bike ride cut short, we had a fun time on our first bike trailer excursion and look forward to doing it again soon!

Thumbs up: having a playground along the greenway, scenery along boardwalk over pond

Thumbs down: busy Crabtree Blvd/Raleigh Blvd intersection, lack of signage at Lockwood Park

Powell Drive Park Update

IMG_2142Before preschool started, we headed to Powell Drive Park to check out the playground renovations finished earlier this year.  I first visited Powell Drive Park about 4 years ago and remembered this park for being an easy one for parking and playing, which was exactly what my dear friend and new mama (third time around), Katie, needed on this hot August morning.

Powell Drive Park is located at 740 Powell Drive in a southwest Raleigh neighborhood.  The same old community building exists, but the layout of the playground and sidewalks around the park are new.  The new partially fenced-in playground area features a rubberized base with tot swings, regular swings, oval swing, ages 2-5 playground and ages 5-12 playground.

IMG_2152The ages 2-5 playground features bright neon colors with two small ladders, musical drums, slide, tunnel, water/sand table and stepping stones.  The playground’s height is short, making it the perfect size for early explorers.  Nearby is the ages 5-12 playground with a large spider web rope climbing ladder, curved metal ladder, and tall slide.  The big girls loved climbing to the top of the spider web rope and everyone squealed in delight while being pushed on the large, oval swing.  The old tennis courts and basketball courts are adjacent to the playground area.  There are some large shade trees near the tot swings, but little shade around the ages 2-5 playground.  A few benches surround the perimeter of the play area and several moms with small babes had the right idea by bringing a breakfast picnic to the park!

After exploring the playground we took a short walk by the pond to the small pavilion with picnic tables.  Everyone enjoyed a picnic lunch and then the bigger girls headed off to the large open field for running and hide and seek.

Overall, it was a simple morning for entertaining little ones while the mamas got some chatting done.  The big downside to the morning was having to make do with “natural” bathroom areas when nature calls for little ones.  The neighborhood center isn’t open on a regular basis, so I had to schlep both girls to hidden areas when they needed to use the bathroom.  I love the City of Raleigh parks and we frequent them a ton, but they have to make some improvements with the access to public restrooms.  I’m not asking for anything fancy, even a pay-by-use porta-potty or these nice public Portland loos (suggested by friend, Carter) will do.

Thumbs up: bright playground colors and design, unique oval swing, easy access to park, pond/picnic/playground features all nearby

Thumbs down: access to bathrooms

Blue Jay Point County Park

IMG_2125Blue Jay Point County Park is an outdoor mecca for people of all ages!  We visited Blue Jay Point County Park about a month ago after hearing so much great news about the new Go Ape Zip Line & Tree Adventure course.  Even though this park visit was more for the little ones, I can’t wait to head back here for some adult time on the adventure course.

Blue Jay Point County Park is a peninsula located at 3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd in North Raleigh.  It is surrounded on three sides by Falls Lake and just south of the intersection of NC-98 and Six Forks Rd.

We first drove to the back of the park and scoped out the playground area, which was huge!  The ages 5-12 playground has at least 8 slides in total, long ramps for running up and down, monkey bars, climbing ladders, tunnels and more.  The ages 2-5 playground has several shorter slides, an arched climbing ladder, and nearby teeter totters and standing sand tables.  There is a restroom area, small covered pavilion, benches and picnic tables near the playground.  Most of the playground area is in full sun, but we were able to score a little shade on the benches under the trees.

IMG_2124After some playground time, we headed towards the covered pavilion where the Laurel Loop nature trail begins.  This was such an ideal walk for young kids – it is a well maintained unpaved trail with lots of shade, has several benches and picnic tables throughout, is only 0.2 miles, allows for a short walk by adjacent Falls Lake, and loops you back to the playground area.  All of the girls from ages 18 months to 4 years old loved exploring this trail, especially finding the dozens of caterpillars along the trail.

After our hike, we got back in our cars and headed to the front of the park to explore the main building’s Nature Discovery Room.  After recently visiting Rockwood Nature Center in Richmond, VA where we saw several live animals, the girls seemed disappointed they didn’t have any live creepy, crawly native animals to gawk at.  However, they did enjoy learning about the water cycle at Falls Lake and playing with some of the interactive tree and plant exhibits.

IMG_2139We then headed outside to the nearby fenced-in garden area for a much deserved picnic lunch.  After our lunch we walked all throughout the gardens learning about the different herbs, flowers and vegetables they’ve planted.  The biggest highlight for me was the “pizza garden” where they planted lots of basil and tomatoes.  The biggest highlight for the girls was spotting butterflies and checking out the resident turtles and water snake in the small pond area.

Even though we spent about 3 hours at Blue Jay County Park, I feel as if we barely scratched the surface of this park.  With so many nature and hiking trails (some that connect to Mountains-to-Sea trail), a natural play area, a tree-top adventure course, lots of open space, and tons of educational programs I can’t wait to come back very soon!

Thumbs up: nature trails with varying lengths for all ages, gardens, playground area, proximity to Falls Lake, so many outdoor activities to do

Thumbs down: signage around park

Curtis Park Update

IMG_1553Back in June I headed home for two celebrations: what would’ve been my mom’s 58th birthday and the 40th Anniversary of Curtis Park.  As mentioned in my earlier post on Curtis Park, this is the park where I spent so many summers swimming and creating fun memories with family and friends.  Returning to a childhood place (after a long time has passed) definitely felt weird – the layout of the pool is as I remembered but the people are new (to me).  It was comforting to see a few former co-workers from when I used to work as a teenager and through college summers.  And I got to see an old childhood friend, Heather, who also works with the County of Stafford Parks & Rec.

It was a beautiful day to swim and celebrate the history of this pool!  With little ones we camped out in the large baby pool area, which had some great water features for littles – mushroom water fountain, small water spouts, and climbing dolphins fountains.  The edge of the baby pool has been updated with a brick surround, which was a simple, but classy upgrade.  We arrived right when the pool opened at noon so we immediately grabbed the shady spots in the baby pool area and loved that they provided so many kid-size chairs and picnic tables.

IMG_1555After a lot of time in the baby pool we headed to the big pool where Ashley got to show off her swimming skills to my aunt, who also came in from CA for the big celebrations.  I’m happy to report that the diving boards were available to use so several of us (even my brother) showcased our diving talents.  Several friends from Stafford also joined us and commented several times about how weird it felt to be back at Curtis Park after over a decade had passed.  Off in the grassy areas they set up several craft areas and had a huge water bounce house.  Near the concession area they set up a large grill and offered free meals to the first 100 people through the door.  The whole area was a bustling hub of kids and parents having a great time.

One of my favorite pieces of the day was the sweet poster my childhood friend and Parks & Rec staff member, Heather, made as a tribute to my mom.  It hung right outside the baby pool area and it was neat to see people stop and look at the old photos of her during the 10+ years she worked at Curtis Park.  I loved catching up with old friends and co-workers, seeing how the pool area has evolved over the years, creating new pool memories with my girls and nieces, and feeling the love from my mom who I felt was with us throughout the day.

Thumbs up: renovated bathroom area, fun baby pool area, diving board/deep-end open swim area, family-friendly community, concession area

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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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Robert Godbold Park in Cary, NC

IMG_9902.jpgOne sunny morning this winter we headed out to Cary for haircuts followed by a visit to the nearby Robert Godbold Park.  I’m always impressed by the Town of Cary parks and despite being an older park it packed the fun.

Robert Godbold Park is located at 2050 NW Maynard Rd between Harrison Ave and Chapel Hill Rd in Cary.  It has several pockets of parking lots to choose from depending on what activity you’re looking for – basketball, tennis, playground/picnic, dog park, or skateboarding.  We headed over to the playground, which has one large jungle gym over mulched surface.  The jungle gym was safe enough for both ages (18months, almost 4yrs) to use – it has shorter steps to the smaller slides that are connected via a tunnel and more steps to the larger slide.  The playground also has several climbing structures, a fireman pole, and monkey bars.  Two tot swings, two regular swings, a small sandbox, and public restrooms are also located in or near the partially fenced-in playground area.  Six tennis courts with picnic tables and a gazebo are within eyeshot of the playground too.

IMG_9945.jpgAfter exhausting the playground we walked over to the basketball courts to run around some more.  We had a quick snack on the nearby picnic tables and then ran through the woods a bit before walking to the adjacent skate park to check out all the construction.  The skate park was temporarily closed for renovations, but according to the Sk8-Cary website it might have reopened by now.

After the backhoes, diggers, and small motorized dump trucks lost their appeal we walked over to the dog park to visit with the pups.  This off-leash dog park requires a membership and young kiddos aren’t allowed in so we watched from outside the gate.  The girls also enjoyed the colorfully painted fire hydrants located outside the dog park.

If you’re accessing this park by foot, there’s a pedestrian crosswalk and sidewalks along both sides of NW Maynard Rd.  This park is also located along the Black Creek Greenway with access to the Northwoods Greenway.  In searching online for more information about the park’s namesake, Robert V. Godbold, I learned that he passed away in 2013, but seemed to have lived a full life – owned a general contracting company that built homes throughout the Triangle area, served on the Cary Town Council for 18 years, was a long-time church member, served on the Cary Volunteer Fire Dept for 20 years and was married for 58 years with a large family.  It’s wonderful when the legacy of a community leader like Robert Godbold can live on through the happiness of a park.  Read more about Robert Godbold’s obituary here.

More Resources

Thumbs up: proximity of park’s amenities, safe pedestrian crossing over Maynard Rd

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

Hill Street Park

IMG_8997We took advantage of another clear, sunny day this winter and stumbled upon Hill Street Park in east Raleigh.  Never having been there before we set off with hopes of having a picnic after burning some energy on the playground and that’s exactly what we did!

Hill Street Park is located at 2307 Hill St at the bottom of a relatively steep hill.  It has a very colorful community center that is mostly open for after-school programs and an adjacent pavilion with picnic tables and terraced landscaping to the nearby partially fenced-in playground.  The playground area has a playground with slides, climbing ladder, steering wheel and nearby tot swings for the younger kids (ages 2-5).  There is also a large play structure for the older kids (ages 5-12) that features a half-moon rope climbing structure, monkey bars, balance beam, spinning bars, climbing rings, slide and more.  Both kids had a great time playing on both playgrounds and Claire had a fabulous time sitting in the dog-height water fountain bowl.  Claire went down the small slides at least a dozen times and Ashley enjoyed climbing her way through each rope obstacle on the bigger kid playground.  The bigger kid playground reminds me a lot of the indoor play structure at Greystone Community Center on crack.  With so many climbing areas it’s nice any falls will be lessened by the rubberized surface.

IMG_9010After a lot of running around we picnicked on the nearby benches by the playground.  The playground has little morning light so we huddled on a lone sunny bench to stay warm.  We had the park to ourselves this particular weekday morning and look forward to sharing this hidden gem with friends next time!

Thumbs up: unique climbing structures, close proximity of pavilion to playground

Thumbs down: no access to restrooms when community center is closed