Neuse River Trail Opening

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A couple of months ago we attended the Neuse River Trail grand opening at Anderson Point Park located at 20 Anderson Point Dr.  Most grand openings we attend are usually low-key and only involve a few important speakers, but this celebration was full of food trucks, live music, crafts for kids, local vendors and more.  As typical, we sat through 5 minutes of the grand opening speeches and then played on the playground before hitting up the food, vendors and crafts.

The Neuse River Trail is located on the eastern side of Raleigh paralleling the Neuse River with 7 bridges over the river throughout the trail; it  begins at Falls Dam Lake and continues south past the WRAL Soccer Park, Buffaloe Rd Park, Milburnie Park, Anderson Pointe Park and to the Johnston County line.  The new section of trail added 20 additional miles, bringing the total distance of this paved trail to 27.5 miles.  The Neuse River Trail allows for easy connections west to Crabtree Creek Trail or Walnut Creek Trail and is a great connection between the municipalities of Wake Forest, Raleigh, Knightdale, and Johnston County.  Part of the trail is also a segment of the Mountains to Sea Trail that extends from the Great Smokey Mountains to the Outer Banks.

img_3085After devouring some delicious pizza from my favorite local food truck, Klausie’s, Ashley and I headed south on the trail for about a mile before her patience and the time got the best of us.  The parts of the trail we walked were gorgeous – the trails are 10ft wide, the views of the river are amazing, and the bridges make for exciting photo ops.

To access the Neuse River Trail near Anderson Point Park, the parking spots are either inside the park or at the parking lot near the canoe put-in at 22 Anderson Point Dr. At this location, you’ll be near mile marker 17 of 27.5.  I can’t wait to return and explore more of the trail on bike next time!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: condition of trail, scenic views of river, photo ops, bridges

Thumbs down: signage to trails from within park

Museum Park Blue Loop Opening

img_3025About a month ago we attended the Museum Park’s Blue Loop opening at the NC Museum of Art.  It was the perfect spring morning to spend with friends while walking the new trail and enjoying live bluegrass music.  The Blue Loop is a one-mile trail that includes a new cut-through between the pond and Lowe’s Park Pavilion and extends through a wooded section on the southwestern side of Museum Park.  It was made possible by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The FREE celebration featured live music from Big Medicine Bluegrass Band and the A&T Drumline, healthy snacks from local food trucks, and a celebratory lap around the Blue Loop.  Special guests included Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, NCMA Director Lawrence Wheeler, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina CEO Brad Wilson.

The NC Museum of Art is located at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd.  View the Museum Park map for a complete look at the Blue Loop.

Thumbs up:  lots of shade and open space, wide paths, rolling hills (perfect for a challenging run/walk)

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Easter Adventures & Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg

Easter was an especially exciting time this year because my lil’ brother and sis-in-law welcomed their new baby girl, Emma Caroline, on March 27!  I drove up to Virginia with Ashley to help in anyway I could and to steal some newborn kisses and snuggle time.  Here are some fun photos of baby Emma and Easter:

While we were visiting VA, we found some time to head into downtown Fredericksburg and explore Chatham Manor, which is part of the National Park Service and served as a Union headquarters and hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg in the Civil War.  Chatham Manor is a gorgeous Georgian mansion located at 120 Chatham Ln that overlooks the Rappahannock River.  It was built in 1771 by William Pitzhugh and named after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham.  Chatham Manor was a thriving plantation and home to several owners and famous guests (Washington, Lee, Lincoln, Clara Barton, Walt Whitman) over the years.  Unfortunately, wartime caused much destruction to the house and grounds and it sat in much disrepair until Helen and Daniel Devore began restoration in the 1920s.  In 1931, John Lee Pratt purchased the home and willed it to the National Park Service in 1975.  Read more about the history of Chatham Manor here.

img_2900Today, Chatham Manor and its grounds are still beautiful and a symbol of the South.  The entrance through the gardens is surrounded by a large brick wall.  We visited at the beginning of Virginia’s spring season so the gardens were popping with daffodils.  Other than the main house, there is a fish pond, kitchen, dairy barn, and greenhouse.  The main house has exhibits that are open to visitors (our little visitor was not interested in walking through the house that day) but the other structures on the property are not open to the public.  The back of the property overlooks the river, providing gorgeous views of downtown Fredericksburg.  You can also see a replica cannon and pontoon bridge, similar to what General Burnside’s Union army used to cross the river in 1862.

Having not visited a Fredericksburg-area historical site since an elementary school field trip to Ferry Farm, I can’t wait to return and explore the other nearby battlefield areas with Baby Emma, Ashley and other future little ones.

Thumbs up: rich history in Fredericksburg, gorgeous views, gardens

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

img_2050So, last September (yes, I’m super slack) we headed on our annual trip to Nags Head with family and friends.  This trip was super special because my aunt, who used to live in Charlottesville and now lives in CA, made a trip back east to spend the week with us.  Being that she used to be the one taking us on adventures to the beach when we were young it was nice to experience it with her again.

Since an 18 month old has a “beach” attention span of two entire hours, we realized we needed some other daytime activities to keep her occupied.  And, being that the last time I visited Hatteras was in 1989 when my family vacationed there before being evacuated due to Hurricane Hugo, it seemed a good time to explore the area again.

Driving south on NC 12 with the telephone poles and beach immediately to the east and marsh to the west brought back old memories of taking that trip with my family in our Dodge Caravan.  Luckily, Hatteras is only about 45 minutes from Nags Head, not the grueling six hours I remember when coming from VA.

After passing through all the small towns and coming into Hatteras we headed to the Cape Hatteras National Light Station and then the seashore nearby.  With this area once being nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” it’s easy to imagine the importance of lighthouses for ships in the 1800s and 1900s.  The first Cape Hatteras lighthouse was constructed in 1803, but due to poor design and ineffectiveness a new lighthouse with the current black and white paint pattern was built in 1870.  The history of the lighthouse is vast, but since then it’s been a victim of sand erosion (compare being 1500ft from the shoreline in 1893 to just 70ft from the shoreline in 1980) and despite best efforts to “control” the erosion, the lighthouse was moved inland about 1500ft from the ocean in 1999.

img_2065The lighthouse is operated by the National Park Service and open to the public for walking tours during the summer months so for only $7 I climbed the 240+ spiral staircase steps while Bill and Ashley scoped out the grounds and toured the light keeper’s quarters.  As you can imagine, the stairway in the lighthouse is very narrow and rather steep, making two-way traffic crowded.  At each “floor” there is a landing pad to rest with windows providing great views.  But, the real views are when you get to the top of the lighthouse and skirt along the balcony.  The railing is about 4ft high, allowing for great picture taking and breath-taking views for miles, which reminded me of views from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  The park ranger at the top was helpful in answering questions and pointing out the old location of the lighthouse.

After leaving the lighthouse, we headed over to the beach access nearby to let Ashley out to play in the water.  The beach around Hatteras is much quieter and seemed to have much softer sand than at Nags Head.  In general, the area is fit for folks looking for a quieter beach trip.  On this particular day we thoroughly enjoyed the calmness of the beach and watching the shore fishing (especially the friendly guy who brought over his latest catch for Ashley to touch)!  In all, the Cape Hatteras trip was a perfect half-day trip and provided fun memories for our little growing family!

Thumbs up: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, beautiful views, beach, quietness, peaceful drive through small towns

Thumbs down: Burger Burger in Hatteras was less than desirable for lunch

Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail

img_1603Oh, boy!  It’s been a few weeks since I last posted about our trip to Grandfather Mountain: partly because I’ve been busy with other things, but mostly because I’m still wrapping my head around conquering the Profile Trail and Calloway Peak.  Yes, I used the word “conquered” when describing this hike.

On day 2 of our trip to Western NC, we headed with a few friends to the Profile Trail of Grandfather Mountain.  It’s located just a few miles west of the Grandfather Mountain campground we stayed at and is free to visit, unlike the other entrances to Grandfather Mountain and the Swinging Bridge.

The trail length from NC 105 to the top at Calloway Peak is about 3.5 miles and 2000 ft ascent.  We had Ashley in our new Craigslist Kelty backpack for the trip so it took us about 4.5 hours to do the 7 mile round trip.  The first 1.7 miles until you get to Foscoe View is steep, but relatively easy.  In the beginning you cross several streams, which are great for a cool dip.  The trail is very narrow with lots of roots along the surface so you have to constantly be aware of your footing.

img_1621At 2.3 miles you reach Profile View, which offers a spectacular view of the Grandfather Profile. After you pass Profile View, the terrain gets much steeper and harder to ascend.  At 2.7 miles you reach Shanty Spring, which is known for being the “last sure water” spot.  We refilled here on the way back down the mountain as we did not come prepared with enough water.  Shanty Spring is a great rest area offering a lot of shade and a cool drink before ascending the strenuous path of boulders, which lies next.

The boulders we climbed after Shanty Spring were unlike any we’ve climbed before.  Having short legs didn’t help but, nonetheless, even a 6ft tall person would have to raise their legs to their waist to climb these boulders.  It felt like a straight climb for a solid 20 minutes and it was hard to stop your momentum once you started.

Finally we reached the fork in the trail and headed left towards Calloway Peak.  On the way down the mountain half our group headed right to cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which they said was unbelievable!  But, back at the fork in the trail we still had another .4 miles to go to reach the top!  Finally, this part of the trail started to level out and we felt like we were getting closer to the end.  The fir trees were smaller in height and we could see the sky!  Our first stop was at Watauga View, which offers beautiful views of the mountains and valleys.

img_1644Continuing on, we headed to Calloway Peak, which includes climbing three different ladders suspended between large boulders.  It was unlike anything we’d climbed before, but so were the views at the top: the sky was so blue, the mountains so green and you could see for miles.

The hike down was much quicker than the hike up, but took a toll on our knees.  Having a 24lb baby and a 10lb pack didn’t help, but she was an angel for the full 7 miles and even took a quick nap at the top.  Lucky for us, we were hiking with great friends who encouraged us the entire time (had they not been there, we probably would’ve turned around at Foscoe View)!  Reaching the parking lot was relieving, to say the least!  Reaching the Lowe’s Food grocery store and celebrating with corked beverages and grilled double cheeseburgers was priceless!

Lessons Learned: pack at least 3 bottles of water per person, eat a large breakfast beforehand, pack sandwiches for lunch, hire a sherpa for baby

Thumbs Up: beautiful views, photo ops, great exercise, great day trip

Thumbs Down: hiking with baby strapped to your back, always looking down to avoid tripping

Lake Johnson Park

Picturesque. Serene. Beloved. All words to describe my recent visits to Lake Johnson Park.

Lake Johnson Park is located in the heart of southwest Raleigh at 4601 Avent Ferry Rd. Its popularity is evident with the many parking lots scattered throughout the park. On two of the mornings I visited, I had to loop around the lot a few times before a spot opened up. Other parking areas are highlighted on this map and can be found further down Avent Ferry Rd on the left, off Lake Dam Dr, at Athens Dr High School, or at Lake Johnson Pool.

The main entrance is where you’ll find the large veranda, deck, conference room, concessions, restrooms, rentals, live bait/tackle vending machines, and the boat put-in area. The veranda, conference room, and deck are available for rent. Paddle boats, jon boats, sunfish sailboats and canoes/kayaks are also available for rent. Rocking chairs along the perimeter of the deck provide peaceful views of the lake. There are also several picnic tables and information boards highlighting several of the unique park programs (boot camp, nature photography, fly fishing, sailing). Even though most have already begun, the fall programs such as the kayak and canoe lessons for ages 12+ are starting soon. Call 919-233-2121 for more information. Stroller Strides also runs fitness classes for moms/dads with kids on Tues/Thurs mornings and is beginning a mom/dad 5k training program on Friday, Aug. 26th.

Avent Ferry Rd splits Lake Johnson in half and there is a paved trail loop on the eastern half and an unpaved trail loop on the western half. The trail is the Lake Johnson Segment of the Walnut Creek greenway trail. Park maps can be found at several of the parking areas, but if you head east on the trail from the main entrance you’ll find a helpful map detailing distances and features of the park.

Distances around the park:

  • West Loop (unpaved, prohibited to biking) = 2.15 miles
  • East Loop (paved) = 2.75 miles
  • Full Loop = 4.33 miles
  • East to west loop from the bridge = 1.32 miles

East Trail – This is a wide, paved path perfect for biking, strolling kids/dogs, walking, and running. The trail is enveloped in large trees that provide great shade. You’ll find beautiful views of the lake throughout this trail, especially along the dam and boardwalk. You’ll also pass a few benches, swings, and shelters for rent along this trail. Shelter 2 has two picnic tables and a large charcoal grill and Shelter 4 has four picnic tables, several benches, and a large charcoal grill. Magnolia Cottage is a medium-sized building tucked deep in the woods that can also be rented for events. If you head clockwise on the trail from the main parking lot the trail starts off flat and then gets rather hilly after crossing the dam.

West Trail – This is a fun trail for hiking or trail running. Bikes are prohibited and I would recommend using a Baby Bjorn or back pack if bringing an infant/very young child. Use caution on the trail, as it is mostly a narrow, hilly, dirt trail with roots covering the path. Nature photography opportunities are galore on this trail. You can also access Lake Johnson Pool from the West Trail. Even though we didn’t have time for a visit inside the pool, from the outside there looks to be a spray garden, baby pool, and main pool with lap lanes and free swim area.

After a two year hiatus from visiting Lake Johnson Park until last week, I’ve been back three times and it is quickly becoming a favorite. Between the scenic views, boating opportunities, great running trails, and safeness of the area it’s a must-visit park!

Thumbs up: shady trails, scenic views, condition of paved trail, boating opportunities, security, facility rentals, mile markers along East trail, peacefulness

Thumbs down: confusing signage (especially along West Trail)

This post originally appeared on soutwestraleigh.com, where you can learn more about what a great place South West Raleigh is to live, work, and play.

Museum Park

The Museum Park is located on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd just outside the beltline.  Part of the trail through the park is shared with the Reedy Creek Trail greenway, which connects Meredith College to Umstead Park and Schenck Forest.  The museum was renovated a few years ago and besides biking the greenway past the museum, I hadn’t really stopped to visit this park.  So, we parked in the museum parking lot and followed the paved trail towards the very easy-to-read information board.

The information board highlights four different walking paths to take and breaks it out by distance, walking time, calories burned, and features you’ll see along the way.  Because it was a very hot Sunday and we had the stroller, we opted for the one-mile Ambler path, which allowed us to explore several works of art on the paved trail close to the museum.  For those planning ahead, here is a map of the park.



Information plaque with details about the park

Paved trail around the park
View of the East building

Here are the works of art we passed along the Ambler path:

Wind Machine by Vollis Simpson
Collapse I by Ledelle Moe
Gyre by Thomas Sayre
Close up of Gyre filled with concrete and covered in dirt residue
Another view of Gyre
Bill & Ashley under the Gyre
The Conversationalist by Chakaia Booker
Lowe's Pavilion by Mike Cindric and Vincent Petrarc
Another view of Lowe's Pavilion, made of steel, wood, aluminum, and concrete

A photographer’s dream shoot, the Museum Park has a gorgeous landscape of rolling hills with a sprinkle of wooded forests between the East Museum Building and the outdoor works of art.

Looking down at the Gyre artwork
Looking back towards the Wind Machine artwork
Greenway to Meredith College
Part of the unpaved trail on the Museum Park grounds
An unpaved pathway through the park
Great shady pathway for a picnic on the bench

Next, we explored one of the newer (to me, at least) features of the park, The Pond area.  With over 20,000 plants installed, this area helps with runoff, water pollution, and settling for sediment.  The terraced landscaping and even spacing of the plants had an Asian design feel to it, but what do I know!  Here’s a list of the various plants installed and some pictures to detail the beauty of this area:

What outdoor museum would be complete without an amphitheater and outdoor movie screen?! The NC Museum of Art holds several outdoor concerts and movies throughout the summer months.  Having finally made it to an outdoor movie last summer to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I can attest to how much fun they are.  So, bring a picnic dinner, lawn chairs or blanket, and some cash (for the beer/wine tent) and you’ve got the perfect, cheap summer night planned!  Btw, The Social Network movie is playing tonight at 8:30pm.

Some of the seating areas for outdoor movies
Looking towards the amphitheater

Overall, this park offers much more than any average park.  Whether just passing by on the greenway, planning a trip to the indoor museum, or watching a movie or concert be sure to plan enough time to explore the artwork in the Museum Park.

Thumbs up: picnic spots, rolling hills, outdoor artwork, outdoor movies/concerts, The Pond landscaping, information plaques/maps, parking

Thumbs down: few pockets of shade

Fred Fletcher Park

From playing sports, walking, and having picnics to viewing the numerous gardens there is such a variety of activities at Fletcher Park. Fletcher Park is located at 802 Clay St inside the beltline. Parking is available along Washington St or in the nearby parking lot. We parked in the large parking lot and began our stroll along the paved walkway. The entire park is magnificently landscaped. Follow the walkway and you’ll come across stone walls protecting the gardens, perfectly edged lawns, and beautiful gardens filled with varieties of crape myrtles, gardenias, magnolias, hostas, butterfly bushes, and daylilies.

Enjoy a picnic lunch on a bench, on the lush green grass, or in the amphitheater-style seating in the grass. There are plenty of private areas to lay a blanket down and soak up some sun with a good book too!

Next, we came upon the Borden house, which was built circa 1900. It has been restored and is available to rent for weddings and other events.

We then walked through the grass next to the Borden building to get a better view of the baseball fields below.

Afterwards, we walked through the grass behind the Borden house and came upon another paved walkway that backs up to residential homes. We passed several labeled species of daylilies.

As we followed the narrow path around, we discovered the water gardens that were under construction in 2008. First we came upon the Forebay, which is the deepest pool of the water garden.

Information plaque about the Forebay
Plant life in the Forebay

We continued on and enjoyed the rest of the water garden and wetlands. There is a great wooden deck overlooking the wetlands, perfect for spotting wildlife and enjoying the views. Informational plaques located along the walkway and on the deck provide more details about the benefits the water gardens provide. It’s a great place for kids to experience; while there, we saw ducks, dragonflies, and butterflies!  Here’s more information about the City of Raleigh Water Garden and Wetlands Project.

Information plaque about the Water Garden
Demonstrating how the water garden improves water quality in Raleigh
Looking into the water garden
Views of the plant life
Plants thrive here!
Beautiful purple flowering plants love it here too!
One of the many ducks living in the water garden
Learn more about the different plants that inhabit the water garden
Baby Ashley enjoying the views from the deck
It was such a sunny day!

Across from the water gardens are the basketball courts and tennis courts. When Bill and I used to play tennis here it was always a very popular spot.

Across from the tennis courts you’ll see the art sculpture.  Further ahead, you’ll pass the shaded playground area along Washington St. To the left there is also a large pavilion with picnic tables and a charcoal grill. If you continue on the walkway you’ll find your way back to parking lot. This is also a great place to visit on Sunday evenings in the summer for their free concert series! Bring a blanket and some snacks and have a fantastic evening!



Thumbs up: condition of basketball and tennis courts, scenic views, wetlands, water gardens, picnic spots, landscaping, free concerts
Thumbs down: lack of signage

Trip to Southport, NC

I’ve only been to a handful of small towns in my life and this week I had the extreme pleasure of spending the week in Southport, NC for my brother’s wedding.  He is marrying the lovely Rachael Anderson today and I couldn’t be happier for them.

We had a lot of free time this week before the wedding festivities began so I took my sister, Ginni, and Ashley around downtown Southport for some exploring.

After we walked through the shops we headed to the Waterfront Park & River Walk area (corner of Howe St and Bay St), which is located on the Cape Fear River.  This is a beautiful spot to have a seat on a bench or swing and watch the boats come by.  There are several small pavilions with picnic tables, but be careful of the seagulls if packing a picnic lunch.

View of the Waterfront from the north
Map of the area detailing the various islands around Cape Fear River
Bike racks are available
Paved walkways make it easy for strollers
Pavilion with picnic tables
Benches along the Waterfront

Next to the Waterfront is City Pier, which is a popular spot for fishing.  The moderate breeze from the river also helps cool down the hot and muggy NC summer days!

Continuing north on Bay St, you’ll come to Southport Community Building, which is where my brother and Rachael are getting married today!  It has a gorgeous deck overlooking the river, which is where the ceremony will be held and a reception hall inside the building.  There is parallel parking available on both sides of Bay St and stairs to access the building from the street.

Views from the top deck
Southport Community Building

Continuing north, we enjoyed watching the large boats return from trips at sea.  The homes along the walk are also interesting to look at, especially given their historic, New England style.  Each home has a plaque near the front door listing when it was built; most are from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Not having a final destination in mind, I was pleasantly surprised when we came upon another park along the river, Kingsley Park!  Kingsley Park is at the corner of Kingsley Dr and Bay St and is only about 1/4 mile from the Waterfront area.  This was an area where menhaden fishing boats used to dock decades ago.  Menhaden fish are caught in nets and are mostly used for their oil and ecological resources, as they have too many bones for human consumption.

Kingsley Park has several benches, paved sidewalks, information plaques detailing the menhaden fishing industry and Hurricane Hazel destruction from 1954, and a long pier into the river.

Kingsley Park
Benches in the park
Gardens around the park
View towards the river
Ashley and me on the pier
Ginni and Ashley on the pier
Information plaques about the fishing industry

Southport, NC is a fantastically quiet getaway with so much to do.  Whether you’re walking around downtown, shopping, taking in scenes of the river, or eating at one of the local restaurants you’ll have a great time.  From Raleigh, Southport is only 2.5 hours – perfect for a day trip and making wedding memories!  Congrats again to Brandon and Rachael…can’t wait to celebrate with you tonight!

Thumbs up: scenic views, photo ops, educational plaques, historic homes, river walk, piers, downtown atmosphere

Thumbs down: nothing to note 🙂

Rose Garden

For my first Mother’s Day we spent the weekend in Nags Head with great friends and the pups for our traditional Yuengling 5K race. When we got home on Sunday we walked down to the Rose Garden, which is just two blocks from our house. We were too late for their annual Mother’s Day brunch celebration (mimosas and yummy food) so we just walked around and enjoyed the fantastic sights, smells, and company.  The Rose Garden can also be rented for weddings and other events (hint: no money needed on decorations).



Wandering through the rows and rows of roses


Lovely shades of peach, hot pink, and light pink roses



The rose garden is located in the circular, below-street level area at 301 Pogue St.  Parking is limited to around the circle and the nearby neighborhood streets.  There are a few different entrances with stairs or you can walk down the paved entrance way near the theater. The grass height in the gardens is kept pretty low so you can easily push a stroller.

There are over 50 varieties of roses to touch (no snipping) and smell. One end of the garden has a beautiful pergola covered in white roses and the water feature and the other end has a gazebo with other varieties of shade-loving plants. There are benches and picnic tables covered with large shade trees for great picnic spots.

The pergola at one end covered with white roses
The other end of the garden
Some of the shade-loving hostas

You can’t visit the Rose Garden without scoping out the latest plays at Raleigh Little Theater, which is adjacent to the garden. RLT is a community theater that produces 11 shows each season. I’ve been to a few shows and know folks who work on the production so be sure to check them out!

Thumbs up: picnic spots, shade, sights/smells, photo ops, gardens, theater

Thumbs down: parking (at times)