Glen Burney Trail (Blowing Rock, NC)

Glen Burney TrailWhile we were in the NC mountains, Bill and I scooted out for a day date hike and beers in Blowing Rock.  We hiked the Glen Burney trail located just off Main St at 229 Laurel Ln in Annie Cannon Gardens.  The Glen Burney Trail is 1.6 miles long (3.2 total miles out/back) and parallels the New Year’s Creek, which eventually flows into the Catawba River Basin.  The trail is unlike others I’ve ever hiked because it starts at 3,920 ft in elevation and drops 600 ft to the base of the falls.

The hike started off moderate as we crossed a few gentle streams and walked along even ground.  Then we hiked by dramatic backyard views of a private home and ruins of a former sewer plant that was in use until 1929.  Soon thereafter, the trail became more strenuous as we crossed large roots, steep hills, and fallen logs.

IMG_5763We arrived at the first waterfall, the Cascades, a little past halfway down the trail.  The creek water gently flows over these moderately sloped rocks, allowing hikers to cautiously climb up the rocks to higher ground.  We stopped to take in the sights and sounds before moving farther down the trail. On our next stop we hiked to the base of the trail at Glen Marie Falls.  We climbed up large boulders sandwiched between small streams to get higher views of the mountains in the distance.  Again, we stopped for several minutes to take in the quiet sights and sounds.

After Glen Burney Falls, we started our ascent back up the trail and stopped at the Glen Marie Falls.  We had passed the sign for these falls on the way down the mountain. We hiked a short ways off the trail to the reach the falls, and it was well worth it.  I walked along the creek rocks to enjoy cooling off in the waterfall where water gently flows from a 30+ft boulder.

We then continued our ascent up the mountain, which was much shorter than our hike down; walking down we focused a lot of our time on our footing.  Overall, the hike took about 1 1/2 hours and was strenuous, so we were right to hike this trail without kids.  Judging by the little foot traffic, it’s a hidden gem of a hike even though busy Main St is a few blocks away.  After our hike we wandered around Annie Cannon park, which features several spots for quiet reflection, a small creek, an amphitheater, and beautiful landscaping.

Thumbs up: beautiful views, little foot traffic, easy access to waterfalls, unique hike down and then up

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Joslin Garden: 2016 Open Garden Day

Joslin Garden
pic from Joslin Garden in 2012

It’s always fun and interesting to re-visit a place you haven’t been to in awhile and I look forward to exploring Joslin Garden for Open Garden Day this upcoming Saturday.  Joslin Garden is a private residence inside the beltline that features over four wooded acres of rare and native plants.  William and Mary Coker Joslin have gifted their home and garden to the City of Oaks Foundation and City of Raleigh Parks & Rec Dept.  Currently, the garden is open one day a year, but in the future, the garden will be opened year-round.

When I first visited the garden four years ago I was blown away by all the flowers, vegetables and plants, little pathways, streams of flowing water, and cute garden decor.  The gardens felt enchanting, romantic and whimsical.  It’s hard to believe a private garden of this size exists inside the beltline. I was happy to share it with Ashley back then, even if she was only 13 months old at the time and I look forward to re-discovering this secret garden this weekend, hopefully with a little one at my side.

Joslin Garden Open Garden Day Infoimg_1073

  • Saturday, April 23, 2016 from 12pm-5pm
  • 2431 West Lake Drive, park only on one side of West Lake Drive
  • features self-guided tours of private gardens
  • there are no public restrooms
  • event flyer

Abbotts Creek Park

IMG_3448Before Christmas we headed to the newly opened Abbotts Creek Park, which is adjacent to Abbotts Creek Community Center and Abbotts Creek Elementary School.  Abbotts Creek Park is located in northeast Raleigh at 9950 Durant Rd, just down the road from North Wake Landfill.

The playground area is fenced-in and has brightly colored play features similar to the playgrounds at Greystone Community Center, Hill Street Park, and Powell Drive Park.  The smaller age playground features a slide, climbing ropes, and a planet-like climb-through structure.  Just a few steps away is the older age playground which features several connected rope climbing structures, climb-through rings, bouncy stepping stones, a tall slide, and a spinner.  The park also has a few benches, tot swings, regular swings, and shade canopies.

IMG_3445Outside the playground is a large concrete area with a large painted circle (presumably for playground games), four 100-yd dash lanes, a large grassy area, and rear access to the community center and elementary school play areas around the corner.  The outside spaces have lots of room to hopefully add picnic tables in the future.

We spent over an hour on the playground where the girls imagined treasure hunts, pretended the rubberized surface was hot lava, and hid in the castle (aka the top of the tall slide).  We couldn’t visit the community center because it was closed while we were there, but according to the City of Raleigh website it features a, “two story community center houses a gymnasium with a real wood floor, fitness room, multipurpose classrooms, a fitness studio, lockers and dressing rooms, and office areas.”  Even though it’s a small playground area, there’s a lot to do; but if you run out of fun here be sure to visit Durant Nature Preserve or North Wake Landfill District Park down the street.

Thumbs up: shade tarps for hot days, easy access, brightly colored play structure with interesting rope climbing features

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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!

Additional Resources:

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

Canal Path/Heritage Trail & Old Mill Park in Fredericksburg, VA

IMG_2283Before summer came to an end we headed back up to VA for a final party at my mom’s house before turning it over to new owners.  To counteract the bushel of crabs (and beers) we were going to eat that weekend, we headed into downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday morning for a run and some playground time.

We parked at Old Mill Park (2410 Caroline St) along the Rappahannock River in downtown Fredericksburg.  We walked up towards Caroline St and turned right on the Heritage Trail, heading towards Route 1. Heritage Trail is a 1.6 mile paved path that parallels the Rappahannock River, offering gorgeous views of the flowing river through the city.  We quickly passed under Route 1, then followed along Riverside Dr before turning right along Fall Hill Ave.  We passed by the entrance to Virginia Outdoor Center and then turned left onto Canal Path trail.

IMG_2309The Canal Path is a paved 1.8 mile trail that parallels the canal until Princess Anne St where it then connects back with the Heritage Trail making a loop through downtown.  The Canal Path is mostly shaded, making it a great way to escape the summer heat.  We passed behind Mary Washington Hospital, ran under Route 1 again, ran by the Wetlands at Gayles Pond, and passed the Fredericksburg Dog Park on our way back to Old Mill Park.  Both trails display mile markers and informational signs throughout the paths related to historical aboriginal culture, Civil War battle action and current-day wetlands.

After our 3.1 mile loop run we ended back at Old Mill Park, which was a great place for the little ones to get out and stretch their legs.  Old Mill Park has a large playground for ages 2+ nestled under large trees.  It has several slides, climbing structures, built-in games for littles one to manipulate, nearby swings with tot swings, and several teeter totters.  Old Mill Park also has several large open fields (used mostly for soccer), pavilion with picnic tables, restroom facilities and riverfront views.  After all our running around we headed to the nearby Mason Dixon Cafe for brunch and mimosas.  And, no downtown Fredericksburg visit would be complete without walking next door to Carl’s for amazing ice cream!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: beautiful river views, accessibility to running/walking loop in downtown Fredericksburg,  historical markers of information, picnic spots, playground along running loop, felt very safe with all the foot traffic

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Historic Oak View Park – Hunnicut Trail

IMG_1849Sunday mornings in Raleigh with little ones require creativity!  The few indoor play places that are open are usually crowded so that’s when we escape to the outdoors.  One summer Sunday morning we decided to re-visit Historic Oak View Park in search of their vegetable garden and newer nature walking trails.

As (bad) luck would have it, we parked on the side of the parking lot that is not adjacent to the hiking trails so we set off on the only trail we saw – the paved trail near the pear trees.  It took us behind the nearby office buildings and towards the front of the park where we saw grape vines before crossing the main entrance road and following the main trail through the pecan grove and by the tenant house under construction and the main house.  Even though we hadn’t planned to follow the brick path through the main part of the park, it was nice to revisit familiar buildings, see the progress on the tenant house renovation, and admire the newer copper drain pipes on the main house.  Unfortunately we couldn’t access any of the buildings because they were either under construction or didn’t open until 1pm on Sundays.  The areas near the vegetable garden were also blocked off because of the nearby construction on the cotton gin building.  When we arrived back to the car we luckily spotted the nature trails we originally set out for.  After a quick toddler potty break down the street (restrooms in park aren’t open until 1pm) we came back to the nature trails.

IMG_1845We headed down the main trail path, which has a small gravel base, making it doable with a Bob stroller.  After a short 100yd walk we came to the small pond, amphitheater, and gazebo.  After playing in the gazebo we walked around the Hunnicut Trail, which is a 0.4 mile loop through the woods.  It was a nicely shaded and flat gravel path making it an easy walk for little ones. The forest was alive with noises from hundreds of insects and birds.  We passed an old vehicle gate, presumably evidence of the old working farm’s history.  After we returned to the main path we walked over the old stone bridge, which led to the back of the nearby office park.  A short while later we walked back up the path towards the parking lot.  We look forward to returning to Historic Oak View Park this fall to see the progress on the renovations and to explore the other short nature trail, Jones Creek Trail (0.7 miles).

More Resources:

Thumbs up: short, flat and shady nature walking trails for toddlers, photo ops near gazebo

Thumbs down: poor signage about trail location

Rockwood Park in Chesterfield, VA

IMG_1594If you live around the Richmond, VA area you have to check out Rockwood Park in Chesterfield County.  While visiting Tech buddies in Richmond at the end of June we set out for Rockwood Park Nature Center’s annual Honeybee Festival and everyone (kids and adults) fell in love with this park!

Rockwood Park is located at 3401 Courthouse Road in Chesterfield County near the intersection of Hull Street Rd.  While the festival vendors were setting up outside, we stepped inside the park’s nature center and got to see a whole lot of slithering, crawling, squirming and buzzing animals.  The kids got to see several types of snakes (including a copperhead and corn snake), turtles (including a gigantic snapping turtle), bull frogs, a large iguana, and a live bee exhibit.  All of the permanent exhibits were at levels great for little ones to see all the action.  With the Honeybee Festival going on outside there was a very knowledgeable and friendly bee expert who described bee keeping to us and pointed out the queen bee in the hive exhibit.  This center also has a great reading nook with nature books and kid-size table with coloring activities.

IMG_1604After spending at least 30 minutes in the center, we headed outside to enjoy the bee festival activities.  The friendly staff helped the kids make pipe cleaner bee crafts and plant flowers.  Then they enjoyed listening to bee themed stories and having bees painted on their hands.  After exhausting the storyteller’s books we headed out across the field to explore the playground area.

IMG_0113The playground area is made for kids mostly 5 years and up, but that didn’t stop these almost 2-year olds and 4-year old from playing.   The playground has a small slide for younger kids that is connected to higher play areas by monkey bars.  There are several more climbing areas connected by ladders with access to twisty and straight slides.  With the recent rains the kids happily discovered the large mud puddle at the bottom of the twisty slide.  Tot swings and regular swings are nearby and several benches and picnic tables are also located in the playground area.  The entire area is mostly shaded by tall, mature trees and there are several more amenities (such as a dog park, pickleball courts, baseball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, pavilions) adjacent to the playground.  As someone who has spent a lot of time visiting family and friends in Chesterfield, I am excited to explore more parks in this area.

For a complete list of the amenities at Rockwood Park, see the County of Chesterfield website.

Thumbs up: live animals at nature center, friendly staff, variety of activities for young kids, shady playground area

Thumbs down: poor drainage near playground

Biking the Neuse River Trail – MP 2.75 to 8

IMG_1430On the heels of family visiting at the end of May, my aunt offered to watch the girls while Bill and I headed out for a date night.  Instead of gorging ourselves at a new restaurant, we decided to dust off our bikes and chomp away at another segment of the Neuse River Trail between the Bedford neighborhood and US-401 (followed by beers at a new brewery, Compass Rose Brewery).

For our bike ride we parked in the trail parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood in North Raleigh.  We followed the access road to the trail, turned right to head south, went over a small bridge and then bared to the left to stay on the main trail.  This part of the Neuse River Trail is mostly flat and shaded with several bridges (including covered ones) to pass over and under.  We passed several folks biking and running on the trail and even more folks canoeing and tubing down the river.  Here are a few highlights along our route:

  • IMG_1394milepost 3.5 – look over the river to spot old gas or electricity lines running across an old steel bridge
  • milepost 4.5 – access to oxbow in the river due to years of erosion and sand deposition creating a really sweet swimming hole with sandy beach.  The water flows very slowly in this spot and we saw a few younger kids fishing.  I’d love to bike with the girls down here and bring a picnic and bathing suits.
  • milepost 5 – large bridge access to (presumably future) Wake Forest trails
  • milepost 6.5 – access to WRAL soccer park
  • milepost 7.5 – access to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve (still under construction, set to open August 2015)
  • milepost 8 – suspension bridge near US-401

For two people who hadn’t ridden bikes in at least 4 years, this was the perfect ride to ease back into things.  Overall the ride was a little over 11 miles total (out and back) and provided a lot of great scenery and ideas of future outings for swimming, biking and maybe even some tubing!

Thumbs up: access to swimming hole and several parks along the way, relatively flat and shaded trail, variety of water activities available

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

More Resources

Neuse River Trail: MP 7.25 to 9 & Suspension Bridge

IMG_0632Towards the end of March we headed out to Neuse River Trail to explore the area surrounding Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, in anticipation of the new park opening sometime this spring/summer.  Using the RGreenway app, we mapped our starting location at the small parking lot at 198 Trailhead Ln outside I-540 and off US-401.  Knowing we wouldn’t pass a playground along our run, we brought the girls’ bikes and scooters to play on after our run.

We walked along the access trail to the main Neuse River Trail and turned left at the compass in the trail to head north towards Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.  After crossing over a wooden boardwalk we passed milepost 8 1/2.  The vegetation at this point in the year was very sparse, but showing signs of life to come (you’ll see a remarkable difference in a future Neuse River Trail post that I write).  We stopped every once in awhile to point out interesting things in nature to the girls – a rotting fallen tree, a wicked looking pale-as-a-ghost tree across the river, fallen gumballs, and pigeons resting under underpasses.

After running under US-401 we came to another amazing feat of steel, cables, and pillars – a massive suspension bridge spanning across the river with access to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve.  The other suspension bridge I’ve seen along Neuse River Trail is further south at milepost 13.5.  Even though signs indicate the park is closed for construction we looped around and over the bridge for a closer look.  After a short 1/4 mile run we stopped at the “Greenway Closed” signs on the edge of the park and headed back across the bridge and further north along the greenway.  We crossed over some more bridges before turning around near run-down barns around milepost 7 1/4.

IMG_0661This portion of the greenway continues to be relatively flat and shady.  The areas surrounding the greenway are mostly dense forest to one side with the river to the other.  We saw quite a few fisherman on both banks of the river with most of them concentrated in spots near US-401.  Our run back to the car was much faster than the run out so we took advantage of happy little faces and retrieved a balance bike, scooter and helmets from the car and let the girls ride on the greenway.  It wasn’t a busy morning on the trail, so the girls had a carefree time riding.  Ashley biked south on the greenway all the way to milepost 9 where we crossed over a small bridge with a shallow creek below, perfect for spotting turtles.  Claire enjoyed her first scooter ride where we pushed her from behind as she cruised along.  They were troopers for such a long morning run of about 4 miles and then some bike time.

Upcoming event: Celebrate the completion of the Neuse River Trail on Thursday, June 4 at Anderson Point Park with live bands, food trucks, kids’ games and more

Thumbs up: suspension bridge, wide/flat trail, shady

Thumbs down: nothing to report