Neuse River Trail MP 26.25 to 27.5 & Town of Clayton Greenways

claytongreenway - 49Over Memorial Day weekend, my sweet in-laws watched the girls while Bill and I enjoyed a biking and beers day date. Wanting to explore a new (to us) portion of the greenway, we headed to the southern portion of the Neuse River Trail near the Wake/Johnston County border. In all, we biked 15-miles (out and back total), crossed two counties, followed a river, detoured around an unpassable bridge, passed a historic bridge, and saw some art before grabbing beers at Deep River Brewing – a pretty awesome afternoon!

We parked in the greenway access parking lot at 6008 Mial Plantation Rd and turned left heading south toward Johnston County. We immediately crossed under Mial Plantation Rd bridge and passed the MP 26.25 sign. The trail is mostly flat with beautiful views of the rural fields separated by white split-rail fence. Shortly after, we biked past the Wake/Johnston Co line at MP 27.5, creating a fun selfie spot. The Town of Clayton maintains the greenway past the Wake County line with a portion of it affiliated with the East Coast Greenway.

Clayton River Walk on the Neuse

claytongreenway - 19Continuing on Clayton’s greenway (technically called Clayton River Walk on the Neuse), we arrived at the Riverwood neighborhood where we found the bridge damaged and unpassable. At the time we didn’t see signage showing a detour route so I jumped onto the Town of Clayton website. I learned that last fall’s Hurricane Matthew caused near record flood levels for the Neuse River and took out the bridge. The town’s website shows a detour route through the Riverwood neighborhood that adds an extra five minutes via biking. The Town of Clayton is currently working with FEMA to replace the bridge, and there is no estimated completion timeframe.

claytongreenway - 33After biking the hilly detour through the neighborhood we met up with the trail and continued south. The trail remains mostly flat and sunny with clear views of the river. We passed a large sandy access spot for the river, complete with benches. Then, we biked under Covered Bridge Rd with a history that dates back to 1863 when it was first commissioned as a ferry replacement. Historians believe the bridge was covered around 1883 and most recently replaced in its current concrete form in 1980.

Shortly after passing Covered Bridge Rd, we passed MP 31 and crossed a large pedestrian bridge over the Neuse River. We enjoyed seeing so many benches and picnic tables donated by the Rotary Club of Clayton. About 1/2 mile later, we made a sharp right turn through a construction zone to stay on Clayton’s greenway, officially called Sam’s Branch Greenway at this point. 

Sam’s Branch Greenway

claytongreenway - 39After safely maneuvering through the sand and dirt construction zone, the 1.25-mile paved trail leads away from the river towards North O’Neil St. Along the way we passed beautiful community art displays of hand-painted wooden fish. Then we biked by a public art garden featuring butterfly-shaped bike racks, benches, totem pole and a little free library. The trail also showcases information signs about forest animals in the area before passing a developing neighborhood and ending at a large greenway access parking lot at 1358 N O’Neil St.

Even though N O’Neil St is one of the main arteries leading to downtown Clayton (and Deep River Brewing) we aren’t adventurous enough to bike on main roads yet. So, we turned around and biked the 7.5 mile return trip to Mial Plantation Rd. We noticed better detour signage around the damaged bridge on our way home.

Despite the detour and construction we passed, it’s pretty amazing you can bike nearly 33 miles one-way from Falls Lake Dam to Sam’s Branch Greenway trailhead. With greenway connections to the Town of Knightdale (via Mingo Creek Trail) and future connections to the Town of Wake Forest greenways, people all over the area have so much access to outdoor adventures.

Helpful References

Milepost Points of Reference

  • Falls Lake Dam – MP 0.0
  • Mial Plantation Rd greenway parking – MP 26.25
  • Wake/Johnston County line – MP 27.5
  • Covered Bridge Rd & Clayton River Walk on the Neuse trailhead – MP 31
  • Sam’s Branch Greenway trailhead – MP 32.5

Thumbs up: donated benches and picnic tables sprinkled along the way, public art displays, scenic views along river, greenway access points, jurisdictional connections

Thumbs down: detour signage coming from the north, construction zone near intersection of Clayton River Walk on the Neuse and Sam’s Branch Greenway

Mingo Creek Trail MP 0 to 2.25

IMG_8407Looking for a fun family bike ride over the holiday weekend? Discover the Mingo Creek Trail of Knightdale where it features flat rides, long causeways and interesting creek life!

We love finding new (to us) greenway sections to explore, so we headed to Anderson Point Park to access the Mingo Creek Trail. Mingo Creek Trail is part of the Town of Knightdale’s greenway system that connects from the Neuse River Trail. We parked in the large parking lot (just outside the main entrance to Anderson Point Park) and biked north on the Neuse River Trail.

We shortly passed MP 17 for the Neuse River Trail and then turned right, following signs for Mingo Creek Trail. Then, we winded up a paved path before biking across the Neuse River. The trail eventually led to a clearing with residential homes on one side and railroad tracks on the opposite side. Around MP 1, the trail’s gradual hill leveled out to the Princeton Manor neighborhood at the Hodge Rd intersection.

IMG_8426We maneuvered through the neighborhood sidewalks and carefully crossed Hodge Rd to continue on Mingo Creek Trail. Shortly after, we biked along the half-mile causeway, which was sandwiched between marshy areas and residential homes. We stopped on the causeway to watch the turtle and duck families sunning in the water. A great heron (or egret) also caught our eye.

Eventually we biked under the I-540 bridge and turned around at the Lynnwood Rd Connector at MP 2.25. Knowing we’d have a 2.25-mile return trip, we enjoyed a picnic on the side of the trail before calling it a successful ride. I hope to bring the girls back to finish biking this trail over the summer where it ends at Mingo Creek Park.

Thumbs up: easy to read Town of Knightdale greenway map with incremental markings and mileage table, connection to the larger Neuse River Trail for longer rides, interesting wildlife viewing in marsh, great family bike ride, sunny bridges and causeways make for great photo ops

Thumbs down: lack of signs made maneuvering through neighborhood near Hodge Rd confusing

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (Outer Banks, NC)

pea island national wildlife refugeWhen we were in Nags Head last month we spent the last full day exploring Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on a barrier island of the Outer Banks in NC.  The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of a larger national wildlife refuge system with more than 500 units that was founded by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 to conserve the nation’s natural living treasures.  The Pea Island Refuge was established in 1938 to provide a resting and winter habitat for migratory waterfowl. It features a visitor center, the North Pond Wildlife trail (which is part of the larger Charles Kuralt Trail), and 13 miles of beaches.  We did a little bit of everything just before the big storms rolled in, making the trip a perfect last day adventure!

Before exploring the hiking/walking trail in the refuge, we stopped at the Pea Island Visitor Center.  It is located a few miles south of Oregon Inlet along NC 12 (not to be confused with the National Wildlife Refuge Center main complex located on Roanoke Island). Volunteers run the visitor center and it’s free to explore.  It features a few exhibits detailing the refuge’s history and animals in the area, a gift shop, scavenger hunts for kids, and telescopes for viewing into the marshes.  Pea Island received its name because the migratory snow geese that frequented this area ate plants with peas in them.

IMG_6261After exploring the visitor center we headed to the North Pond Wildlife trail, which is a 1 mile total walk to the observation deck and back to the visitor center.  We first walked along the boardwalk and scoped out the turtles in the “turtle pond.” Continuing on, we walked along a partially paved/boardwalk path between North Pond and New Field Pond where we glanced through fixed binoculars towards North Pond.  The trail then became narrow and sandy, but continued to offer beautiful unobstructed views of the ponds.  At the end of the trail, we walked up the double decker observation deck, where we could see for miles and identified egrets and turkey vultures.  Butterflies were plentiful this day, too.  The observation deck features some informational plaques about animals in the refuge and fixed binoculars for viewing.

IMG_6265The North Pond Wildlife Trail is part of a larger grouping of trails that make up the Charles Kuralt Trail.  It was established to encourage people to enjoy the wild lands and recognize this great NC native broadcast journalist who loved exploring remote places.  The Charles Kuralt Trail consists of 13 refuges or hatcheries along eastern NC and southeastern VA, offering interesting places to explore.

It was a really hot day, so we quickly walked the 1/2 mile back to the visitor center parking lot (although more adventurous hikers can complete the 4 mile loop around North Pond).  After a short bathroom break, we grabbed our picnic lunch and beach bag and walked across highway NC-12 for more beach time.  The Atlantic Ocean was beautiful this time of year and the water was relatively calm despite the large thunderstorm that popped up an hour later.  Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the remains of the Oriental, a Federal transport during the Civil War, which shipwrecked in 1862.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: beautiful pond views, light foot traffic,

Thumbs down: Bathrooms near trail head

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

Blue Ridge Parkway: Moses Cone Memorial Park & Linn Cove Viaduct

IMG_5696We were very fortunate to spend a few weekends in the NC mountains this summer.  On our second mountain trip we met up with my in-laws and stayed in a beautiful mountain cabin near the Appalachian Ski Mountain between Boone and Blowing Rock.  On a tip from friends, we headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway and visited the Moses Cone Memorial Park & the Linn Cove Viaduct.

The Moses Cone Memorial Park is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 294, just a short drive from Blowing Rock.  Moses Cone Memorial Park preserves the country estate of Moses Cone, who was a textile businessman and conservationist in the late 19th century.  The park features 25 miles of hiking and bridle trails and Flat Top Manor, which is a 13,000 sq ft Colonial Style mansion.  The bottom floor of the manor houses the Parkway Craft Center, which features handmade crafts by regional artists and a souvenir shop.  We also had the pleasure of watching a pottery demonstration, which the craft center regularly schedules.

After the pottery demo and catching some breathtaking views outside the manor overlooking Bass Lake, we headed left of the house to walk the Figure 8 trail.  This short 0.7 mile hike is great for families with small children or grandparents as it is well shaded and flat.  Originally created by Moses Cone for his daily walks, this unpaved path meanders in a figure 8 shape through the property, making it a perfect walking trail to explore the variety of trees and flowers.  Informational signs highlight the hickory, oak, maple, mountain laurel and black cherry trees along the trail.  If you’re craving a longer or more strenuous hike, check out the map of trails around the park.

IMG_5732After spending over an hour at the park, we turned left out of Moses Cone Memorial Park and headed 10 miles south to the Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304).  At an elevation of 4,100 ft, the Linn Cove Viaduct is a concrete bridge engineering marvel snaking around Grandfather Mountain; it is over 1,200 ft long and consists of 153 concrete sections weighing 50 tons each.  Construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct was completed in 1983, cementing the final link of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Coming from the north, we drove over the viaduct and then turned left into the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center parking lot.  We hiked the short 0.2 mile walk along the Tanawha Trail to the Linn Cove Viaduct observation deck.  Along the short walk we saw several mountain springs and a variety of mountain flora. Walking underneath the viaduct gives you a sense of the bridge’s massiveness – each bridge segment spans several arm-lengths in width, and has enormous amounts of concrete supported by large piers.  We then walked higher up the Tanawha trail to get an eye-level view of the viaduct and mountains in the distance.  Though our trip to the viaduct was quick, everyone in our group (not just the engineers) really enjoyed and appreciated seeing such an engineering feat up close.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: beautiful views from Moses Cone Park overlooking downtown Blowing Rock, access to close-up views of viaduct, infinite outside experiences along Blue Ridge Parkway

Thumbs down: manor house in desperate need of painting and renovations, bathroom facilities at Moses Cone Park

Update: Durant Nature Preserve Park

Durant Nature Preserve ParkWith mild weather in the forecast and more nature parks on our mind, we headed to Durant Nature Preserve Park (8305 Camp Durant Rd
in North Raleigh) to attend the Wee Walkers program with friends, play in the natural playground, and explore the butterfly and bird garden.  We’ve attended the Wee Walkers program several times over the years and the girls (and I) always have a great time.  The program is a fun way to get out and explore nature with a knowledgeable guide, the program is FREE and doesn’t require registration (although it helps for their planning purposes), and you learn about and see different animals and parts of the park each trip.

This Wee Walkers program focused on birds and we hiked along the White House Road trail that meanders through the shaded forest on the northern side of the park.  Staff Ranger Jack kept us moving at a steady pace for such a large group while pointing out several flora and fauna along the way: skinks, bluebirds, lots of centipedes, frogs, centipedes, robins, spiders and more.  He spotted eggs in one of the bluebird houses, which was a big hit for all the parents and kids, and he also talked about some of the migratory birds that we’d find in the park.

After the hiking program, the girls played in the natural play area that sits near the painted shed in the north entrance parking lot.  The natural play area features a rock garden, small fish pond surrounded by native plants, fairy house building, bird houses, sandbox, and fort building supplies.  The girls have had so much fun playing in Raleigh’s natural play areas lately that we’ve tried to incorporate several of them in our own backyard with fairy garden building, dinosaur fossils and other small treasures hidden in a dirt box, and a painted rock garden.

IMG_5419Once the girls finished in the natural play area, we walked across the parking lot and open field area to the bird and butterfly garden.  The butterfly garden has a short trail surrounded by natural butterfly habitats of lilac, Queen Anne’s Lace, daylilies, eastern blue star and more.  The butterfly garden leads into the shaded bird garden that features a mulched trail with several feeders, bird houses, and informational guides.  We heard and saw a lot of birds flying in and around the gardens, but my bird identification skills are pretty pathetic – maybe some adult birding classes are in my future!

On our way back to our car we spotted a large doe along the perimeter of the park, so you never know what you’ll see at the park.  The next Wee Walkers program is Thursday, July 7 at 10am and maybe we’ll see you there!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: guided Wee Walkers program, natural play area, bird and butterfly garden, shaded trails for hot summer days

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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

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

East Fork Mine Creek Trail: MP 1 to 2.5

IMG_3485When the weather hovered in the high-70s on Christmas Eve, my family headed to a newly opened section of greenway for some exercise before filling up on holiday libations and rich foods.  East Fork Mine Creek is a 2.5 mile north-south paved trail that runs along Mine Creek near Lynn Rd to the north side of Strickland Rd.  We drove to one of the entrances of the trail near the intersection of Newton Rd and Sandy Creek Rd and parked in the shopping center across the street (note: take note of “no parking” signs; we arrived before the shops opened so we thought we’d be fine with parking in the center).

After crossing Newton Rd and heading north on the trail we quickly passed mile marker 1.  With the recent rains the paved trail was pretty wet with debris and the nearby Mine Creek flowed quickly.  This section of the trail runs behind a residential area of houses and apartments.  We also passed by a large section of tall bamboo on the side of the trail opposite the creek.

IMG_3489We continued north on the trail until we came to Old Deer Trail, a neighborhood street in the Summerfield subdivision.  We crossed over Old Deer Trail and followed the Capital Area Greenway signs as we winded our way through this cute, low-traffic neighborhood.  We passed a few other bikers and walkers along the way before coming to Strickland Rd.  We crossed Running Cedar Trail, heading east on Strickland Rd where we also passed West Millbrook Middle School and mile marker 2.5, the end of East Fork Mine Creek Rd.  At this point of the trail there is a well marked pedestrian crossing area designated for crossing over busy Strickland Rd.  My aunt and I opted to head back to the car while the rest of the group crossed Strickland Rd to extend their run on the connecting Honeycutt Creek Trail (more on this hilly trail in a future post).

A morning run on this section of East Fork Mine Creek was the perfect pre-Christmas exercise to involve all ages.  This section of the trail is pretty flat and offers lots of creek views, houses and people for little ones to view.

Thumbs up: flat trail, creek/residential views, safety, well-marked pedestrian crossing at Strickland Rd

Thumbs down: designated trail parking near Newton Rd

Crabtree Creek Trail: MP 0 to 4.75

IMG_3014Back in November we took advantage of my aunt visiting and went on a greenway biking day date!  We biked along Crabtree Creek Trail from milepost 0 to 4.75, completing the final segment of this greenway that we had left to explore.  We parked at Anderson Point Park and biked past the traffic circle near the park’s main entrance to the Crabtree Creek Trail greenway entrance and headed west (note: there are also signs for Neuse River Trail).

This portion of the greenway was pretty flat, but offered a lot to look at along the way.  We biked almost 5 miles and crossed several bridges and went under several overpasses on this trail segment.  From Anderson Point Park, we headed west where we biked under Rogers Ln and US-64, S New Hope Rd, I-440, New Bern Ave and then followed the sidewalk along Milburnie Rd before connecting up with more of the greenway.  After Milburnie Rd, the trail was covered in leaves and got rather hilly.  We saw some pretty water views from the high banks of Marsh Creek but also saw less desirable views of the abandoned nightclub, Envy.

IMG_3008We biked until about mile marker 4.75 where we turned around at an abandoned commercial building with a gantry crane to ensure we returned to the park before sunset (note: just past this spot is Lockwood Park).  The ride back was as refreshing and quiet as the ride in, covering more wooded areas than residential areas.  We passed a few runners and bikers along the way, but this section of the trail definitely felt less travelled compared to others.  After our bike ride, we quickly came home to change and then hopped back into the car for part 2 of our date at the new Cinebistro movie theater in Cary where we saw The Martian…a relaxing end to a fun date!

Thumbs up: road signage at highway overpasses, quiet/relaxing ride

Thumbs down: lack of signage about upcoming parks/playgrounds along bike route