It’s finally Fall, y’all! After a long, hot and sticky summer, the team at Cuberis is just itching to get outside and enjoy the beautiful autumn weather. What better way to celebrate Fall than with a compilation of our favorite outdoor spots and parks– not only in Raleigh/Durham, but throughout the great state of North Carolina.
We are so lucky that the Triangle has tons of outdoor activities like greenways, parks and trails scattered throughout. According to Bloomberg and the Trust for Public Land, Raleigh alone has “12,512 park acres, equal to several times the green space per capita in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Durham is right there with Raleigh, having been recognized by KaBOOM as a “Playful City USA” agency in 2014 for the 6th year in a row. That’s something to brag about.
We’re always looking for fun things to do in our free time and wanted to share some of our favorites with you, too. So grab a pair of hiking boots, round up your kids for an outdoor adventure, or just sit with a good book and a picnic basket at some of the best places our beautiful green state has to offer.
North Carolina Arboretum | Asheville, NC Ray Parrish
My wife and I love any chance to get outdoors (especially when we can drag along our two dogs). On a recent trip to Asheville we took some great advice and visited the NC Arboretum for a hike with our fur-kids. We couldn’t have been happier (and more impressed) with the family adventure.
The Arboretum is situated on 400+ acres with 10 miles of hiking/biking trails. We were feeling a little adventurous so tried a couple different ones as all had great views of the forest and were well shaded. Our two favorite were Bent Creek Trail with its winding views of the creek and Hard Times Road with its changes in elevation and path into Pisgah National Forest. Just to add to the adventure we got in some picnic time on the lawn, visited the quilt garden, and even toured the very impressive bonsai exhibit. Definitely a must to do for anyone in the area and I can’t wait to travel back over the holidays to experience their Winter Lights celebration.
Historic Yates Mill County Park | Raleigh, NC Shanna Kane
Historic Yates Mill County Park is a 174-acre wildlife refuge and an environmental research center, and the perfect backdrop for a beautiful day. Just a few miles down the road from our house and right across the street from some of NC State’s agricultural study farms, there is a working mill right on the pond. You can come here for fishing in the pond, hiking on one of their 3 trails, or you can just come and run around the old buildings and watch photographers snap pictures of families and nature. I often take my 2 year old son here and we explore the trails and watch the birds and turtles in the water.
Hanging Rock State Park | Danbury, NC Andy Marino
One of my all-time favorite spots in North Carolina is Hanging Rock State Park. It’s a bit of a trek from Durham (about 30 miles north of Winston-Salem) but I can’t think of a better way to spend an autumn afternoon. The main reason I keep going back is for the epic views from the top of the summit. It’s pretty easy for casual or even non-hikers (though expect it to be a work-out). The park itself is massive and it offers something for everyone. Besides hiking, there are campgrounds, bike routes, rock climbing, lakes, etc. Even the drive out there is beautiful and worth the trip alone.
Appalachian Trail | North Carolina Sean O’Shea
Some of my favorite places are on the AT along the NC/TN border: the pine forest at the top of Unaka, the patchy balds north of Carver’s Gap, the stunning 360º view atop Hump Mountain. There’s such a diversity of beauty. Every time I go out (whether it’s for a few days or more than a week) I always come back feeling more grounded. It’s hard to truly “get away” from the barrage of distractions and instant gratifications inherent to modern life. The AT forces me to unplug, challenge myself, and be totally self-reliant. Everyone has their “place” they go to think and reconnect—this is mine.
Lake Crabtree County Park, Mountain Bike Trails | Morrisville, NC Jayson Morse
My favorite outdoor spot to hit in the triangle is the MTB trail system at Lake Crabtree County Park. They have miles and miles of stacked-loop singletrack that is so super flowy and crazy fast that it will blow yer mind. They have a quick little pump-track for the kiddos and boating and kites and stuff too if you’re not all that into potentially breaking your neck while hurtling through the woods. (kinda boring for me, but I mean to each their own I suppose) Plus it’s right by the airport, so access from both Durham and Raleigh is a breeze. That does make it a pretty popular spot for bikes and trail runners though so it can get kinda crowded. Your best bet is to duck out of work early, it’s a short trip and totally worth it.
Lake Crabtree County Park, Butterfly Garden | Morrisville, NC Archele Moore
My experience at Lake Crabtree County Park is a little different than Jayson’s experience above. Thanks to Lyndsey, I recently visited the lake in Morrisville. The grassy area with the butterfly garden that offers the view of the lake is absolutely gorgeous! I have already made plans take my nieces there for a picnic and some lazy Saturday lounging.
William B. Umstead State Park | Raleigh, NC Lyndsey Goode
My favorite outdoor spot is William B. Umstead State Park. Only a 6 minute drive from my house, it’s the perfect place to take my dog for a hike. And with a number of different trails, there is always a different path to take. My fiancee and I love strolling the paths, talking with other locals enjoying a morning walk, and trying to convince Ripley, our Goldador, to play in the streams. I’ve walked through Umstead in the Spring, Summer, and Fall (not the Winter – I’m from Florida, and I draw the line with Winter) and I love seeing the leaves throughout the seasons.
North Carolina Zoo | Asheboro, NC & Duke Gardens | Durham, NC Robert Povelones
As my family and I were deciding what to do on Labor Day weekend, we decided that the zoo would be a great way to spend one of our days. And we were right, we had a blast. My son loved seeing the elephants and lions but his favorite thing was the dinosaurs. My daughter enjoyed the smaller things such as the birds and monkeys (after all, she is only 1 so they are more of her size). They also had a lot of fun in the kids play park as well. We all wish we would have had more time to spend there. The zoo is such a great experience for kids to see things that they don’t see in everyday life. We are definitely glad that we decided to make the trip.
Another thing our family likes to do is visit Duke Gardens on the weekends. It is great to get everyone out into nature and experience the outdoors. The gardens have lots of great features that my kids and our family enjoy such as the koi fish pond, ducks, beautiful flower gardens and many nice walking trails. Mostly it is just fun to get everyone outside.
Eno River State Park | Durham, NC Jennifer Sweeting
Eno River Park is an absolute gem. It has it all—beautiful landscapes, a historic home, hanging bridges, trails, educational opportunities, a music festival, a photography museum, a working gristmill, fishing paddling, swimming, camping, and playing in the river. You can access different parts of the expansive park through five entrances. The park features 30 miles of hiking trails and regularly offers ranger guided hikes with a huge variety of themes from salamanders to geology. Most programs are free but require a reservation.
For many years the Eno River was home to Riverdave’s wafting program, where he led small groups on inflatable rafting trips down the river. This Durham native and naturalist teaches through fist-hand experiences. He now offers private guided trips.
These days the Eno River Association provides up-to-date information for local paddlers, in additional to their wonderful work in natural and historic preservation. You can bring your own or rent equipment. There are great options for all skill levels depending upon the water level. This association is also responsible for the popular summer music and arts festival in July, Festival for the Eno. This is a can’t-miss event for anyone who lives near Durham.
This park is well used by the community. It is home to children’s camps including The School House of Wonder, which hosts camps year-round at the West Point on the Eno site. It’s also a popular destination for field trips of all kinds. If you have small children, or are just a kid at heart, this post offers lots of helpful details.
It is so close to home, but feels like a true escape to the woods. You should plan a field trip of your own very soon!