Where to Hike in the Triangle
Family-friendly green spaces, trails, walkways and where to find them
Take your kids on an educational trek through one of the Triangle's many kid-approved hiking trails.
Abundant green spaces and temperate weather attract many families to the Triangle. What better way to experience the outdoor opportunities this region has to offer than by enjoying a hike through one of its many forests and natural areas?
Here are some family-friendly hiking opportunities in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area — several of which offer recently upgraded trails, and some of which are registered with the “Kids in Parks” program (kidsinparks.com). Starred trails are staff favorites.
6101 Cole Mill Rd., Durham
A popular spot for fishing, swimming, kayaking and hiking, Eno River State Park includes many of the region’s best hiking trails. Here are a few that are perfect for families:
Cole Mill Trail* – This easy 1-mile loop trail is accessed from the Cole Mill picnic area and runs along the Eno River for part of the way. An offshoot from this trail leads to Bobbitt Hole, an excellent swimming hole. (Note: This swimming hole is a lot of fun — but quite deep. We only recommend it for supervised children who alredy know how to swim.)
Cox Mountain Trail – Families interested in a slightly longer hike will enjoy this 3.75-mile loop trail that begins and ends at Fews Ford, a shallow area perfect for wading and picnicking. It includes views of some of the best whitewater areas in the park.
Pump Station Trail – This easy 1.5-mile loop trail is known for gentle hills and beautiful spring wildflowers that will provide colorful scenery during your family’s hike.
800 White Pine Dr., Durham
This 7,000-acre forest owned by Duke University includes many family-friendly forest trails that are easy to access from central Durham.
The Durham Transportation Department has released a 2018 pdf version of the Durham Bike and Hike Map that also provides ideas for where your family can hike together. As of July 6, 2018, you can access this map online via a mobile device here.
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd., Cary
Hemlock Bluffs hosts a unique ecosystem of plant life more often found in the mountains, such as the preserve’s Eastern Hemlock trees. The .8-mile Swift Creek loop trail is perfect for families because it includes educational markers and offers scenic creek and bluff views.
280 State Park Rd., Apex
The large natural area surrounding manmade Jordan Lake offers numerous hiking trails with lake views. They include:
Children’s Nature Trail – This 0.5-mile loop trail crosses old farmland and a pond. Sharp-eyed hikers may even spot old tobacco rows.
The Jordan Lake Track Trail* (a Kids in Parks TRACK Trail) – This 1.25-mile trail includes self-guided, family-friendly educational adventures.
Ebenezer Church Old Oak Trail – This 1-mile loop trail can be cut down to a 0.5-mile trail if necessary due to a shortcut that makes it user-friendly for families with young children.
801 High House Rd., Cary
The 2-mile trail around Bond Lake is pleasant and easy. The park includes several shorter forest trails as well, and a stop by the Lazy Daze playground is a fun way to end the day.
8801 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
This park has numerous trails of varying lengths. Two of the most popular trails for families include:
Oak Rock Trail* (a Kids in Parks TRACK Trail) – This 0.6-mile loop trail offers educational adventures for kids. It features a big rock and crosses a small stream.
Potts Branch Trail – This 1.3 mile round-trip trail follows the course of three streams and provides excellent picnicking spots.
1671 Gold Star Dr., Raleigh
An outdoor extension of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Prairie Ridge Ecostation is designed to preserve and teach visitors about North Carolina ecosystems. Its Forest Trail and Prairie Trail (both very kid-friendly), lead hikers through native forest and grassland ecosystems. Families can pick blackberries along the trails during summer.
13304 Creedmoor Rd., Wake Forest
Falls Lake State Recreation Area has many hiking trails of varying lengths, including the Duck Cove Trail, a 1.5-mile Kids In Parks TRACK Trail offering lake views.
5229 Awls Haven Dr., Raleigh
This preserve offers three family-friendly trails: the Epps Forrest Loop (0.7 miles), the Hidden Rocks Trail (0.9 miles) and the Pond Loop (0.6 miles). Visitors can borrow nature-themed backpacks at the preserve’s education center for use on the trails.
7800 Holly Springs Rd., Raleigh
Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve's family-friendly loop trail is just over 1 mile. It follows Swift Creek and climbs a picturesque bluff.
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd., Raleigh
This park has several trails, including the family-friendly Millpond Trail, a 1-mile loop that encircles the pond and begins (or ends, if you go the other way) with a view of historic Yates Mill.
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd., Raleigh
This park features numerous short trails, including a 1-mile loop that opens up to beautiful views of Falls Lake.
8305 Camp Durant Rd., Raleigh
Formerly a Boy Scout camp, this preserve was created with kid-friendly hiking in mind. It contains 5 miles of trails that trek through forests and wetlands, and alongside creeks and lakes.
320 Elizabeth Brady Rd., Ayr Mount
A 1-mile oval loop, which is part of 4 miles of trails, takes visitors alongside the Eno River and around the last surviving racetrack from NASCAR’s first season in 1949. It’s a forested hike now, but you can still see the stands and an old race car, in addition to the track itself.
625 Virginia Cates Rd., Hillsborough
This park brings a Western North Carolina feel to the Piedmont. Families with older kids can comfortably hike the 2.2-mile Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail for scenic views and a walk alongside the Eno River. Families with younger kids might prefer the 0.9-mile Chestnut Oak Trail.
2713 Mt. Sinai Rd., Chapel Hill
The 3-mile Johnston Mill Loop trail takes visitors around the preserve, following New Hope Creek for a while and later allowing hikers to look down on the creeks and meadows from a bluff. See fall colors and spring wildflowers along this trail.
For a shorter hike, take the 0.6 mile Beech Loop trail through a resplendent beech forest. (Note: New Hope Creek is pretty, but not clean enough for swimming or wading.)
100 Old Mason Farm Rd., Chapel Hill
Part of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, Piedmont Nature Trails include the family-friendly Streamside Trail and Oak-Hickory Trail, both short forest loops. These are good hikes for families who want to learn about trees, since many on the trail are labeled.
3055 New Hope Church Rd., Chapel Hill
This nature preserve includes the family-friendly 1.2-mile Wood Duck Way trail. George and Julia Brumley purchased this property during the 1990s to prevent it from becoming a subdivision. After the Brumleys passed away, the Ziest Foundation sold the land in 2010 to Triangle Land Conservancy to create a model for sustainable land management practices.
Elizabeth Brignac is a freelance writer and mother of two adventurous boys who lives in Cary. Read Brignac's 2017 feature on Kids in Parks trails .