Hiking Guide: 11 trails in the Triangle

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Check out these 11 hiking trails catered to all skill levels | Photo by @sarah.flows

Hey, Raleigh. RALtoday intern Phoenix here. 👋  With summer upon us it is the perfect weather to get active, lace up your trusted hiking boots and venture into the great outdoors. 

We’ve compiled a Triangle hiking guide to help you tackle your next hiking trip + experience new and exciting views of the area. 

From an abandoned NASCAR speedway to teeming lakes and mountain areas, there is no reason not to show mother nature some attention.

ProTip: Note that while many parks are open now, it’s still best  to check park websites before visiting for further information and possible changes.

Raleigh

JC Raulston Arboretum
📍4415 Beryl Rd., Raleigh | 4 miles from downtown 

○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Surface Area: 10.5 acres
Dog-friendly: No, only service animals are permitted 

Walk the grounds of Raleigh’s arboretum if you’re looking for a way to experience a tranquil landscape while fitting in your daily exercise — bonus: admission is free. With 16 gardens to choose from, discover flora with origins spanning from South Africa to Japan. Check out their visitor guide to plan your trip. 

North Carolina Museum of Art Park
📍2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh | 5 miles from downtown 

○ Route: Ambler
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 1 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a pleasant stroll on a paved walkway through the greenway. There are great views of the museum park perfect for families. Take a break at the picnic spots along the way. 

○ Route: Explorer
○ Difficulty: Moderate
○ Length: 2.3 miles
○ Dog-friendly: yes

Hike this trail if you’re feeling adventurous. This trail takes you through the entire museum park where you can venture through the prairie and woodlands on a moderate-mixed surface. You will encounter some steep hills, so make sure you lace up your sneakers nice and tight. 

William B. Umstead State State Park
📍8801 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh | 11 miles from downtown

https://www.instagram.com/p/CA3G1_Rjrf6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

○ Route: Sal’s Branch Trail
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 2.5 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this trail is you are looking for a pleasant stroll filled with foliage. While venturing into the trail the pines and hardwoods will greet you while drainage streams trickle through the earth nearby. 

○ Route: Company Mill Loop
○ Difficulty: Moderate
○ Length: 5.6 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this trail if you want a mix of nature + history. In the beginning of the hike you will come across Crabtree Creek where the Company Mill existed in the 1800s. There you can spot the remains of an old dam before crossing a bridge into the trail’s looped section. The trail is composed of mixed terrain with a series of short steps.

Blue Jay Point County Park
📍3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd., Raleigh | 17 miles from downtown Raleigh

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_-weP7HDcX/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

○ Route: Blue Jay Point Trail
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 0.6 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash 

This route features the park’s lake and is perfect for bird watching. While hiking be on the lookout for narrow pathways with root and rocky terrain. 

○ Route: Blue Jay Point Nature Walk
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 1.4 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this looped trail if you’re looking for serene lake and creek views for all skill levels. This trail is perfect for families and offers many off trails to explore + a nearby playground.  

Durham

Duke Forest
📍NC-751, Durham | 6 miles from downtown Durham

○ Route: Shepherd Nature Trail
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 0.7 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash 

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a short, casual way to experience the forest. This looped path is fit for hikers at all skill levels. Signage along the way educates visitors about the natural + human influence on the forest that have shaped the Forest’s history. Lookout for trees along the way with their respective species identification labels. 

○ Route: Couch Mountain Trail
○ Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 1.8 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash 

Hike this trail if you are looking to explore broad paths filled with vibrant wildflowers. 

Eno River State Park
📍6101 Cole Mill Rd., Durham | 10 miles from downtown Durham 

○ Route: Bobbit Hole Trail to Cole Mill Trail Loop
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 2.4 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike his trail if river sights + historical gems excite you. This trail features the Bobbit Hole – a notable geological feature with a mysterious history. The Eno River is featured from the suspension bridge above. On the far side of the river Cole Mill once stood operating from 1814-1908. Hiking along the trail you can also spot the remains of the Alpha Woolen Mills + the foundation of an off-campus Duke fraternity house. 

○ Route: Cox Mountain Trail
○ Difficulty: Moderate
○ Length: 3.8 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this trail if you’re looking for phenomenal river sights. This trail leads you through the abundant greenery to a suspension bridge over the Eno River where you can explore the riverbank. 

American Tobacco Trail
📍Trailheads at 1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd., Apex + across Morehead Ave. from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park  | Wake + Durham counties

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It’s so pretty out there!

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Route: American Tobacco Trail from Durham
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 21.9 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Dogs + Horses are able to use this trail 

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a trek. This expansive trail starting from Durham is home to many trailheads due to its intersection with various roads. The path is mixed-terrain composed of gravel + paved paths. Along the way you will spot various environmental gems including a lake and wildflower fields. 

○ Route: American Tobacco Trail from Southern Terminus
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 22.1  miles
○ Dog-friendly: Dogs + Horses are able to use this trail 

Hike this from Apex if you want lake + waterfall views during your leisurely walk. The trail is mixed-terrain with fine crush and paved walkways. Hikers who frequent the trail agree it is a great path to bike along. 

Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail
📍Hillsborough | 13 miles from downtown Durham 

○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 1.3 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

If you’re looking for a trail with one of the most unique historical elements in the area this one takes the cake. Serving as the location of former NASCAR races from 1949 to 1968, the remains of this speedway are truly a blast from the past. On the trail you are bound to stumble upon abandoned retro race cars, cement stairs used for stadium-style seating  + vintage signs and buried mid-century items scattered in the area. 

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
📍625 Virginia Cates Rd., Hillsborough | 15 miles from downtown Durham 

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○ Route: Chestnut Oak Loop
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 2.4 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

If you’re up for mountain views, but want more of a condensed trail to get you to the overlook then hike this trial. The mountain area is known for its chestnut oaks + their acorns and berries that support the immediate ecosystem. Along the trail keep a lookout for rare wildlife + plant species that call this mountain their home. 

○ Route: Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail
○ Difficulty: Moderate
○ Length: 2.3 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this trail for high scenic mountain views. The natural area is the highest point in Orange County reaching 867 feet. The mountain is home to diverse habitats that support mountain-specific plant and animal life such as the purple fringeless orchid or the brown elfin butterfly. 

Chapel Hill

Carolina North Forest
📍Chapel Hill | 3 miles from downtown Chapel Hill 

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Walking before dinner to beat the sunset #autumn

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○ Route: Crow Branch Overlook Loop
○ Difficulty: Easy
○ Length: 3.2 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this trail if you’re looking to run or mountain bike.  The trail passes a lake with benches for leisure viewing and transitions into hills where moderate climbing is required. This trail is recommended from the months of March to October. While dogs are allowed on the route, be careful for fast moving cyclists moving through the trail’s sharp turns. 

○ Route: Wormhole and Pumpkin Loop Trails
○ Difficulty: Moderate
○ Length: 4.6 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on a leash

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a no-nonsense route that is short + wide with dirt and gravel terrain perfect for getting the job done. While on the trail if you want to explore further there are interesting single track trails that connect from the main access. The first half mile of the trail elevates gradually, so expect some minimal climbing. 

Wake Forest

Falls Lake State Park
📍13300 Creedmoor Rd., Wake Forest | 20 miles from downtown Raleigh

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKUPz0aBNrq/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

○ Route: Falls Lake Trail (Mountains-to-Sea Trail)
○ Difficulty: Hard
○ Length: 24.9 miles
○ Dog-friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re up for a challenging path accompanied by lake views and a total elevation gain of 1,751 feet. Be prepared for the moderate rocky and root terrain — especially if you’re taking your furry friend. While the hike is considered to be difficult, however, the trail is smooth + clear which makes this route conquerable. 

Contributed by Phoenix Berman