21 Scenic Hikes Near Raleigh, North Carolina

August 19th, 2022

Life in Raleigh
21 Scenic Hikes Near Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh isn’t called the City of Oaks for nothing. Residents enjoy everything you could want from a growing city — including great restaurants and culture — while still being able to experience North Carolina’s beautiful nature preserves and state parks. 

Get away from the city for a bit and reset this weekend. To help you with your itinerary, we’ve gathered some of our favorite hikes near Raleigh. We’re covering every difficulty level in this guide, including:

  • Easy Hikes: under two hours to complete, limited elevation gain, trails are simple to follow with no obstacles

  • Moderate Hikes: two or more hours to complete, moderate elevation gain, trails have limited obstacles such as steep hills

  • Difficult Hikes: two or more hours to complete, intense elevation gain, trail has two or more difficult obstacles like rock scrambling

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Easy Hikes

Moderate Hikes

Difficult Hikes

Blue Jay Point County Park

Address: 3200 Pleasant Union Church Road, Raleigh, NC 27614

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 1.4 miles

  • Elevation: +118 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Blue Jay Point Nature Walk

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Leisurely lake walks

Located on the shores of Falls Lake, Blue Jay Point County Park offers fun for the whole family with: 

  • Hiking trails

  • Playgrounds

  • Grilling areas

  • Ball fields

  • Educational gardens

  • Fishing 

  • Summer camp

The 236-acre park's commitment to conservation and environmental education shows through the number of educational exhibits. The hiking trails offer great views of the lake and other creeks. It’s common to see deer crossing the trail, so keep your eye out!

Shelley Lake Sertoma Park

Address: 1400 West Millbrook Road, Raleigh, NC 27612 

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 2.2 miles

  • Elevation: +95 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Shelley Lake Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Easy strolling with family

Shelley Lake is another one of Raleigh's top hiking trails. The trail is a 2.2-mile loop hiking trail around a beautiful lake. It's a great hiking trail for those of all skill levels and abilities because it’s relatively flat and paved.

This 145-acre park and 53-acre lake offer activities like fishing, biking, and picnicking, along with one of the most scenic hiking trails in Raleigh. 

Lake Johnson Nature Park

Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Road, Raleigh, NC 27606

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 2.8 miles

  • Elevation: +170 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Lake Johnson East Loop Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Dog walks with lake views

Lake Johnson Nature Park is a 500-acre park with a 150-acre lake that offers some of the best hiking trails in Raleigh. Along with great hiking trails, Lake Johnson Park has: 

  • Boat rentals

  • Greenway trails

  • Public programs

  • A swimming pool 

Head to the park for some fishing — the lake is full of bass, shellcracker, crappie, bream, catfish, and carp.

 

North Carolina Museum of Art

Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 1.7 miles

  • Elevation: +104 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Art to Heart Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Sunny art walk that’s wheelchair accessible

The Art to Heart Trail isn’t a traditional hiking trail, but is part of the 5.9-mile loop that winds through the North Carolina Museum of Art's scenic 164-acre park.

The full loop wraps around Meredith College, cuts through the main campus at NC State University, passes by Pullen Park and finishes in Downtown Raleigh just outside the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. For those looking for some great social media photos, you'll find plenty of opportunities here! 

The trails are also all gravel or paved, flat, and 4 feet or wider, making this a wheelchair-accessible choice. The trail might get a bit steep for wheelchair users in some sections, so call ahead to confirm which sections you should avoid.

Anderson Point Park

Address: 1721 Riverview Road, Raleigh, NC 27610

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 27.2 miles

  • Elevation: +564 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Neuse River Greenway Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Bird watching

The Neuse River Greenway Trail is a long but relatively easy hiking trail. It has 27.2 miles of paved trail with lots of different features and scenic views of the Neuse River. 

This winding trail has areas that run through wetlands and historical sights that make for a great hike. Hikers report loving this trail for all the many birds you can spot along the path. Despite its length, the loop is easy, so it still belongs with the easier hikes on our list. 

The Neuse River Greenway Trail also connects to a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for advanced hikers — a long-distance hiking trail that runs across North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.

Carolina North Forest

Address: Off MLK Boulevard, shared parking lot location pin here 

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 4.1 miles

  • Elevation: +206 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Crow Branch Overlook Loop

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash 

  • Best for: Beginner hikers, intermediate trail runners, and bikers

Carolina North Forest is another area that’s great for beginner and intermediate hikers. It has its own app to help with navigation so you can feel more comfortable practicing your trail-following skills.

The forest is an ecological and wildlife preserve with a strict Leave No Trace policy. This is a great place to bring kids to learn about local flora and fauna or to lead a community cleanup.

If you’re hiking, be sure to bring a backpack, full water bottle, sunscreen, snacks, a garbage bag, a pet leash, a phone battery and charger, a map, sunglasses, extra socks, and a first aid kit.

Westwood Park

Address: 530 Dogwood Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 2.3 miles

  • Elevation: +104 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Morgan Creek Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Building hiking confidence

Westwood Park is the perfect place to build up your hiking confidence on some paved greenways with gentle hills.

You can access a dog park, playground, and restrooms via the Fran Branch Trail or follow it to Merritt’s Pasture to enjoy some open space.

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

Address: 2713 Mt Sinai Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 3 miles

  • Elevation: +187 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Old Field Bluff Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash 

  • Best for: Shady walk with creek access

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve has 296 acres of lush woods to explore. The trails can get risky after major rainfall with lots of mud and difficult crossings, but the trails are otherwise beginner-friendly.

For bird enthusiasts, there’s an entire database of birds reported by scientists and hobbyists alike that you can use as a reference or contribute to yourself.

Carvers Creek State Park

Address: 2505 Long Valley Road, Spring Lake, NC 28390

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Length: 2.7 miles

  • Elevation: +88 feet

Features

  • Suggested trail: Cypress Point Loop Trail via Rockefeller Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash 

  • Best for: Easy hike with historic stops

The Cypress Point Loop Trail is a local favorite for joggers and trail runners due to the relatively low grade. The trail can get a little busy in the morning but it’s still worth checking out. 

Along the trail are historic structures, like the Rockefeller House, which is currently being restored to use as an educational center in the future.

William B. Umstead State Park

Address: 8801 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27617

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: 7.2 miles

  • Elevation: +610 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Company Mill Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: A moderate workout

William B. Umstead State Park is one of the best hiking trails in Raleigh, NC thanks to its serene 5,599 acres quietly nestled between the area's focal points of Raleigh, Cary, and Durham. Umstead Park offers: 

  • Hiking

  • Bridle

  • Bike trails

  • Boat rentals

  • Camping

  • Picnic areas

  • Educational programs 

Part of the East Coast Greenway, which is a 3,000-mile-long system of trails connecting Maine to Florida, runs through Umstead Park. The park is generally family-friendly, but stay alert on the trail — some hikers spot snakes.

Durant Nature Preserve

Address: 8305 Camp Durant Road, Raleigh, NC 27614

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: 2.5 miles

  • Elevation: +180 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Durant Nature Preserve Border Loop Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Summer trail running

Durant Nature Preserve is a great hiking trail in Raleigh, NC with 237 acres of preserved woodlands offering: 

  • Hiking

  • Fishing

  • Playgrounds

  • Picnic areas

  • Mountain biking trails 

With six beginner-friendly hiking trails ranging from 0.6 miles to 3.4 miles, Durant Nature Preserve offers something for all ages and abilities. Many folks will walk their dogs in the preserve.

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Address: 625 Virginia Cates Road, Hillsborough, NC 27278

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate 

  • Length: 2.3 miles

  • Elevation: +387 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Beginners looking for a challenge

The Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is a scenic spot offering fishing, picnicking, and ranger-led educational programs.

There are two ponds and the Eno River, where you can catch largemouth bass, bream, Roanoke bass, and more. Roanoke, or redeye, bass are only found in four river drainages in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, so sink a line here to try spotting this rare fish.

Eno River State Park

Address: 6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27705

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: 3.8 miles

  • Elevation: +367 feet

Features: 

  • Suggested trail: Cox Mountain Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Camping and canoeing opportunities

Eno River State Park has lots of camping, hiking, and water activities for when it’s hot out. The river is mostly shallow enough for wading to fish. You can canoe or kayak, too, though it’s best after some rain when water levels have risen a bit.

Students can come to learn about water quality, local species, watersheds, aquatic sampling, and more through local programming.

Trail blazes show hikers where the path is. A triangle of marks with two on the bottom is the trail start. A single mark means the trail continues straight ahead. A triangle with two marks on top is the trail end. Two blazes with the top mark to the right is a right turn on the trail. Two blazes with the top mark on the left means a left turn. If there is a triangle where one blaze is a different color, there is a side trail on the side of the new color.

Jordan Lake Educational State Forest

Address: 2832 Big Woods Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: 5.7 miles

  • Elevation: +606 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: New Hope Red Route

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, off-leash allowed

  • Best for: Hilly lake views

The New Hope Red Route is a combination of multiple smaller loops in the Jordan Lake Educational State Forest. For the best lake views and scenery, many recommend hiking the loop clockwise.

You can make your route shorter for an easier hike, but the trails can be quite hilly, so it’s still a great workout.

Williamson Preserve

Address: 4409 Mial Plantation Road, Raleigh, NC 27610

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate 

  • Length: 8.3 miles

  • Elevation: +419 feet

Features: 

  • Suggested trail: Combined loops

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Hikers practicing navigation

Williamson Preserve has over six trail loops which all connect for 8.3 miles of hiking. This means you can switch up your hike almost every time you visit and keep things fresh.

These loops are popular for trail running and biking, but biking isn’t permitted in the Two Pond Loop or Bootleggers Loop sections. These trail loops are all one-way, so read signage to make sure you’re walking in the right direction. They can also get rained out relatively easily, so check the website before you go to make sure the trails are clear.

Harris Lake County Park

Address: 2112 County Park Drive, New Hill, NC 27562

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: 4.3 miles

  • Elevation: +150 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Harris Lake Peninsula Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash 

  • Best for: Simple hike with varied terrain

Harris Lake County Park is full of amenities including:

  • Picnic shelters

  • Gardens

  • Restrooms

  • Playgrounds

  • Educational exhibits

  • Fishing

  • Biking

  • Boating

  • Disc golf

  • Volleyball nets

Of course, it also offers beautiful trails for hikers to explore. Be careful and follow all the signage carefully, as some hikers accidentally add a mile or two to their hikes when they’re not paying attention.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Address: 2616 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC 27518

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Length: 1.8 miles

  • Elevation: +173 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Chestnut Oak and Swift Creek Loop Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Easy to navigate, mulched trails

The North Carolina State Park system and the Town of Cary work together to maintain all 140 acres of the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. This park offers mostly hiking trails, but the unique flora and fauna are worth the trip.

Check closing times at the gate before you start your hike, as closing times change daily. The trails also get lots of bugs in the summer, so make sure you have some bug spray before heading out.

Lake Crabtree County Park

Address: 1400 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville, NC 27560

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Length: 12.9 miles

  • Elevation: +570 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: White Oak and Black Creek Greenways to Lake Crabtree

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Cycling

Lake Crabtree County Park is the first established county park in the area that offers visitors great hiking trails and all sorts of outdoor recreation like:

  • Sailing

  • Boating

  • Fishing

  • Mountain bike trails

  • Volleyball nets

  • Playgrounds

  • Picnic areas

There can be closures or detours due to construction or recent rain, so be sure to call ahead before heading over for your hike. Though the trail is a bit of a challenge ideal for more experienced hikers, the stunning wildflowers make it all worth it. 

Falls Lake State Recreation Area

Address: 13304 Creedmoor Road, Wake Forest, NC 27587

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Length: 24.9 miles

  • Elevation: +1,751 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Falls Lake Trail (Mountains-to-Sea-Trail)

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, off-leash allowed 

  • Best for: Seeing autumn foliage

Falls Lake State Recreation Area is a large collective of seven access areas scattered along the shoreline of the 12,000-acre Falls Lake reservoir, offering plenty of different hiking and biking trails. Visit in the fall to see this trail at its best when all the leave start changing. 

With more than 300 campsites, the outdoor experience here ranges from RV hookups to primitive tent camping. There are a total of five swim beaches and a number of boating ramps. The Falls Lake State Recreation Area also offers kayaking, fishing, and picnicking.

Raven Rock State Park

Address: 3009 Raven Rock Road, Lillington, NC 27546

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Length: 4.7 miles

  • Elevation: +600 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: Campbell Creek and Lanier Falls Loop Trail

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, on-leash

  • Best for: Hiking on a hot day

Raven Rock State Park has many natural features to see, including Lanier Falls, the Fish Traps rapids, or its namesake, Raven Rock. There’s also an equestrian center and visitor center with museum exhibits, so there’s something for everyone at this park.

The Campbell Creek and Lanier Falls Loop Trail is for more experienced hikers. There can be poor cell service along the trail, so make sure you know where you’re going. Don’t forget a change of clothes and a towel if you want to check out the falls!

Duke Forest Korstian Division

Address: NC-751, Durham, NC 27705

Trail information:

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Length: 1.7 miles

  • Elevation: +187 feet

Features:

  • Suggested trail: New Hope Creek and Piney Mountain Loop

  • Pet-friendly: Yes, off-leash allowed

  • Best for: Rock scrambling

Duke University maintains this forest for research and recreation purposes. There’s a lot of work being done here to recreate trails due to erosion and soil compaction.

This means the trails can get a bit bumpy, so hikers should be aware and take their time, watching out for roots and other obstacles. If you’re looking for a challenge, it’s the perfect spot to check out some rock scrambling.

Experience the Great Outdoors in Raleigh

Some people are surprised that Raleigh is one of the best areas for a hike, walk, or bike ride. With countless parks, trails, and a whole lot of scenery, you can find a great place to enjoy nature while exercising all over the Triangle

We love bringing you fresh content to help you enjoy all that Raleigh has to offer! When you decide to plant some roots and call Raleigh home, contact us for some expert advice on your home search.

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