Top 3 Reasons William B. Umstead State Park is my Favorite Forest (2024)

Most recently updated July 30th, 2023

Estimated Reading Time: 8.5 minutes

Umstead State Park has been my go-to hiking place for at least the past ten years. I hike in the forest, or with the forest as a starting place, at least twice per week.

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Sometimes I hike on my own, sometimes as a hike leader for Raleigh Recreational Hikers or I’d Rather Walk meetups.

Park History

Umstead State Park has a long history: initially a wild hardwood-forested area inhabited with bison, bobcats and elk, it later became the site for indigenous peoples homes and trade, was part of a land grant for farms in 1774.

Finally, in 1934 – through a joint effort of Federal and State agencies – 5,000 acres were purchased to create a public recreation area.

The Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration helped with construction, and the park was open to the public in 1937.

There are so many reasons to love this park, it’s hard to fit them all into a single post. So I’ll just start with my Top 3.

Top 3 Reasons to Visit Umstead State Park

Reason #1: GREAT CENTRAL LOCATION

One of my personal hiking rules is that for any hike, I want to be on the trail at my destination for at least as much time as it takes me to travel there and back.

I’ve never had to break that rule when I hike at Umstead.

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Located in Wake County, NC between Raleigh, Cary and Durham, this 5,579 acre park is at most a 15 minute drive (or a 5 mile walk) from my house.

It has three entrances:

    1. The Reedy Creek entrance is located the end of Harrison Ave after it crosses the I-40 bridge in Cary (11mi west of Raleigh),
    2. You can access the park via the old I-40 bridge from the Old Reedy Creek Trailhead, and
    3. The entrance closest to the Visitor’s Center off of Glenwood Avenue/Hwy 70 in Raleigh.

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The Raleigh entrance is where you’ll find the park’s Visitor’s Center.

With 22 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of bridle trails, tent/trailer camping, and primitive camping available, this park is by far the most convenient hiking venue of its magnitude for me and everyone else in the area.

The trails available are good for kids and adults, novices and experienced hikers – -and there is no park entrance fee.

Most of the trails are natural (as opposed to paved), but there are a lot of hard-packed multi-use trails available that are good for biking and walking (even with baby back-packs) as well.

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If you’re pushing a stroller or baby jogger, you may want to opt for checking out the local greenways another local park option with more paved trails, like Bond Park , Lake Pine or the North Carolina Museum of Art Park.

Your puppy can hike with you, too, as long as he’s on a leash. There’s even a boat house, and you can go fishing if you need to give your feet a break.

Top 3 Reasons William B. Umstead State Park is my Favorite Forest (4)There are plenty of opportunities to visit Umstead State Park because it is open every day of the year, except Christmas Day.Rangers can be found at the Umstead Visitor’s Center off of the Glenwood Ave entrance.

Reason #2: VARIETY OF TERRAIN AND TRAIL LENGTH

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There are rocky creeks, deeper rivers, lakes and ponds all within the park, and most of the trails cross or go along beside them.

You can also see remnants of the history of the park – chimneys from homesteads, gravestones, CCC handiwork, and remnants of the dam and mill – as you walk.

If you’re lucky, you may also see some deer, otter, great blue herons or owls.

None of the trails have really large elevation gains, but there is some variety in the terrain.

For instance, the Company Mill trail and the Sycamore Trail are much rockier and have more hills than the Loblolly trail, which is more smooth and low-lying with lots of ferns along the trail.

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Trail length within the park varies: shorter sections like Inspiration Trail are less than half a mile and the longest continuous single trail, Sycamore, is a 7.2 mile loop.

Other longer single trails include the Company Mill loop at 5.8 mi and the Loblolly trail, which is an out-and-back of 5.4 miles.

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It’s unusual to have so many trails of moderate length in a single park, especially one that’s so easy to get to.

By moderate length, I mean long enough to make it worth your while going out – with kids a 6 mile trail could be a whole day! – but not so long that even fit adult hikers wouldn’t make it back to the trailhead before dark.

The only other State Park within a 2 hour drive that offers as much variety is Eno River State Park, about an hour’s drive away, in Durham.

Reason #3: BUILD-YOUR-OWN DAY TRIPS

The Town of Cary greenways I mentioned earlier aren’t the only hike-able connections to trails inside Umstead State Park.

Umstead is like the hub of a wheel with each spoke going outside the park to a different hiking venue.

Trails inside the park also connect to the extensive collection of local paved greenways, an especially great resource for road bikers and hybrid bikers.

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4 Easy Customizable Distance Hike Routes

1) Umstead to Umstead (Company Mill and Sycamore)

The trailheads for the three longer trails in the park are split between the two entrances, Sycamore on the Raleigh side and Company Mill and Loblolly on the Cary side.

I do a hike internally across the park with a trail combination I call the “Crazy Eight”, both for the shape the trail makes and the approximate length of the hike, which includes the Company Mill trail and part of Sycamore.

DISTANCE: The whole hike is 8-9 miles.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Crabtree Creek Sewer Rehabilitation project will affect hiking routes in Lake Crabtree County Park and Umstead State Park is still affecting some parts of the Black Creek Greenway, but most sections are currently open.

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Detour signs will be posted and you can still hike, but be aware your hike length and trail access points may be impacted due to these detours.

2) Umstead to Lake Crabtree and Black Creek Greenway

On the side of the park closest to I-40 and Lake Crabtree, hiking the Reedy Creek Multi-Use trail will take you on the bridge over I-40 to the trailhead at Old Reedy Creek road. (Or, you can simply drive to that trailhead on city streets and start from there.)

From there you can go left to the Black Creek Greenway, or right to the hiking and biking trails into Lake Crabtree County Park.

DISTANCE: Depending on your starting point and direction you go, this could be anywhere from a 5 mile to a 15 mile hike.

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3) Umstead to Schenck Forest, Reedy Creek, NCMA

Taking the Loblolly trail to the edge of the park will bring you to the Reedy Creek Greenway.

From there you can turn right to go back to Umstead, cross the street into NC State’s Schenck Forest, or go left along Reedy Creek road (step off the greenway to hike Reedy Creek trails along the way if you wish) to get to the trails at North Carolina Museum of Art Park.

Or any combination thereof. 🙂

DISTANCE: Shortest route would be about 6.5 miles, if you just do Loblolly to Reedy Creek road back into the park.

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4) Umstead to North Carolina Museum of Art Park, House Creek Trail, Meredith College

Once you’re at the NCMA, you can hike the paved trails in the museum park all the way to the pedestrian bridge over the highway.

Once you cross you can:

    1. Go to the left on House Creek Greenway which will take you all the way to Crabtree Valley Mall. Or, you could
    2. Go right to hike on the paved greenway that runs alongside the grounds of Meredith College to the corner of Faircloth and Hillsborough streets in Raleigh.

In both of these cases, this is an out-and-back, so save time and energy for your return trip.

DISTANCE: Depending on where you start and where you go, this could be a moderate hike of 5 miles or a very long hike of 12 to 18 miles.

Always Something New to Discover

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After hiking the same forest for so many years, you’d think it would get boring.

Honestly, sometimes, maybe a little – but mostly I’m not bored.

Every season, each change of weather, even which direction you’re going on the trail gives you a different perspective that makes you glad you came out.

Even after so many years, I admit that there are Umstead trails that I haven’t explored because they are less convenient for me.

Going forward, I’ll make it my goal to seek out those unfamiliar trails, and then I’ll share them with you!

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Drop me a note and let me know what your experiences have been in Umstead State Park, and which trails are your favorites.

If you’re looking for some travel pointers or ideas for your next adventure, check out my Travel Resources page.

I’ve got a Gear page too, if you need anything.

If you have any other questions leave them below, or drop me a line a idratherwalkblog@gmail.com and I will respond as quickly as I can.

Thanks for stopping by – see you next time! LJ

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LJ

LJ has spent much of her free time as a single Mom – and now as an empty-nester – hiking in the US and around the world. She shares lessons learned from adventures both local and in exotic locations, and tips on how to be active with asthma, plus travel, gear, and hike planning advice for parents hiking with kids and beginners of all ages. Read more on the About page.

As an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast, I have extensive experience and knowledge about hiking trails and parks. I have been exploring various hiking destinations for many years, and one of my favorite places to hike is Umstead State Park. I have been visiting Umstead State Park for at least the past ten years and have hiked in the park at least twice per week. I am familiar with the park's history, its various entrances, and the trails it offers.

Umstead State Park History

Umstead State Park has a rich history that dates back to its initial existence as a wild hardwood-forested area inhabited by bison, bobcats, and elk. Over time, it became the site for indigenous peoples' homes and trade and eventually became a land grant for farms in 1774. In 1934, through a joint effort of Federal and State agencies, 5,000 acres were purchased to create a public recreation area. The park was opened to the public in 1937 with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration.

Top 3 Reasons to Visit Umstead State Park

  1. Great Central Location: Umstead State Park is conveniently located in Wake County, NC, between Raleigh, Cary, and Durham. It is within a 15-minute drive or a 5-mile walk from my house. The park has three entrances: the Reedy Creek entrance in Cary, the Old Reedy Creek Trailhead, and the entrance closest to the Visitor's Center off of Glenwood Avenue/Hwy 70 in Raleigh. With its central location, Umstead State Park is easily accessible for me and everyone in the area.

  2. Variety of Terrain and Trail Length: Umstead State Park offers a diverse range of terrain and trail lengths. The park is home to rocky creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds, and the trails often run alongside or cross these natural features. You can also find remnants of the park's history, such as chimneys from homesteads, gravestones, and CCC handiwork. The park is home to various wildlife, including deer, otters, great blue herons, and owls. The trails in the park vary in length, from shorter sections like Inspiration Trail (less than half a mile) to longer loops like Sycamore Trail (7.2 miles), Company Mill loop (5.8 miles), and Loblolly trail (5.4 miles). This variety of trails caters to hikers of all levels and provides a rewarding experience.

  3. Build-Your-Own Day Trips: Umstead State Park serves as a hub for connecting to other hiking venues and greenways in the area. The park's trails connect to the extensive collection of local paved greenways, providing additional options for road bikers and hybrid bikers. There are several customizable distance hike routes that you can explore, such as hiking from Umstead to Lake Crabtree and Black Creek Greenway, Umstead to Schenck Forest, Reedy Creek, and NCMAT, and Umstead to North Carolina Museum of Art Park, House Creek Trail, and Meredith College. These routes offer a range of distances and allow you to create your own day trips based on your preferences.

Conclusion

Umstead State Park offers a fantastic hiking experience with its great central location, variety of terrain, and customizable distance hike routes. Whether you're a novice hiker or an experienced outdoor enthusiast, Umstead State Park has something to offer. The park's rich history, diverse wildlife, and scenic trails make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking outdoor adventure and natural beauty.

Top 3 Reasons William B. Umstead State Park is my Favorite Forest (2024)
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