Last Updated on June 30, 2021
Last Updated on June 30, 2021
If you’re looking for an escape in the Research Triangle, there are so many hikes near Raleigh and Durham (also, Chapel Hill!) to add to your bucket list. And with this wealth of choices, we thought you might need a hand in picking one to start with.
So that’s why we’ve included our favorites, from laid-back walks to trails that require some heart-pounding cardio. And to help even more, we’ve added a mention of each trail’s claim to fame. That way, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into before heading out.
We’ve broken these hiking trails down by place to keep things organized for you. The section covering Raleigh hikes is just below the map and you can jump to Durham and Chapel Hill sections by selecting the corresponding link:
- Raleigh Hikes
- Durham Hikes
- Chapel Hill Hikes
This post is part of our series on hiking in North Carolina all the awesome places to visit in Central NC. Many of these hiking trails also featured in our guides covering day trips from Raleigh and also, from Durham!
Hiking Near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill
Hiking In and Near Raleigh NC
Our guide first takes us to North Carolina’s capital city, where more than 180 miles of hikes await in Raleigh and its surroundings. Here are a few of our favorite places to hike, walk, and bike around Wake County.
If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Raleigh!
Art to Heart Trail
Perfect For: Strollers, Running, Bike Rides, Art lovers
One of our absolute favorite trails in Raleigh is the Art to Heart Trail. Starting at the North Carolina Museum of Art (pictured above) and weaving through the city to downtown Raleigh, this trail passes some truly beautiful landmarks.
Along the way before ending in the heart of Raleigh, the almost 6-mile paved trail goes passed Meredith College, NC State University, and Pullen Park.
The NC Museum of Art is also included among our favorite things to do with kids in Raleigh!
Fred G Bond Park
Perfect For: Boating, Walking, Jogging, Biking, Picnics
At 310 acres, Cary‘s Bond Park is one of the largest municipal parks in Wake County. With a 1.5-mile trail looping around Bond Lake, a man-made freshwater lake, biking and jogging are very popular in the Spring and Fall months.
With more than 4.2 miles of trails, a boathouse, and a Community Center, Bond Park really is a cornerstone in the Cary community.
This is the first of a few trails that rank among our favorite things to do in Cary.
Green Hills County Park
Perfect For: Running, Biking, Views
As a former landfill turned green space, Leslie Knope would be so proud of Green Hills County Park. This 73-acre green space has 1.8 miles of paved trails and 2 miles of mountain biking trails. There’s also a short and steep rocky climb that offers a 360-degree view of Wake County and the downtown Raleigh skyline.
This park also connects to the Neuse River Greenway, which we’ll mention more about shortly!
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
Perfect For: Slow walks, Summer shade, Families
The three miles of trails at Cary’s Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve aren’t the only draw to this awesome forest. This 140-acre park contains nearly 200 Eastern Hemlock trees that are something of an anomaly for the area. There is also a great children’s area, a cool recycled art garden, and 3,700-square-foot Stevens Nature Center here.
Back to hiking, you can choose from the Chestnut Oak Loops (1.2 miles), Swift Creek Loop (0.8), Beech Tree Cove (0.9), West Hemlock Overlook (0.7). The Hemlock Bluffs is a great hike near Raleigh!
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Perfect For: Hiking, Trail Running, Shade, Water Views
While there are many paths along the 14,000-acre reservoir known as Jordan Lake, one of the most popular and challenging ones is the New Hope Trail. Two loops of note are a 5.4-mile red one and a more strenuous 2.7-mile blue loop.
Hikers and trail runners will see incredible views of Jordan Lake while enjoying the shady hardwood forest.
Lake Crabtree Trails
Perfect For: Picnics, Cycling, Families
Lake Crabtree County Park is the first county park and home to some of the most beautiful nature that Raleigh has to offer!
The Lake Trail is a six-mile loop that serves as both a forest escape and a cycle-friendly greenway. In addition to the six-mile loop, Lake Crabtree also includes 10 additional miles of multi-use paths that are ideal for mountain biking!
Even if you didn’t bring a bike, make sure to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful lake views here.
Lake Johnson Park
Perfect For: Slow Walks, Dogs, Trail Running
With a three-mile paved greenway loop and two miles of unpaved trails, Lake Johnson Park near NC State University is an amazing outdoor escape in Raleigh! The most beautiful and must-see spot here is the 700-foot-long boardwalk that cuts across the lake.
Neuse River Greenway
Perfect For: Biking, Long Runs, Families
Stretching from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County line, we first explored the Neuse River Greenway Trail when hunting for sunflowers. While that fun has since moved to Dorothea Dix Park, the 27.5-mile-long Neuse River Greenway still offers tons of space to enjoy yourself!
Weaving through the countryside, over suspension bridges, and around the beautiful Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, the Neuse River Greenway is a gem collection of Raleigh trails.
If you’re lacking a bike, start at the Falls Lake Trailhead and visit The Bike Guy for a rental!
Shelley Lake Park
Perfect For: Sunset, Families, Walking, Running
Perfect for walkers and joggers, Shelley Lake Park is a partially shaded two-mile loop in North Raleigh. Nice and flat, this trail in Raleigh is perfect for a sunset stroll!
You can start your walk from the parking lot next to the trail or connect via the Sertoma Arts Center trail parking lot.
William B Umstead State Park
Perfect For: Trail Running, Mountain biking, Shade
The 5,000 acres of William B Umstead Park hosts some of the best hiking trails near Raleigh. Umstead’s 13 miles of multi-use paths are perfect for horseback riding, jogging, and cycling, but they’re only the beginning of this park.
More than 22 miles of foot traffic hiking trails await, with many of them flat. However, some rolling hills join the mix for a more mountain-like experience at times.
Personally, we recommend hopping on the Graylyn Multi-Use Trail to find the chainsaw art! Our guide to Umstead outlines exactly how to reach it and enjoy the entire park in more detail!
Hiking Near Durham NC
Many of these hiking trails near Durham surround the city’s residential areas, Duke University, and others lie around the outskirts of town. Many of them were also included in our guide covering free things to do in Durham.
Al Buehler Trail
Perfect For: Running, Jogging
While on Erwin Road, you’ll pass a busy park lot near the Duke Faculty Club that leads to one of the most popular running trails in Durham. The almost 3 mile gravel trail loops around the Washington Duke Golf Course and has challenging hills.
This trail isn’t for strolling and definitely for those looking to get their heart pounding!
American Tobacco Trail
Perfect For: Walking, Running, Biking, Strollers
While the American Tobacco Trail crosses Durham, Wake, and Chatham counties, we decided to include it in the former section of hiking trails. The 22.6-mile trail is 10-feet wide and mostly paved.
It follows the old CSX railroad, with the north end starting in downtown Durham at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The south end begins in New Hill, Wake County.
Perfect For: Walking, Familes, Running, Shade
When we first moved to Durham, our apartment backed up to an entrance to Duke Forest. It was an absolutely lovely way to spend weekend mornings strolling the trails with a hot cup of coffee.
Duke Forest is managed by Duke University and consists of over 7,000 acres of forested land. In order to get a full view of the trails, you’ll need to order their recreation maps, but generally you can find access points along Whitfield Road, Erwin Road, Mt. Sinai Road, and Highway 751.
Eno River State Park
Perfect For: Hiking, Walking, Families, Swimming, Fishing
With over 27 miles of hiking trails at Eno River State Park, you can guarantee a wonderful escape in nature. With multiple entrances, each trail is unique and offers something different.
We’ve written an extensive article about the trails of Eno River State Park, but here are a few places we love. Our favorite trails include Buckquarter Creek (pictured above), Cole Mill, and Cox Mountain. The latter features a cable suspension bridge that crosses the Eno.
The Eno deserves a special shoutout in our guide covering things to do with kids in Durham!
Horton Grove Nature Preserve
Perfect For: Walking, Hiking, Photography, Families
Horton Grove Nature Preserve is ideal for walking and hiking, and a fantastic kid-friendly trail. The 0.8 mile That Makes Sense Trail includes informative signs that are both fun and educational! Level up and print out their Scavenger Hunt before you go for even more fun!
There are more than 8 miles of trails to explore at Horton Grove. It’s the Triangle Land Conservancy’s largest preserve and a beautiful nature oasis in North Durham.
West Point on the Eno
Perfect For: Families, Picnics, Playing in the River, Photographs, Boating
With 404 acres of wooded land and one of the best entryways to the Eno for wading, West Point on the Eno is a popular Durham hiking spot. A 1778 working grist mill, a dammed stretch of river, and a steel bridge that offers incredible views of the park are just part of the fun.
Stop by and you’ll see why we think West Point on the Eno is perfect for families or an escape from the city. And if you’re looking for even more fun, rent a boat from Frog Hollow Outdoors at the Outpost!
Hiking In and Near Chapel Hill NC
Perfect For: Families, Strollers, Walking, Biking, Running
Starting at the Chapel Hill Community Center, Bolin Creek Trail is one of our favorite walks in the area. The paved 1.5-mile trail weaves through the backyards of Chapel Hill residences, but not too close for comfort.
We really enjoy burning off some steam at the playground before hitting the trail! Don’t forget to take a pit stop off the trail for some delicious coffee from Caffé Driade. You can access the trail from Driade’s rear entrance.
Brumley Nature Preserve
Perfect For: Families, Biking, Hiking, Walking, Shaded, Water Views
Two miles south of Hillsborough but technically in Chapel Hill, Brumley Nature Preserve is a wooded collection of 613 acres. Divided into two sections (North and South), there are over 15 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore!
If you’re into biking, check out Brumley South. Both accesses allow all visitors, but Brumley North is specifically meant for hiking.
Carolina North Forest
Perfect For: Walking, Biking, Hiking, Trail Running, Shade
Located on UNC’s North campus, Carolina North Forest features 750 acres of wooded land to explore. Slip away from the hustle and bustle of Chapel Hill to this wooded wonderland!
The nearly 4 mile long Wormhole trail is a nice one on the side on the side near the former Horace Williams Airport. It’s a wonderful way to spend a morning in Chapel Hill.
Perfect For: Walking, Running, Strollers
Stretching almost 2 miles from Dimmocks Mill Road to Gold Park, the Riverwalk is one of the most popular things to do in Hillsborough. Wandering along the Eno River, this greenway is perfect for families.
When she was 2 weeks old, it was even the first outdoor trail we took our newborn on!
Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail
Perfect For: Strollers, Running, Families
A truly hidden hike in Orange County is the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail! The mile-long oval loop (Speedway Trace) was the first NASCAR Superspeedway and was also considered one of the most dangerous tracks.
Today, you can see remnants of several cars, the stands, and walk the wide tree-covered path that once made racing history.
Hollow Rock Nature Park
Perfect For: Walking, Hiking, Families, Trail Running
While relatively small in size, Hollow Rock Nature Park is a wonderful spot! Nearly hugging the Durham county line, this Orange County park features two main trails that are both under a mile long and mostly flat.
It’s also a great park to link to Durham’s Duke Forest trails.
Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
Perfect For: Trail Running, Families, Water Play, Nature
With similar terrain, it’s easy to think of Johnston Mill Nature Preserve as the Eno River State Park of Chapel Hill. The 296-acre property maintained by the Triangle Land Conservancy is distinct from its state park brethren, with a lovely variety of scenes waiting for you.
Here, you can follow the creek, listen to the roar of the water, and truly find yourself amongst the trees. There are approximately 3-1/2 miles of trails, but you can cover a lot of it in quick-time!
Morgan Creek Trail/ Fan Branch Trail
Perfect For: Families, Some Strollers (Partially Paved), Walking, Jogging
Less than a mile long, but worth the drive, Morgan Creek Trail is a beautiful paved trail that ends at the community space Merritt’s Pasture. Parking is available off of Fordham Blvd.
You can also connect to Fan Branch Trail from this one to extend your walk! Fan Branch Trail is 1.6 miles and leads to Southern Village, making it a fantastic trail to end with a meal.
On the flip side, it’d be great to start at Fan Branch and walk it off toward Morgan Creek. Your choice!
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Perfect For: Hiking, Trail Running
Conveniently located near I-85, Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is a fantastic trail near Durham and Hillsborough.With a 350 foot change in elevation, Occoneechee Mountain has one of the only true mountain peak overlooks in the area.
The 2.2-mile Mountain Loop leads to that overlook. You’ll also enjoy a peaceful walk along the Eno River on this trail.
We think these hiking trails are the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors in the Triangle. And while you may not find sweeping mountain vistas in this part of Central North Carolina, these parks offer plenty to explore and tons of miles to be logged.
If you’ve explored these hiking trails near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, we’d love to know your favorites. Let us know in the comments and if there’s one (or more) we need to add, feel free to tell us We’re always happy to investigate by exploring our awesome state!