Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on August 19, 2023.
Historic Yates Mill County Park in Raleigh (4620 Lake Wheeler Rd) is a special place and perfect for nature lovers of all ages. Its 174-acres is surrounded by beautiful farmland, making this a picturesque, bucket list-worthy escape from our capital city.
We love this spot so much that we’ve also included it in our NC Bucket List Book!
It’s technically managed as a native wildlife refuge, but the original structures of Yates Mill add to the ways a visitor like you can explore and learn. Hikes along the millpond are pretty popular, and also one of our favorite FREE things to do in Raleigh.
Exploring the mill itself is also a possibility and for a small fee, you can take a historic tour (currently postponed). Regardless of how you spend your time, Yates Mill is here for you to enjoy throughout the year.
Historic Yates Mill County Park
Organization Note: If you’re searching for something specific about Yates Mill, here’s how we’ve organized this guide.
- Background Info
- Continuous Process Milling (How the Mill Worked)
- Things to Do at Historic Yates Mill County Park Today
- Additional Things to Know Before You Visit (Pets and Photography)
- Nearby Things to Do
Yates Mill is a fully restored 1756 gristmill and the only surviving and operable gristmill in Wake County. As a prime example of automated milling systems (see “Continuous Process Milling” below), Yates Mill ground corn and wheat until 1953.
Samuel Pearson built the mill and the namesake Yates family owned it from 1819 until 1947. The legendary businessman and philanthropist AE Finley owned the property before selling it to North Carolina State University in 1963.
It sat empty and unused until Yates Mill Associates formed to restore the mill in 1989. YMA, along with Wake County and NC State University, has brought Yates Mill back to represent its mid-1800s heyday.
Continuous Process Milling
We won’t spoil the tour for you but want to share a little bit about continuous process milling, a system invented by Oliver Evans. This was the process that ran Yates Mill for much of its existence.
The mill ran on water for power and depended on five devices for production. They included a hopper, bucket elevator, conveyor belt, Archimedian screws, and descenders.
This process not only reduced the number of workers required but also increased the output of flour from grain.
Things to Do
Yates Mill Hiking Trails
Mill Pond Trail
The Mill Pond Trail is a 1-mile accessible path that loops around the 20-acre pond. With plenty of picnic tables and beautiful views of the water, this trail is the most popular at Yates Mill.
Note that while the majority of the trail is an accessible gravel path, there are several stairs and rocks around the mill itself.
High Ridge Trail
For those looking for a more strenuous hike, the High Ridge Trail is a 0.8-mile natural path through dense forest. Start counter-clockwise from the pond boardwalk, and you can turn the trail into a loop with the Mill Pond Trail.
That will make the total distance 1.25 miles.
Steep Hill Creek
Lastly, there is a two-mile out-and-back trail that meanders along Steep Hill Creek and through more of North Carolina’s beautiful wetlands.
AE Finley Center for Education & Research
The beautiful building that stands in front of Yates Mill is the AE Finley Center for Education & Research. This 2,220 square-foot exhibit hall is free to browse and contains artifacts, local history, and interactive displays.
The Finley Center also serves as a research facility and auditorium for North Carolina State University faculty and students.
Yates Mill Tours (In-Person)
Note: Tours and programming are suspended until further notice. Please read this section and plan for a tour at a later date when they commence again.
If you want to learn more while visiting Yates Mill, you can by joining a tour! They’ll be led by 19th-century costumed interpreters and are one of the best ways to deepen your connection to the mill.
Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for Seniors, and $3 for children ages 7 to 16. Proceeds from the tours (and any merchandise purchases) go toward maintenance, restoration, and repairs.
Here are a few of the Yates Mill tours you can join:
- Corn Grinding Tours are held the third weekend of each month, on Saturdays from 10:00 am to noon. On Saturday and Sunday, the tour takes place every 20 minutes between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm.
- Mill Open House Tours kick off every Saturday from March to November, except on Corn-Grinding weekends. Times are 1:00 pm to 3:00, starting every 30 minutes.
- Mill Heritage Tours run every Sunday from March to November, excluding Corn-Grinding weekends. The hour-long tour begins at 2:00 pm.
There is also a mobile tour called “From Home” that you can enjoy from home, but also on days when you can’t visit Yates Mill.
And if you brought your pole (limit one per person), you can fish at the Yates Millpond. The pond boardwalk and upper boardwalk are the two designated areas for fishing.
No smoking, no minnows for bait, no bank fishing, and no cast nets are allowed. Also, please be respectful of the pond and its surroundings and leave no trace.
Note: A valid NC fishing license is required for anglers ages 16 and up.
Failure to follow these guidelines can result in a permanent loss of fishing privilege at Yates Mill.
Additional Things to Know Before You Visit
- For Professional photography, a permit is required.
- Pets are not allowed due to the wildlife refuge status of the park.
Ready to Enjoy Yates Mill?
We hope you can make some time to explore Yates Mill, even if you’ve been before. If you walk around this awesome place often, we’d love to know what you think of it.
And if you haven’t visited yet, what’s stopping you?
Nearby Things to Do
Across the street from Yates Mill is the Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum. At this NC State-run agritourism spot, you can learn about the history of dairy and how it is produced. Of course, you can’t leave without a couple of scoops of NC State’s Howling Cow Ice Cream!
And since Yates Mill is only five miles south of downtown Raleigh, we think you should know about all the ways to enjoy the city! We’ve also created guides to Oak City’s breweries, ways to enjoy a date night, and how to have an awesome weekend in Raleigh.
And if you’re hungry, we’ve also got you covered for some of the best restaurants in Raleigh!