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This guide explains why Raven Rock State Park is one of our favorites in North Carolina.

Raven Rock State Park: Hikes and More Along the Cape Fear River

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When talking about Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County, the Cape Fear River will always find its way into the conversation. That’s because this important river cuts the park in half on its way to the coast.

That important body of water is one of many things about this place that make it one of our favorites to go hiking in North Carolina, and we’re in no way alone. Consider just how popular this park gets on weekends and holidays, as much of the crowd heads here for a look at the river from the Overlook or down to the bucket list-worthy (and namesake) Raven Rock, and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, a wealth of other recreational fun awaits, including fishing, camping, and even some boating. If you’re looking to visit Raven Rock State Park or reminisce about your favorite public space with us, our guide will share all that you can do here, along with contact info and personal tips to help you enjoy it most.

This post is part of our series on outdoor activities in North Carolina, which includes hiking, our favorite, road trips, and more.

Raven Rock State Park

If you’re looking for Raven Rock State Park’s location (including address info and map), scroll to the bottom of this post.

Background

The Raven Rock from below.

Like Medoc Mountain to the north, Raven Rock rests near the fall line. Millions of years ago, heat and pressure built the underlying structure, which is harder rocks reminiscent of the foothills meeting the adjacent soft, coastal pain-similar ones.

Winds and water carved up and eroded much of the land that we recognize today when hiking through today’s park. The 150-foot tall Raven Rock remains and towers over its surroundings by the Cape Fear River.

Prior to European arrival in the 1700s, this area was the home and hunting land of Siouan and Tuscarora people. For many years, the Raven Rock was named Patterson’s by an early settler but eventually earned the current moniker due to ravens being spotted at its top.

Today’s Raven Rock State Park

Raven Rock was a prominent landmark for boaters during the Cape Fear River’s heyday as a ferry route. However, damage to dams and locks from devastating hurricane in 1859 and the rise of railroads took industrial attention away from here.

Its rise as a recreation spot eventually led to the public interest in preservation and in 1969, the North Carolina General Assembly established Raven Rock State Park. The original 400 acres have grown to today’s 4,684, with plenty of room for all to explore.

Weekdays are best to come and enjoy the park, as weekends tend to get very busy. Each weekend, Raven Rock is among the first we’ll see the NC State Parks social media pages (Twitter, for example) include in its list of parks that are full by mid-morning.

That’s why I suggest you plan accordingly when you decide to visit.

Things to Do

And whether you came with no plans or have everything already mapped up, Raven Rock State Park is ready with plenty of things to do. We come primarily to hike but have also enjoyed quite a few picnics here, too.

Others love this park for horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, fishing, and more.

Hiking

Raven Rock is a great day trip from Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, which is why we often travel here for hiking. Here are all the paths at the trail and a little bit about why we like them.

Note: Some trails may be closed due to weather or construction so please call ahead before visiting. Maps can typically be found at the visitor’s center and trailheads but this one is available via the park’s website.

American Beech Trail (TRACK Trail)

0.5 Mile Loop (White Circle Blaze)

The American Beech Trail is Raven Rock’s TRACK trail, with a mix of boardwalk and natural surfaces for the whole family to enjoy. This trail starts at the right-side access from the day-use parking lot that has the picnic area.

Campbell Creek Loop Trail

4.5 Mile Loop (Blue Circles)

Raven Rock State Park Campbell Creek Loop Trail is long, challenging, and rewarding.

Other than the bike-friendly Mountain Laurel Loop Trail, Campbell Creek might be the most challenging hike in this park. There is some incline along the way but the scenery along the way makes this one absolutely worth the journey.

You’ll get a look at the Cape Fear River and access to the Lanier Falls Trail, which we’ll mention shortly.

Cottonwood Trail

0.4 Miles (Orange Triangles)

Accessed via the Little Creek Loop Trail along the Raven Rock Loop, you’ll cross creeks and bridges during this short hike.

Fish Traps Trail

0.6 Miles (Blue Triangles)

When starting the left side of the Raven Rock Loop, you’ll have the option of veering off toward the Fish Traps Trail. Here, you’ll find the remnants of the Northington Lock and Dam that the 1859 hurricane damaged.

Many folks come here for fishing, so bring your reel if you’ve got one!

Lanier Falls Trail

0.2 Miles (Orange Triangles)

Lanier Falls Trail is Campbell Creek Loop offshoot and the scenery varies depending on river levels. While not technically a waterfall as you’ll find in Western North Carolina, this is more in reference to its position on the fall line.

If the river is just right, you’ll see the rapids of the Cape Fear River, which is in contrast to the slower moving section down at the Raven Rock.

Little Creek Loop Trail

1.5 Mile Loop (Blue Hexagons)

Little Creek Loop Trail is a Raven Rock offshot that’s a nice add-on. You’ll walk along the creek under trees and eventually meet the Raven Rock Loop near where the latter’s incline begins.

Longleaf Loop Trail

0.2 Mile Loop (Red Hexagons)

The Longleaf Loop Trail is Raven Rock’s only accessible trail, located directly behind the visitor center. It’s tree-covered and offers exhibits on local wildlife, as well as the work done by conservationists and natural resource managers.

Northington Ferry Trail

0.9 Miles (Orange Triangles)

Northington Ferry Trail is on the same side as Fish Traps and is another popular fishing spot. The trail is named for the family who once operated the ferry system that passed through the area, as well as a general store and nearby lock and dam.

Raven Rock Loop Trail

2.6 Mile Loop (Orange Circles)

The park’s namesake trail is easily the most popular for at least a couple of major reasons. Along this trail, offshoots such as Little Creek and Fish Traps present themselves but if you keep going, you can choose between the Raven Rock and the Overlook that stands above the Cape Fear River and its surroundings.

I prefer descending down to the Raven Rock for a look at the riverbed and the boulders that tower over it. You can then climb back up the stairs and get back on the loop toward the Overlook, which is awesome on clear days.

Personally, I think you get a clearer look at the river and its surroundings in late-fall through winter. However, the view might be more obstructed from spring through early-fall, but the area is much greener.

Mountain Biking Trails

The Mountain Laurel Loop Trail is actually three different trails, broken down into three skill levels. As with the hiking and bridle trails, please contact the park before visiting because weather and construction could close this set of trails.

  • Beginner (6.6 Mile Loop, White Squares)
  • Intermediate (2.6 Mile Loop, Blue Squares)
  • Advanced (4.3 Mile Loop, Red Squares)

Bridle Trails

There are two bridle trails at Raven Rock State Park, accessible via the Avents Creek Access off SR 1418.

  • Bridle Trail – East Loop (4 Mile Loop, White Circles)
  • Bridle Trail – West Loop (4 Mile Loop, Red Circles)

When there have been heavy rains in the area, these trails may be closed to help preserve the area for future use. Please contact the park in advance before visiting.

Paddling

You can paddle along the Cape Fear River and through the park’s rapids of Lanier Falls and Fish Traps. However, there’s no access point to Raven Rock State Park via boat.

For more info about the official Cape Fear Canoe Trail runs for 56 miles and through parts of Raven Rock, check the Cape Fear River Adventures website.

Picnicking

There’s a pretty large picnic area at the parking lot just past the park’s main entrance. More than 25 tables and eight grills sit in a tree-covered area, with restrooms and water fountains nearby.

Raven Rock’s picnic shelter has eight tables, with two accessible ones. Up to 50 people can be accommodated for gatherings. Reservations are strongly suggested by the park, due to the shelter’s popularity.

Camping

Raven Rock State Park has a couple of locations for camping and each are inaccessible by vehicle. Amenities vary but all have a vault toilet and fire ring with grill.

Family Wilderness Camp holds five campsites about 2.5 miles from the parking lot off the Campbell Creek Loop Trail.

Canoe Camp is accessible either via the Little Creek Loop Trail about 1.7 miles from the park office or via paddle-in along the Cape Fear River Canoe Trail .

For both camps, there’s a maximum of six campers allowed per site.

Note: Camping is by reservation only (910-893-4888).

Fishing

We mentioned a few hiking trails that double as popular fishing spots. Many folks come to Raven Rock State Park for a chance to catch bass, catfish, sunfish, and others.

You can fish here only during the park’s open hours and much have a North Carolina state fishing license. NC Wildlife Resources Commission regulations are enforced here.

Nearby Places

Lillington

Lillington to Raven Rock State Park: 9 miles (12 minutes)

The park’s address is listed as Lillington but the town is a little more than 10 minutes away. People coming from places to the south or east, like Fayetteville, will pass through here. If you still need to load up on food and supplies, this is about the last place for you to get that done.

Sanford

Sanford to Raven Rock State Park: 19 miles (26 minutes)

Stubbs and Son is the perfect post-Raven Rock meal.

People driving from Raleigh and Durham (okay, Chapel Hill, too!) will either travel down US-1 or US-401. Sanford is the last major town you’ll pass.

There are quite a few places to stop and personally, I think some barbecue from Stubbs & Son off US-1 is the way to go after hiking. You can thank me later.

Benson

Benson to Raven Rock State Park: 26 miles (35 minutes)

And if you’re coming from the north via I-95, Benson is the last major town you’ll pass before Raven Rock. That Johnston County town is home to one of our favorite distilleries (Broadslab).

We’re in no way promoting drinking and driving but you can always take a bottle of their amazing farm-to-distillery spirits home to savor later!

Ready to Enjoy Raven Rock State Park?

And speaking of something to savor, how about those memories of Raven Rock after visiting this awesome state park? If you haven’t been yet, I hope you’re within driving distance and can make it happen immediately.

Now, if you’ve been lucky enough to hike around this place, we’d love to know your favorite things about it. Is it the Overlook? What about the Raven Rock? Perhaps it’s Lanier Falls or something else?

Regardless, we’re always eager to talk more about Raven Rock State Park and hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Raven Rock State Park Location

Address: 3009 Raven Rock Rd, Lillington, NC 27546

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