This nearly 6,000-acre park is perfect for a day trip for those seeking out its awesome hiking trails, a gorgeous lake, and really cool chainsaw art.
And if you’re interested in exploring Umstead, we’d like to share how you can, including access points, the park’s backstory, and more.
This post on Umstead was also included in our guides to weekends and free things to do in Raleigh. It’s also a part of our series covering Raleigh. Here, we’ve shared Dorothea Dix Park sunflowers, a guide to the city’s must-eat restaurants, and more.
We originally created this on August 9, 2019. It has been maintained and updated, as of October 16, 2019.
Umstead State Park
History of the Park
Umstead State Park was once two segregated parks. Crabtree Creek State Park (whites) and Reedy Creek State Park (blacks) coexisted from 1950 to 1964 until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened parks to everyone.
And before the area was established, much of its land was developed for recreation during the Great Depression, providing much-needed construction jobs.
Umstead State Park Today
Today, the park borders Raleigh-Durham International Airport, I-40, and US Highway 70. And considering its busy surroundings, the only noise you’ll find at Umstead will be nearby airplanes and the occasional sound of cars at points on a few of the trails.
Umstead State Park’s two access points have kept their former names: Crabtree Creek and Reedy Creek. The Crabtree Creek Entrance sits off US Highway 70/Glenwood Ave and Umstead’s Reedy Creek Entrance is reached via Harrison Ave in Cary.
Things to do at Umstead State Park
You can do a lot at Umstead State Park, especially at Big Lake and along the Multi-Use Trail. Boats are available for rental and a lot of people come to Big Lake to fish.
Folks who love horseback riding can enjoy 13 miles of bridle trails, with check-in at the Visitor Center required first. Mountain biking is another fun way to enjoy this park, following the same path as the bridle trails.
Multiple camping options can be found in the park, with primitive camping available year-round and group and tent campers open from April through October.
Umstead State Park Trails
We’ll dig into all Umstead State Park trails since many intersect and there are only two access points to consider. And as we’ve done before, we’ll share whether or not the trail is one way or a loop, and the color and shape of its blaze (ex. 6 Mile Loop | Blue Circle).
Crabtree Creek Access
Oak Rock Trail
.6 Mile Loop | White Square
Oak Rock Trail is the shortest loop found on the Crabtree Creek side of the park. This path received recognition from the Asheville-based Kids in Parks as one of the best kid-friendly trails in the US.
Pott’s Branch Trail
1.3 Mile Loop | Orange Diamond
We like to stop at the spot on Pott’s Branch Trail where Pott’s Branch meets Sycamore Creek. This trail is another one known for its easy access and plentiful picnic areas.
Sal’s Branch Trail
2.8 Mile Loop | Orange Circle
Accessible right behind the Umstead Visitor Center or near the boathouse, Sal’s Branch is a pretty easy trail. It will take you to Big Lake for beautiful views of the water.
7.2 Mile Loop | Blue Triangle
Sycamore Trail wins the prize of “longest hike in the park” unless you feel like walking along the entire Multi-Use Trail path. The scenery changes quite a bit throughout the hike here, as you wind and bend your way across and along Sycamore Creek.
Reedy Creek Access
Company Mill Trail
5.8 Mile Loop | Orange Square
One of the longer trails at Umstead, Company Mill will take you along the banks of Sycamore Creek and Crabtree Creek. You’ll also see remnants of the old Company Mill that was part of a larger homestead started in the early 1800s.
.4 Mile Loop | Green Diamond
Company Mill Trail connects to Inspiration Trail, a very short loop. Part of it follows a stream and there some interpretive signs identifying the various species of trees along the route.
2.7 Miles One Way | Blue Square
Loblolly Trail ends at the NC State-managed Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest if you’d like to continue on. It also intersects with the Multi-Use Trails, offering a couple of options to loop back.
13 Miles One Way | Red Circle
We mentioned the Multi-Use Trails already for biking and horseback riding, but there’s something really cool that I need to mention: chainsaw art. It’s a 25-foot fallen oak tree that Tennessee-based Smoky Mountain Art has transformed into carvings of wolves, owls, and more animals that you just have to see.
Directions to the Umstead Chainsaw Art
Note: a version of directions were provided by the folks at the Umstead State Park Visitor Center.
- Drive Past the Visitor Center
- Turn Left on Maintenance Rd
- Take a Right on Group Camp Rd
- Turn Left on Sycamore Rd and park in the Multi-Use Trail parking lot
- Get out of your car and start walking on the Multi-Use Trail
Turn right onto Graylyn Multi-Use Trail and continue on. You’ll find the tree carving roughly a quarter of a mile down the trail.
Final Thoughts on Umstead
Whether we’re talking about proximity to Raleigh, nice trails, Big Lake, or the awesome chainsaw art, you can see why Umstead remains one of our favorite state parks.
While we look forward to our next trip out to this awesome place to visit in Central North Carolina, we hope you can make it out there, too!
When you visit Umstead State Park, what’s the first thing you’d like to do there? We’d love to know about it in the comments section!