Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on August 19, 2023.
William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh (and Cary) is a unique outdoor escape in the Triangle. And because it’s surrounded by some of North Carolina‘s busiest highways and Raleigh-Durham International Airport, this park is a welcome retreat.
This nearly 6,000-acre park is perfect for a day trip for those seeking its awesome hiking trails, a gorgeous lake, and cool chainsaw art. Raleigh and Durham are closest but we think you could even make this a great day trip from Greensboro!
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. We’ve covered a lot in this guide, so here’s how we’ve organized it:
- Umstead State Park History
- Things to Do (Boating, Camping, and More!)
- Umstead State Park Trails
- Umstead State Park Chainsaw Art
You can scroll ahead to any of those specific sections or continue reading about the interesting (and sad) history of Umstead State Park.
Read More: NC State Parks
Umstead State Park History
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.
Read More: Things to Do in Raleigh
Umstead State Park Access Points
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. Before we get to the trails and famed Chainsaw Art, here are a few of our favorite things to do inside the park’s two accesses.
- Boats are available for rental, and many 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 similar paths as the bridle trails.
- There are multiple camping options in the park, with primitive camping available year-round and group and tent campers open from April through October.
Read More: Airbnbs in Raleigh
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).
Read More: Free Things to Do in Raleigh
Crabtree Creek Access
Oak Rock Trail
0.6 Mile Loop (White Square Blaze)
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 Blaze)
We like to stop at the spot on Pott’s Branch Trail where Pott’s Branch meets Sycamore Creek. This trail is known for its easy access and great picnic areas.
Sal’s Branch Trail
2.8 Mile Loop (Orange Circle Blaze)
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 Blaze)
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 Blaze)
One of the longer trails at Umstead, Company Mill, will take you along Sycamore Creek and Crabtree Creek banks. You’ll also see remnants of the old Company Mill that was part of a larger homestead started in the early 1800s.
0.4 Mile Loop (Green Diamond Blaze)
Company Mill Trail connects to Inspiration Trail, a very short loop. Part of it follows a stream, and some interpretive signs identify the various species of trees along the route.
Read More: Things to Do With Kids in Raleigh
2.7 Miles One Way (Blue Square Blaze)
Loblolly Trail ends at the NC State-managed Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest if you want to continue. It also intersects with the Multi-Use Trails, offering some options to loop back.
13 Miles Total (Red Circle Blaze)
We mentioned the Multi-Use Trails already for biking and horseback riding, but we want to offer a few more details here. You can ride in several directions, depending on which connectors you choose.
We’ve really enjoyed starting at the Reedy Creek entrance and meeting the Graylyn and Turkey Creek MUTs to form a giant loop (about 10 miles).
Note: The Cedar Ridge MUT looks like an inviting shortcut but is typically blocked by a creek about 1.5 miles down.
Please consult an Umstead Map before choosing your route.
Umstead State Park Chainsaw Art
There’s also 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 you just have to see.
Directions to the Umstead Chainsaw Art
Note: a version of the directions was 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. You’ll find the tree carving roughly a quarter of a mile down the trail.
Ready to Explore Umstead State Park?
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 to this fantastic place to visit just outside North Carolina‘s capital city, we hope you can make it 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!