The Best Things to Do in William B Umstead State Park in Raleigh (Chainsaw Art, Great Trails, and More!)

Last Updated on September 8, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh (and Cary) is an amazing outdoor escape in the Triangle. And considering the fact that 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 out its awesome hiking trails, a gorgeous lake, and really 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.

This post on Umstead is part of our series covering NC state parks and more of our favorite places to visit in Central North Carolina. We’ve also included in our guides covering things to do in Raleigh (especially with kids!) and free things to do! If you’re searching for places to stay, check out these cool Airbnbs in Raleigh!

Umstead State Park History

NC State Parks Umstead Raleigh NC Image

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 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.

Umstead State Park Raleigh NC Big Lake Image
  • 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 similar paths 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

And for many people (we included), hiking is a great reason to visit Umstead State Park. It’s why we’ve included the park among our favorite spots for hiking in North Carolina.

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

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 another one known for its easy access and plentiful 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. 

Sycamore Trail

7.2 Mile Loop (Blue Triangle Blaze)

NC State Parks Umstead Sycamore Trail Image

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)

Raleigh NC Umstead State Park Company Mill Trail Image

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

Inspiration Trail

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 there some interpretive signs identifying the various species of trees along the route. 

Loblolly Trail

2.7 Miles One Way (Blue Square Blaze)

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. 

Multi-Use Trails

13 Miles Total (Red Circle Blaze)

Umstead State Park Raleigh Multi Use Trails

We mentioned the Multi-Use Trails already for biking and horseback riding, but want to offer a few more details here. You can ride in more than a few 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

NC State Parks Raleigh NC Umstead Chainsaw Art Image

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 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. 

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 out to this awesome place to visit just outside North Carolina‘s capital city, 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! 

More Things to Do in Raleigh

2 thoughts on “The Best Things to Do in William B Umstead State Park in Raleigh (Chainsaw Art, Great Trails, and More!)”

  1. I’m very interested in both the Sycamore trail and Company Mill trail. Can you please tell me which entrance for each trail would be best and closest to access each trail? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Paula, thanks for reaching out! Sycamore is accessible via the Crabtree Creek entrance (off US-70) at the very end, past the visitor’s center. Company Mill is on the Reedy Creek side (off I-40, exit 287). Hope that helps!

      Reply

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