If you’ve been keeping up with me, then you know about the N.C State Parks Challenge that we are doing. If not, you should definitely check it out!
We’ve been pretty busy these last few weeks, trying to get to as many of the parks as we can, while still getting to enjoy them as well. We’ve spent a lot of time in the car, but we have had so much fun on this challenge so far!
What we have been trying to do is group a few of them together and do multiple parks each time we go. That way we don’t have to drive to some of the same areas multiple times, we can get them all in one trip.
We decided to take a road trip to the area of Raleigh, NC. For those of you who don’t know Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina, and the traffic there is honestly some of the worst I’ve ever seen. We actually just went to Raleigh for the first time a couple of months ago when I bought my new car there, and we pretty much decided that we had seen it all and had no desire to ever get back in that mess.
So I was a little reluctant when my husband mentioned doing these parks. I know we have to do them all, but I just wasn’t looking forward to that area again. Thankfully, we never actually got close to any of the downtown areas and it was really nice and peaceful everywhere we went.
1. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
Our first stop was Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in Apex, NC. It took us around an hour and a half to get there from our house. We didn’t get to see a lot here because everything was closed. We didn’t realize the visitors center wasn’t open on the weekend, so we couldn’t get in to see the exhibit hall or get our passports stamped.
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is made up of a 14,000+ acre reservoir with over 1,000 campsites. There are seven swim beaches throughout the area and roughly 14 miles of hiking trials to choose from. Many people come here to try and catch a glimpse of the bald eagles that fly around the lake.
We were sad that our first stop was closed and we couldn’t get our passports stamped. I checked the N.C. State Parks website and it said if you visit a park and they are closed, send an email to them with your name, which park you need a stamp for and the address to mail them to and they would send them to you. We received our stickers/stamps in the mail a few days later.
2. Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Then we were on our way to Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area. It was about a 40 minute drive from Jordan Lake. We were honestly really disappointed with this park.
There is nothing to do there, not even a park office. With only three miles of hiking trials, it offers a quick escape into nature. There are two ponds, where you can fish for bass or panfish.
With this being our second stop of the trip so far, the kids were getting very discouraged and we couldn’t blame them. Don’t get me wrong, we like a good road trip every now and again but we specifically went this time with the purpose of exploring the parks and getting our passports stamped and that just wasn’t what was happening so far.
There was not even anywhere to get a stamp there, but we finally looked in our books and realized that the next park we were going to had the stamps for Occoneechee as well.
3. Eno River State Park
Next on our list was Eno River State Park, and it actually ended taking a little less than 20 minutes to get there from Occoneechee. This park was great, one of my favorites of the day and we will definitely be going back there soon!
When we arrived we went to the visitors center first. The lady who was working was kind and welcoming, I really enjoyed talking to her. We got our stamps for Eno River and for Occoneechee. They even had a craft area set up and the kids were excited to make the paper snowflakes and hang them on the window with the other ones that people had made.
With the river and almost 30 miles of trails, this park has a little something for everyone. Plenty of opportunities for fishing, hiking, canoeing and kayaking.There are backpacking campsites, as well as group camping sites but everything has to be carried in.
The lady in the visitors center mentioned to us that there was a swinging bridge that crossed the river and we just had to find it and check it out. So we hiked down the trails to the river and found it pretty easily.
The bridge is awesome! The kids were so excited when they saw it, and couldn’t believe we were actually going to go across it. It was fun, but a little nerve wracking because the kids have no fear.
We met a couple who were also hiking and they told us about a cabin that wasn’t much further down the trails. We were going to go try and find it but the trails were really muddy and we decided to come back a different time, especially when we could spend more time there.
4. Falls Lake State Recreation Area
From there we drove 30 minutes to Falls Lake State Recreation Area. This was another small place with not much to do, especially in the winter.
There are over 300 campsites, five swim beaches and multiple boat ramps for paddlers and non-gasoline powered boats.
I want to go back there over the summer and camp because this area is well known and people come from all over to take advantage of the great recreational activities there. The fishing there is very popular and I know my kids would enjoy the swimming areas and taking our kayaks out.
5. William B. Umstead State Park
Ok, now last but definitely not least, my favorite park of our trip and one that my husband and I are really excited about going back to soon, William B. Umstead State Park.
Thankfully it only took us 20 minutes to get there from Falls Lake, because the kids were really getting antsy being in the car so much.
The visitors center is awesome! There were many different exhibits set up, including a corn sheller, and a microscope with multiple slides and other things to look at under it like feathers, pine cones, snakeskin and insects. My kids like stuff like that, it makes the trips more interesting for them.
Since we didn’t have a lot of time to hike, because by the time we got there it was only about an hour until dark, we didn’t get to do a lot there. While in the visitors center, we learned about a chainsaw art tree on one of the hiking trails. We had to get there before dark!
Our kids are not very fond of hiking in the dark. We have done it before but it’s not the most enjoyable experience so we were trying hard to get to the tree and back before it was completely dark.
The trail to the tree is a little over a mile round trip. It was a very easy hike and so worth it! Once we got to the tree we were amazed!
The tree is a fallen red oak tree that is around 25 feet long. It is beautiful! The kids enjoyed finding all of the animals in the carving. The owls were my favorite. The pictures just do not do it justice!
There are more than 20 miles of hiking trails, 13 of which are multi-use trails for horseback riding and biking. There are 28 campsites and a many backpacking sites also.
We cannot wait to go back, there were a lot of other things we wanted to do here but ran out of daylight.
On the way home we enjoyed talking all about our adventures from the day and how excited we were that we started this challenge. 7 stamps down, 34 to go! Now to figure out where to go next!?!