I've been doing a fair amount of hiking around the area lately, for some reason. Since it seems like there are a lot of folk unfamiliar with the fantastic parks available in the triangle area, and North Carolina in general, thought I'd dump some information here.
For the hikes listed below, you won't need any special equipment to take a hike. Outdoors-y clothes, something you'll be comfortable walking in for a couple of miles (you're hiking!). And sweating in. Some kind of tennis shoes /sneakers. Bug spray if it's a buggy season. Sunscreen. A hat? And a bottle of water. You'll be outside, walking around for an hour or two; use your head.
This park is maintained by the Town of Cary, and is a little bit of forest in the southern end of the city, right off of Kildaire Farm Road. Just a couple of short paths through the woods, along side Swift Creek, with some unexpected bluffs to overlook. I don't think any of the individual trails in the park are more than two miles.
The Stevens Nature Center is co-located here which has some information on the park available in one of the buildings at the park entrance. They also hold occasional classes on various topics, through the Town of Cary.
A small park maintained by the Triangle Land Conservancy, off Holly Springs Road, between Cary Parkway and Penney Road. Admit it, you had no idea there was a park in that swampy-looking land, did you?
Oddly enough, I haven't been there in years. It's odd, because I drive by this park every day I drive to work; it's directly to the south of the airport, filling the area between I-40 on the west, and US-70 on the east. Joe Miller (see below) frequently writes about hiking, running, and biking in the park. Sounds great, and I feel like an idiot for not having visited in so long.
This is one of the family favorites. The main attraction is Raven Rock itself, which is a rocky outcrop on the banks of the Cape Fear river. Fairly simple hike to the river, then a set of stair steps down to the river. Lots of rocks to climb on, for the kids. The Raven Rock Loop Trail is 2.6 miles.
A small park in Hillsborough, bordering the Eno River. While you can't get to the summit itself, you can walk up to the second highest point, and around an old abandoned quarry with some resultant man-made cliffs. You can both look out over the cliffs, from above, then walk down to the Eno River and get a view from below. The eastern section of the Loop Trail is about two miles.
Less Local Hikes
Listed here a couple of parks that aren't really local to the triangle, but close enough to make a day trip. I'm totally geared up when I go to one of these; boots, pack with bunch of crap in it, staff, GPS, etc. Though I've done some of the shorter hikes with the kids with just a bottle of water.
The paths marked on the trails as "strenuous" generally mean - lots of climbing - which usually also means great views. There will be lots of sweat.
Do some research before you go.
Hanging Rock is the main draw here, a fairly easy hike with great views and some rock scrambling when you get to the top. Lots of people.
Moore's Wall Loop Trail takes you up a different mountain. At the top is an observation deck with fantastic views. You can do a bit of rock scrambling at the top, and some points along the ridge. Not many people.
A big mound of granite that's pretty breath taking. To see the view of the mountain, you'll have to venture on the trail to Hutchinson Homestead, which is a pretty easy hike. The hike up the mountain is a different story. There will be sweat. They now have steps that take you almost the entire way up the side of the mountain; not as fun as before they had the steps, but certainly a lot safer.
When I was up there last week, I met a 70 year old couple from Charlotte who hit the mountain every year. I can only hope to be so lucky.
The main draw is Crowders Mountain; lots of people. King's Pinnacle is just as nice, with much fewer people.
North Carolina State Parks by NC Division of Parks and Recreation
This is a site maintained by the same folks who actually maintain the fantastic North Carolina state park system. Information on all the parks and natural areas (what's the difference?) is provided, including maps to the parks, maps of the facilities and trails in the parks, and other general information. The maps are quite detailed, and are PDF versions of the slightly better quality print versions of the maps available at the parks themselves. You'll want to use the maps provided at the park, while you're hiking, because they are a bit larger than the print version, printed on nice heavy paper, pre-folded, and have additional park information available on the flip side of the map. But print one of the PDF maps before you go, just in case they're out, or if you happen to go to part of a park which doesn't have a maps kiosk or park station nearby.
You can read all about what the conservancy is about on their web site, but for purposes of this blog post, their web site contains links to a couple of hikable areas that they provide access to.
Contains links to Cary's parks, trails and greenways.
This is a crude "mashup" I wrote a while back, recently refurbished to fix some broken links. It's a view of North Carolina in Google Maps, with a marker placed at all the state parks, and a few other random parks I've added. Clicking on a marker gives you a popup with a link to the park's web site, and the current weather and coupla day forecast, with links to more detailed weather information. A right click (if you're a righty) might bring up a context menu that offers to get directions to the park from somewhere else, like your house.
You can also load the park data into Google Earth, by using the Add / Network Link menu item (on the Mac version anyway), and pasting the URL to the KML file into the Link field: http://www.muellerware.org/projects/ncParksMap/ncParksMap.kml. Once you've added it to your My Places list, you can use the context menu on the entry for the parks to refresh the data from the KML file (basically, the weather). Of course, Google Earth can show you the weather itself. It can also show you pictures taken from within the parks, links to Wikipedia entries, and so on. Google Earth is a great way to get familiar with the layout of the hilly parks, especially if you set "Elevation Exaggeration" to the maximum value of 3.
Get Out! Get Fit! by Joe Miller
Joe works for the Raleigh's News and Observer newspaper. He authors a print column "Take It Outside", which is also republished to the web. He usually references his print columns in his blog, so there's not much need to watch for the print columns. Just follow his blog instead.
Joe covers all manner of outdoor activities, not just hiking, but he spends quite a bit of time covering hiking and biking in North Carolina. He has also written a few books, which I'll reference below.
100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina by Joe Miller - $16
This is Joe's most recent book, and covers, as it claims, 100 hikes in North Carolina - east, west, north, south and in between. He covers a lot of the state parks, so provides addition information over what's available on the state park's web site. In the Introduction, he discusses clothing and gear, though as I mention above, for short hikes, you won't need much. It's a good introduction to other gear you might want to get though.
Take It Outside: Hiking in the the Triangle by Joe Miller - $13
This is Joe's earlier book, which covers hikes in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Ten years old but still relevant. Simple hikes, places you should definitely check out because they're right in your backyard, if you live here.