It’s free, it’s healthy, it’s a natural antidepressant — what’s not to like about hiking? The Triangle area has networks of trails in easy reach, for all levels of ability. Several local trails are part of the larger Mountains-to-Sea network. Here are some favorites:
Four trails, all around a mile long. Hemlock Bluffs houses a rare stand of Piedmont hemlock, survivors from the last ice age that cling to the park’s protected north-facing bluffs. There’s also a boardwalked bottomland forest to explore, part of the 3-mile trail network that’s exceptionally foot-friendly (though there are challenging climbs in spots).
An in-town hike that packs a lot of nature into less than a mile of trail.
Chatham County hikes
White Pines Nature Preserve
Five trails ranging in distance from a short overlook path up to a 2.4-mile loop. Several of the trails lead to the confluence of the Deep and Rocky Rivers. Temperatures here can be as much as ten degrees cooler than in downtown Pittsboro just eight miles north, making it a great summer hiking destination.
Bolin Creek Trail
Paved 1.5-mile trail that winds along Bolin Creek in a forested area between residential neighborhoods. It’s an easy walk that can be reached from several entry points and even has a connector to a coffeehouse.
Drive along the roads that border Duke forest any day and you’ll see cars pulled over at access points along Whitfield Road, Erwin Road, Mt. Sinai Road and Highway 751, to name a few. Many fire roads make for easier walking in Duke Forest. Here’s a map showing one 2.3-mile trail that’s rated “easy.” Other areas include Durham and Korstian Divisions and the Al Buehler Trail.
Eno River State Park
Visit the website to see descriptions of 15-plus hikes ranging in distance from a half-mile to a little over 6 miles, most in the 1-2 mile range, many looping and crossing each other like the Buckquarter Creek/Holden Mill figure 8 loop where you can either do a beginner 1.5-mile loop on Buckquarter Creek Trail, or continue on the more challenging 2.6-mile Holden Mill Trail.
Horton Grove Nature Preserve
About eight miles of trails and more in progress, including forests and open meadows.
Little River Regional Park & Natural Area
Seven miles of hiking trails, 7 miles of mountain biking trails, and a birding trail through hardwood forest and around the river. Group campground, picnic shelters, an open-play meadow, a playground and there are restored buildings from the former farms and mills on the site.
Mountains to Sea Trail, Eno River portion
Ten miles from the Pleasant Green Access area downstream to West Point on the Eno. Four day hikes ranging from 2.2 miles to 2.9 miles.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Occoneechee Mountain is quickly accessible from anywhere in the Triangle, near I-85. The 3.5-mile Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail offers about as much ecological diversity as any around. Other trails include the Occoneechee Speedway Trail, which is a former dirt track with now-overgrown spectator stands, and the River Walk, a paved trail capable of handling strollers, wheelchairs, bicycles, etc., that runs along the Eno River as it passes through downtown Hillsborough.
Hollow Rock Nature Park
Newly opened in June 2016, this park along New Hope Creek off Erwin Road has natural surface trails and plans for a handicapped-accessible trail in the future.
Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
Three and a half miles of trails exploring forest, creek and the remains of old gristmills. Great Outdoor Provision Company’s hiking overview calls this a “best-of” hiking in the Western Triangle because of the mix of forest, meadow and waterway on the 3.5 miles of trails.
Neuse River Trail
The Neuse River Trail is a 10-foot wide asphalt path extending 28 miles from Falls Lake Dam to the Wake County line. The Neuse River Greenway Trail offers scenic views of the Neuse River, winding boardwalk areas through wetlands, historical sights, interpretive signs, and agricultural fields. It’s part of the City’s Capital Area Greenway System, and a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
More than 20 miles of trails ranging from less than a half-mile to more than 7 miles. The Sycamore and Company Mill Trails are favorites with hikers. Company Mill offers choices, so it’s suitable for beginners or those who want a challenge.
Three loop trails, all under a mile, and a connector to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
And last but not least, the 22-mile American Tobacco Trail spans three counties and several municipalities, so we really can’t put it under any one label.