15 Best Parks in Raleigh, NC
Meagan Drillinger spent several weeks in Raleigh, NC during a cross-country road trip.
Since Raleigh was founded in 1792, it has been called the "City of Oaks." And it's easy to see why — Raleigh is gorgeously green, leafy, and tree-lined. In fact, since its founding, the city has been committed to keeping it green and the parks are one of Raleigh's highlights.
In between the steel and concrete of the city are, quite literally, dozens of green spaces, parks, and trails. From the largest park in the city, the Dorothea Dix Park, to the oldest park in the state, Pullen Park, and the numerous wildlife preserves and state parks nearby, there is always an excuse to slip away into nature.
Not only do the parks in Raleigh have walking and hiking trails, many provide ample opportunity for fishing, canoeing, and bird-watching. Many parks have community programming, from theater and arts to sports and nature education. You can even visit historic-themed parks that take you back in time to the early days of Raleigh.
If you're ready to head off the pavement and into the many green spaces of Raleigh, read on to discover the best parks in Raleigh.
1. Pullen Park
Not only is Pullen Park one of the best parks in Raleigh, NC, it also happens to be the first public park in the state. The swath of green, rolling fields is so much more than a park, too. It also happens to be the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world.
No matter the day of the week, Pullen Park is always buzzing with activity, from the pedal boats in the pond to the carousel, the art classes, outdoor performances, and the Olympic pool. Pullen Park even has six tennis courts that stay open until 10pm year-round. Near the amusement area of the park is a café that serves everything from naan pizza to popsicles and more.
Pullen Park's Theatre In The Park program is one of the most enjoyed activities in Raleigh, as well. Thousands of people come each year to watch the performances that are put on weekly at the northern end of the park. The entire green space has become a popular destination for important photos, events, recreation, and simply walking the many meandering paths through the trees.
Address: 520 Ashe Ave, Raleigh, North Carolina
2. Umstead State Park
William B. Umstead State Park straddles 5,500 acres between the cities of Raleigh, Cary, and Durham. The sprawling state park has more than 20 miles of multi-use trails, including hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
The park also features three man-made lakes, the largest of which is Big Lake, which has canoe and rowboat rentals. All lakes and connecting tributaries are open for fishing, too. You can even camp in the park or reserve the historic Maple Hill Lodge for overnight group gatherings.
A neat surprise within the park is a gorgeous piece of art. A fallen oak tree that measures 25 feet long has been transformed into a carved piece of art. Artists Jerry Redi and Randy Boni used chainsaws to sculpt the fallen tree into a series of animals, tree branches, and leaves. You can find the art via the Graylyn multi-use trail.
Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, North Carolina
3. Historic Yates Mill County Park
This wildlife park spans 174 acres and packs in a little bit of history along with it. The Historic Yates Mill County Park is the last remaining water-powered gristmill in Wake County. The mill dates back to the 18th century and is surrounded by a 24-acre pond.
But even if you're not interested in the historic structure, the park itself is primed and ready for enjoying the outdoors. It is veined with several miles of hiking trails and has two boardwalks that are popular for fishing.
If you are interested in the mill, you can even take a tour. The tours do have a cost of admission, but the rest of the park is free.
Address: 4620 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, North Carolina
4. JC Raulston Arboretum
A small parking lot off an unassuming street is actually the gateway to a gorgeous, rolling 10 acres of luscious blossoms and babbling water features. The JC Raulston Arboretum is an internationally recognized spot for its collection of trees and plants. More than 6,000 different plants are on display at this year-round oasis.
It's easy to spend an entire afternoon getting lost amid the different gardens within the arboretum. The Japanese garden is of particular note, with its raked-stone Zen garden. Visitors can also explore the Annual Color Trials, which is an official All-America Selections (AAS) testing site that evaluates more than 700 different annuals and tender perennials each year.
If you're visiting in the winter months, you'll want to explore the Winter Garden, which features plants that are at their most vibrant in the colder months, specifically conifer trees, plum blossom, and mitsumata.
The best part? The entire arboretum is free.
Address: 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, North Carolina
5. Neuse River Trail
For 27.5 green, scenic miles, the Neuse River Trail follows the Neuse River. Scenic views, zigzagging boardwalks through wetlands, and historical sites are among the many features that visitors to the park will see along the way.
The park begins at Falls Lake Dam and ends at the Johnston County Line. Along the way, visitors will run through four other riverside parks. These include the Buffalo Road Athletic Park, Anderson Point Park, Milburnie Dam, and Abbotts Creek Trail. Visitors have so many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.
What's neat about the Neuse River Trail is that it is a portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which is a scenic nature path that runs across the entire state, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.
6. Lake Johnson Park
Raleigh's Lake Johnson spans 150 acres on the outskirts of the city. Surrounding the lake is the beautiful Lake Johnson Park, which is a treasure trove for people who want to spend time in the lush, beautiful landscape.
Lake Johnson Park itself has ample opportunity for boating, fishing, and kayaking. Around the lake are miles of both paved and unpaved pathways, some part of the Walnut Creek Greenway Trail. For fishing, the lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bream, catfish, carp, and other fish.
The park also offers picnic shelters, concessions, facility rentals, and a calendar of classes and other recreational activities. The park is definitely a year-round destination, but the activities of summer and the brilliant colors of fall make those two seasons particularly memorable times to visit the park.
Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh, North Carolina
7. Mordecai Historic Park
A trip to Mordecai Historic Park allows visitors to walk the walk of Raleigh in the 18th century - literally. The historic park is a collection of some of the oldest homes in Raleigh.
The Mordecai House itself is the oldest house in Raleigh that stands in its original location. The house was built in 1785 and is a registered historical landmark and was named for Moses Mordecai.
But the park has other historic homes and structures, including the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States. The tiny, ramshackle house tells the story of the president's early beginnings as he climbed from poverty into politics.
Visitors to the park can take a guided tour for a fee, or can wander the grounds on their own for free.
Address: 1 Mimosa Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
8. Anderson Point Park
Anderson Point Park sits on the location of the former Anderson family homestead. The homestead was built in the early 20th century, and the cottage is still used today as a place to host programs. The park itself opened in 1988 and is carved with walking trails that weave around several wildlife habitats. The park has several launch points for canoeing, as well.
But what makes the park so special is its bird-watching history. Since the 1970s, before Anderson Point was even a park, bird-watchers have flocked to this spot to catch glimpses of the wildlife, from bluebirds and purple martins to screech owls, warblers, and more.
Address: 20 Anderson Point Drive, Raleigh, North Carolina
9. Dorothea Dix Park
Spanning a massive 310 acres, Dorothea Dix Park is the largest park in Raleigh, NC. The landscape is a mix of grassy, undulating hills; shady groves; and a calendar of events year-round. And with a view of the Raleigh skyline in the distance, there's always an easy way to get to the park.
The Big Field spreads across 35 acres and is most popular for picnics, festivals, and community events. The Grove is another popular area, which features 16 acres of hills and grass. It also happens to be the most popular sledding destination when snow does fall in the city of Raleigh.
Other points of interest are Harvey Hill, which has a great view of the skyline; Flowers Field; and Williams Field. Some of the activities that visitors can look forward to include live music, fitness classes, nature programs, and stargazing.
Address: 1030 Richardson Drive, Raleigh, North Carolina
10. Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park
One of the best gifts the city of Raleigh ever received was the donation of 157 acres of land along Falls Lake, which created the first designated nature preserve in the city. That was in 2006, and today the Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park is one of the best parks in Raleigh, NC.
The park has both indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as year-round public programming, including programs for kids. Visitors can meander along the three interpretive trails, too. Don't worry if you forgot your binoculars - the park offers free ones for visitors to borrow.
The longest trail is the Hidden Rocks Trail, which is nearly a mile. It features rocky outcrops and a guide to describe the history of the region. The Epps Forest Loop winds through the oak and hickory forest, while the Pond Loop weaves around meadows and a one-acre pond.
Address: 5229 Awls Haven Drive, Raleigh, North Carolina
11. Brookhaven Nature Park
Brookhaven Nature Park is a 26-acre woodland area that is teeming with wildlife. Don't let its location near the busy city roads fool you - Brookhaven Nature Park is a tranquil oasis that feels worlds away from the hum and hustle of the big city.
The park is maintained by the Junior Woman's Club of Raleigh and contains a series of paved and natural hiking trails that zigzag over a small tributary of Crabtree Creek. Other features include picnic tables, shady groves, and a small pond.
Address: 5125 Berkeley Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
12. Biltmore Hills Park
Biltmore Hills Park is the perfect spot in Raleigh for people who enjoy a good, natural workout. The 39-acre park has walking trails, but beyond that, it features a community center with a weight room, gymnasium, and a seasonal pool.
But it doesn't end there. Biltmore Hills Park also has a basketball court, baseball field, softball field, eight tennis courts, and even a playground for kids.
13. Durant Nature Preserve
Designated a nature preserve in 2010, the Durant Nature Preserve is committed to protecting and conserving the natural resources and wildlife of Raleigh. The preserve features five miles of trails, along which hikers will enjoy views of the park's two lakes, forests of pine trees, and stretches of wetlands.
During certain times of year, many of the trails are open to mountain bikers, who can zip past the rolling fields of wildflowers. Kids have a nature play garden and playground to explore, as well, while other features include a butterfly garden, bird garden, and interpretive tree trail.
Address: 8305 Camp Durant Road, Raleigh, North Carolina
14. Fred Fletcher Park
What was once the campus of the Methodist Home for Children was transformed in 1982 to a 21.4-acre park. The Fred Fletcher Park, located pretty much in the heart of the city, is known for its beautifully landscaped gardens, woods, and wildlife.
Not only is the park a great place to enjoy nature, it's also a hub of activity for residents of Raleigh. The Borden Building and Amphitheater, for example, is a popular spot for weddings and parties.
You can also work up a sweat in the park at the basketball courts, tennis courts, and softball and soccer fields. Kids under 12 will love the playground at the park, too, which has swings and a sandy pit.
15. Moore Square Park
Need a little break from the hum of the city? Try the four-acre Moore Square. This city center park has actually been a popular meeting point within the city since the late 19th century. Today it is one of a handful of green spaces that were part of the original city planning of Raleigh city proper.
Within the four acres is a sprawling lawn wreathed in oak trees, a splash pad for children, and expansive walking paths that encircle the park. Look around you in any direction, and you'll see the steel-and-glass structures of downtown Raleigh.