Day-Hikes along Falls Lake
Falls Lake Trail: A Hiking Jewel in an Urban Setting
click on images below to enlarge
Overview of Falls Lake Day Hikes
When you think long trails in this part of the world, your thoughts turn to the mountains. You likely wouldn’t think of the state’s second largest metropolitan area for a long escape on the trail. But you should. One of the longest trails in the state runs along the north rim of the Triangle, a 60-mile escape within a half hour of more than a million residents. The Falls Lake portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is a rare urban epic, offering escape on a scale urban dwellers typically must drive hours for.
The trail got its start not long after the lake did. Completed in 1981, Falls Lake and dam provide water supply, flood damage reduction, fish and wildlife enhancement, water quality, and recreation benefits for the surrounding community. As part of the lake’s original master plan, it wasn’t long before the Falls Lake Trail began sprouting along the south shore of Falls Lake (giving the trail pseudonym, the South Shore Trail).
Due largely to the efforts of the Triangle Greenways Council, the trail soon ran from the dam northwest to NC 50/Creedmoor Road, a length of more than 25 miles. Trail development languished until around 2000, when the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail revived interest in the project. With the completion of the steel span footbridge over Little Lick Creek in winter 2012, the trail was completed from Falls Lake dam in northeast Raleigh to Penny’s Bend to the northwest in Durham County, a distance of 60 miles.
It’s a surprisingly diverse 60 miles. As you might expect, its passage along the lake requires it to dip in and out of coves, the more scenic inhabited by groves of sturdy beech. Piedmont hardwood forest dominates the terrain, but there are also passages through pine as well as holly and other evergreens that give the trail a summer feel year-round. There are remote stretches, stretches that back up to mansions (though barely noticeable in the lush growth of summer), stretches that expose you to the lake’s human past (a sizable tobacco barn on Section 10, a flipped and rusted-out car from the 1950s on Section 3). Much of the trail, especially in summer, is a tight, cozy passage. Yet there are the occasional panoramas: the expansive wetland viewed from the bridge over Little Lick Creek on Section 12/13, for instance, or the winter view north from a bluff over the Eno River on Section 18.
For a long trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake is extremely accessible. We’ve divided the trail into 18 day-hikes, ranging from less than a mile to nearly seven. Each day-hike is easily accessible and suitable for a day-hike. (You may see this 60-mile stretch of trail referenced elsewhere as “Sections.” To help avoid confusion, in each trail description we match the day-hike with the corresponding section.) Be advised that while some of the trail is on North Carolina State Parks land, some is on land managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and is open to hunting during certain times of the year. (Learn more about local hunting seasons here.) Perhaps best of all, because most of the trail is new, it remains a secret to much of the Triangle: there are sections where even on a picture-perfect spring or fall Saturday afternoon you may not see another hiker.
But don’t expect that solitude to last long. It’s hard to keep a 60-mile recreational jewel hidden from more than a million people for very long.
Two minutes on the trail, along Falls Lake
Day-Hikes at Falls Lake
Each link below provides the information you need to hike a sub-section of the trail.
Day-Hike A: Falls Lake Dam
Falls Lake tailrace at Falls of Neuse Road to Raven Ridge Road
Distance: 3.0 miles (3.25 via Visitor Center )
Day-Hike D: Flipped Car
Possum Track Road to Bayleaf Church Road
Distance: 2.9 miles
Day-Hike E: Six Forks / Bayleaf Connector
Bayleaf Church Road to Six Forks Road
Distance: 1.2 milers
Day-Hike F: Blue Jay Point
Six Forks Road to Six Forks Road
Distance: 3.1 miles
Day-Hike G: Barton Creek
Barton Creek boat ramp off Six Forks Road to NC 98
Distance: 2.1 miles
Day-Hike H: Shinleaf
N.C. 98 to Shinleaf Recreation Area
Distance: 3.1 miles
Day-Hike J: The March to Headquarters
Shinleaf Recreation Area to N.C. 50
Distance: 3.7 miles
Day-Hike K: The Long Haul
NC 50 to NC 98
Distance: 6.9 miles
Day-Hike L: Rambling to Rollingview
NC 98 to Rollingview Recreation Area
Distance: 3.7 miles
Day-Hike N: Little Lick Creek
Midpoint of Little Lick Creek Bridge west to Cheek Road
Distance: 4.7 miles
Day-Hike P: Hickory Hill Boat Ramp
Cheek Road to Hickory Hill boat ramp
Distance: 2.6 miles
Day-Hike R: The Swamp Connection
Redwood & Tom Clark roads to Redwood Road
Distance: 0.9 miles
Day-Hike T: End of the line (or the beginning)
Red Mill Road to Penny’s Bend
Distance: 3.9 miles