My husband and I are excited to be moving this month to Lexington, Kentucky. However, we are also sad to be leaving Raleigh. This is for many reasons, First, the great people. Second, the natural beauty of the area, which is accentuated by so many fabulous parks. It is about the latter of these reasons I would like to do some reminiscing.
For the past four years, my husband and I have called downtown Raleigh home — and before that, NC State campus. During this time, we’ve made it our goal to explore as many of the fabulous parks in this area as possible — and we still didn’t hit them all!
I’m proud to say we visited all 8 Wake County parks, 10 of the 90+ City of Raleigh parks, biked many of the greenways — and visited many other parks in the Triangle area, including State parks such as Umstead, NC State parks such as JC Raulston Arboretum, and privately-owned parks such as Joslin Garden, and WRAL Azalea gardens.
Given these experiences, I humbly offer my picks for top five public parks to visit in Raleigh — my love letter to this beautiful city! Each of these parks offer both opportunities to enjoy the greenery of Raleigh as well as cultural and educational enrichment. The combination of a beautiful space that also engages you intellectually or culturally in the history and strengths of your community is what makes a great park experience to me.
Without further ado, I present my top five parks to visit in Raleigh:
Technically, this park is located in Morrisville, but it might as well be Raleigh as it’s located off of Aviation Parkway next to I-40. My favorite part is the fabulous green expanse that backs up to the Lake Crabtree waterside, which on many weekends is crawling with frisbee throwers, dog walkers, family picnicers, volleyball players and more. Yet, the park rarely feels crowded (as does Umstead). The park also boasts boating, wooded trails and mountain biking trails.
Don’t miss: Climbing the tower in the boathouse for a gorgeous view of Lake Crabtree and recreational areas in the park.
#4 – Pullen Park
As the first public park in NC, Pullen Park is a significant Raleigh historic site — including a working carousel from 1911 (which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places). Yet, this park continues to evolve and recreate itself into an even more interesting place for families to gather and enjoy themselves. You’ll also find miniature train rides, pedal boating, an aquatic center, and arts center to boot.
Don’t miss: the Drum Circle / Hoop Jam at Pullen every Wed eve at 6:30 p.m April – October.
This park off of Lake Wheeler Road has so much to offer. The short wooded trail around
Yates Mill Pond includes viewpoints of the historic corn mill. One of my favorite parts of this park, however, is the interactive educational center — the best in the county, I’d say. The high level of community involvement in this park (read about the Yates Mill Associates) is evident in the well kept grounds, its frequent programming, and even its Facebook page, which consistently keeps fans posted with natural and wildlife sightings from the park for those of us who want to enjoy from afar.
Don’t miss: The 30 minute guided tour of the mill Saturdays 1-3 p.m.
#2 – NCMA Museum Park
Here is yet another beautiful oasis in the midst of our busy city. The NCMA park is a spacious area of woodland trails and grassy vistas dotted with works of art by artists both native to NC (see: Vollis Simpson and Thomas Sayre) and nationally known (see: Roxy Paine‘s Dendroid). In early summer, the Rodin Sculpture Garden outside of the West Building, plays host to a blooming pond of water lilies. Wander down by the amphitheater to see up close the components of the park’s coolest secret: larger than life Picture This installation. Trails are good for both biking and walking. Take the main trail all the way to the pedestrian bridge over 440 for a dizzying walk and a reminder of the crowds rushing about their busy lives just outside the park while you relax.
In my opinion, this park is one of the best kept secrets in Raleigh. Located next to Olivia
Rainy Library at the corner of 440 and Poole Road, it is not an area I often frequent, but the trip out there is always worth it. My husband and I love this park so much, we got married there!
This park will charm you out of your socks. While not as well maintained or glitzy as some of the others, the park packs a lot in a small area. The most noticeable feature at first is a beautiful, upward sloping pecan tree grove that perfectly shields the park from the noise of nearby 440, creating a quiet refuge for you to discover the many facets of this park. The kid-oriented education center focuses on local farming and life on this land in the 1800s. Wander past the rustic water tower through the historic buildings including the colonial style family home, cotton gin house, and more. You can even pick cotton from the cotton field during cotton season! Like other special parks in Raleigh, this one has a long history which includes many familiar local family names.
Don’t miss: Meeting the park’s resident creatures: two friendly goats who will let you pet them and feed them (park-approved food of course!).
I’ll end with a thanks to Raleigh city, county, state, community, and business leaders who have worked and donated to establish and ensure on-going support for these fabulous public spaces. I’m just excited to see how the newest park in the works, Dix Park, has blossomed when we return to Raleigh!