Raven Rock

IMG_0181(1)Raven Rock is one of the better state parks we’ve been to – particularly being less than an hour from all parts of the Triangle. It has a great, new visitor’s center, copious trails, intriguing scenery, and the Cape Fear River. Sarah and I actually came to Raven Rock in November of 2014. At this point in my life, 5 years does not seem like that long of a time on the one hand – we both totally remembered the hike, and how we discussed/argued about wedding planning for most of it. On the other hand, life couldn’t be more different now than it was then though – two rings and two kids later.

IMG_2810The most memorable moment of the trip happened before we even got out of the parking lot. I had put Harvey sitting upright in his pack and turned away from him to rummage through the car, while Sarah readied Della and we both heard a thud and a cry. I’d forgotten to adjust the bar frame out so Harvey wouldn’t be able to teeter, and he had fallen straight back onto the concrete and hit his head and elbow.

IMG_0195(1)Though he quickly stopped crying, and we started the hike, I was so awash with guilt and dread that he might have a concussion (though in retrospect it was clear right away he didn’t) I didn’t really take in as much of the hike as I would have liked. But I remember enough to know we descended about a dozen flights of stairs in order to visit the park’s namesake, “Raven Rock” rock-cliffs just off the shore of the Cape Fear river. I have a feeling if we visit again in 5 years with a couple of elementary kids, life then will seem as different as life now seems to our last visit.

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IMG_2831Hike Info:

  • Strava Link (For some reason the last half mile didn’t register)
  • Starting Point: Park Office (3009 Raven Rock Rd, Lillington, NC 27546)
  • End Point: Same
  • Length: 3.0 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 1 Hour, 30 minutes

 

Other Activities:IMG_2818

  • Vicious Fishes Brewery (Fuquay-Varina Location)
    • Neat brewery and restaurant in downtown Fuquay
    • White Russian Strong Ale tasted exactly like a White Russian – it was a little freaky. Sarah was a huge fan.

 

 

 

Our story from the day!

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William B. Umstead State Park

Having grown up just a few miles from Umstead, and having driven past it literally thousands of times, it is a bit odd to think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually visited the park in my life. I will say, it does have a bit of an “ITB” vibe (will only make sense if you are from Raleigh), and we were definitely a Falls Lake family growing up.

IMG_2556On this Memorial Day, 33rd Birthday, been getting our ass kicked by two kids, weekend – finding something new, but close to home felt like the perfect choice. The thing that struck me first was just how huge the park is, being in the heart of the Triangle. I looked it up and it is nearly 7 square miles. As Raleigh and the Triangle have grown over the last few decades, this park which was once just a forest among forests and farms now stands out a reprieve from concrete and civilization. What an important reminder so close to home of the importance of conservation!

As expected, the park was very busy as compared to almost any other state park we’ve been to – but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t feel crowded. We chose the 2.8 mile Sal’s Branch loop (part of 20 miles of trails within in the park) and while the trail was heavily traveled, it was also very well maintained and a very pleasant, shaded hike. We were lucky to be joined by our friends Pete and Lindsay, with their little guy Luke! Della slept on her momma the whole time and Harvey rode on my back and took advantage of having a friend by singing and yelling for most of the hike.img_2581edited.jpg

We will no doubt be back again!

 

Hike Info:

  • Strava Link
  • Starting Point: Park Office – Highway 70 Entrance (8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617)
  • End Point: Same
  • Length: 2.8 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 1 Hour

 

 

Other Activities:

  • Namu
    • A new Durham spot (in the location that formerly housed Straw Valley Cafe) we have been meaning to check out and finally made it happen.
    • This place is a coffee shop, beer bar (looked to be over 40 beers on tap) and Korean BBQ restaurant with both an awesome (and contained) indoor and outdoor space.
    • We loved the food, the space, the drink and will most definitely be back soon and often!
    • The only down sides are the location is a bit difficult to get to, and they aren’t open Sundays.

 

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Weymouth Woods – Sandhills Nature Preserve

For our first new state park adventure as a family of four, we wanted to find a place that wouldn’t be too far of a drive, but a also a place that felt new to us. We landed up Weymouth Woods, a Nature preserve in the heart of North Carolina’s sandhills, a little over an hour away from us.

 

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A place like this is a perfect example of the geological diversity our state has to offer. Much of the trails were comprised of crisp white sand, with a view of towering pine trees. Watch out for the roots though – we all almost took a spill more than once!

The park has a nice visitor center, connected to 4.5 miles of trails. In all we hiked about 3.5 miles, a nice loop surrounding the park. We would highly recommend this park. It’s unique views and terrain stood out, and the trails were very well marked.

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Hike Info:

  • Strava Link (For some reason the last half mile didn’t register)
  • Starting Point: Park Office (1024 N Fort Bragg Rd, Southern Pines, NC 28387)
  • End Point: Same
  • Length: 3.5 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 1 Hour, 30 minutes (2 kids slowed us down a bit!

 

 

We also found some other fun activites to do in the area! We would definitely recommed a visit to the Sandhills! (Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen)

Other Activities:

  • Pinehurst Track Restaurant (NC Weekend recommendation).
    • This was a cool restaurant on a racetrack, which Harvey loved. Food was fine – would compare it to a wafflehouse! Cash Only.
  • Railhouse Brewery
    • This place had more beer offerings than we were expecting, neat spot in an old warehouse in downtown Aberdeen. Favorite beer was the FCA IPA. Don’t miss out on the cheese curds!

Our story from the day!

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Laurel Bluffs + Eno Quarry + Cabe Lands Loop – Eno River State Park

There’s a moment every year when it hits you that Spring is just around the corner. You know Winter isn’t quite over, but you feel a warmth and a smell in the air, that let’s you know Spring is near. It always feels wonderful. This year, it hit me while on a hike at the Eno River. Yes, I know I’ve written about this place before, and I can assure you I will write about it again. After this, I will have only written about 13 of the 28 miles of trails that make up the park.

For this loop, you could start at one of two parking areas – either the Pleasant Green Access or Cabe Lands Access. Full disclosure – we broke the hike up over two different trips, (with Sarah in her third trimester, 3 miles is about the limit) so we actually started at both locations. See picture below.

This is a hike I’d recommend doing anytime except on a Summer weekend. The reason being, both access points are popular parking spots for trips to the Eno River Quarry. The quarry is a popular swimming hole for high schoolers, but also families alike and can get quite crowded during summer days. Parking can be quite difficult on those days, and I’ve even paid local residents to park on their property in the past.

The hike itself has three distinct parts. The first is the western most portion of the Laurel Bluffs Trail. This is my favorite part of the hike, as it follows along a ridge a couple hundred feet from the river, providing wonderful views. The rhododendron and steep drop offs give the allusion of mountain hiking.

The next part is a loop around the Eno Quarry Trail. The Quarry was initially dug up in the 1940s to provide rock that would become interstate 85. Once the quarrying was done, it slowly filled with water over the years. As I mentioned before, it is a popular swimming destination in the summer months, but also a very nice view and unique part of the park.

 

The last part is known as the Cabe Lands Trail. It’s a steep trail, going down to the river, following the river a bit, and back up to connect to the Quary Trail.

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We loved the chance to do some Eno hiking as Spring is beginning. With this Spring in particular we are so excited as it is a reminder at how close we are to the arrival at our first child, which increasingly can’t come soon enough. The hike also gave me a chance to play with a new camera I recently got so I can capture some quality photos and videos of our little gal or guy when they arrive!

Full map of the hike is here:

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Hike Info:

  • MapMyHike LinkMapMyHike Link #2
  • Starting Point: Eno River Pleasant Green Access Point (4702 Pleasant Green Rd, Durham, NC 27705)
  • End Point: Same (Note: You could also do same hike and start at Cabe Lands Access parking lot)
  • Length: 5.25 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 1 Hour, 45 minutes

Pilot Mountain State Park + Small Batch Brewery

Firstly, I’m writing this post a week and a half after the fact. For purposes of documentation and consistency, I’m dating this post on the day I’m writing about, as I have done in the past in will do in the future. Just wanted to be clear on that -now onto Pilot Mountain!

Sarah and I have both driven past Pilot Mountain on dozens of occasions and have known it to be one of the pillars of the North Carolina State Park system. But, amazingly, neither of us had ever been. For that reason, as we start out on our journey of visiting all of North Carolina’s state parks, we wanted Pilot Mountain to be one of the firsts. A beautiful October weekend seemed like the perfect time to give it a try.

Our initial plan was actually to stay a night at the campground. The day before, we made the decision nix that as the forecast was predicting overnight temperatures below freezing. As it turns out, this wouldn’t be the only change of plans that the day would bring us. When we arrived a Pilot Mountain State Park, we weren’t able to park at the campground like we had hoped (due to large crowds and no more parking spaces according to the ranger), and instead had to park along the road outside the park gates. I pulled up the park map from newly download NC State Parks App (this would prove to be a mistake), and saw that there was a trail right by where we parked that should lead us to the campground where we would begin the 2.5 mile hike to the top of the mountain.

We started the hike, and after a mile or so I got a little weary that we didn’t seem to be anywhere near the campground. I pulled out the GPS and could see exactly where we were, but there didn’t appear to be any trail on the map even though the trail was clearly marked in front of us. I gently broke the news to Sarah that I knew exactly where we were, but wasn’t exactly sure where we were going, though I assumed this trail would eventually lead us to the top in a couple of miles.

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As you can see from Sarah in the picture above at this point we charged ahead. The trail was beautiful and we were feeling great. A mile or so later, a couple passed us and we chatted with them. They let us know that we were on the newly redone Mountain Trail – a trail that encircled the entire mountain before ending back at the campground 4.5 miles later. They weren’t sure, but they assumed it ran into Ledge Spring Trail, which would take you to the top, but would also add a couple more miles to the trip. I did the calculation in my head and realized it was probably going to be at least 6 miles to the top, and at least another 2.5 to get back down.

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The picture above was taken not long after this revelation. Sarah was starting to get a little testy, but I told her if we could make it to the top, that we could hitchhike on the way back down.

So we charged on…

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When we passed the same couple again coming back down the mountain, I knew what they were going to say before they spoke. There wasn’t a way to get to the top, the trail just circled around to the campground, around the mountain. At this point, it was actually somewhat welcome news. We had the genius idea of finishing the hike around the entire mountain, and then driving to the top! At the very end of the hike, we stopped in the park office where they did have freshly printed maps of the new trail locations. When it comes to maps, paper is better.

As it turns out, though the hike was longer than we intended, and we didn’t hike to the top, it was actually a very nice hike. The trail was not crowded at all, unlike the main trail to the top which we saw packed with people.
The fall colors were beautiful – both the leaves on the ground and in
the trees. It wIMG_3251as also just a wonderfully cool day to go for a long hike. Once we drove to the top, it was late enough in the afternoon that the crowds had shrank some, and we didn’t even have to wait to park (we were told the wait earlier in the date IMG_3259was over half an hour). The views at the top were phenomenal and we were so happy we had finally reached our ultimate destination. The sky was completely clear. We could make out all kinds of landmarks  – in addition to Fancy Gap, Hanging Rock, Kings Mountain, Winston-Salem, and Greensboro we even were able to see some buildings in the far distance which had to be Durham.

The trail map of what we hiked is below. For anyone passing through, not looking to hike, but with a half hour to spare, I highly recommend driving to the top. You won’t regret it! Or if you have a couple hours, hiking from the campground to the top would be a nice 4-5 mile out. Alternatively, you could actually do the hike we did and take the Grindstone Trail (you pick it up just outside the campground) to the top, so you would really do the entire park, and it would probably be around 9 miles. Sarah and I will definitely be back to this park, not just to witness the views at the top, but there is another section of the park along the Yadkin River that we want to see.

IMG_3270   Hike Info:

  • MapMyFitness Link
  • Starting Point: Entrance to Pilot Mountain State Park Office (1792 Pilot Knob Park Road, PinnacleNC 27043)
  • End Point: Same
  • Length: 6.5 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

On our way home from Pilot Mountain, exhausted from the hike, we decided to check out a new brewery. I’m thinking this whole hiking and brewery combo might become a bit of a theme… The brewery we selected is called Small Batch, and it is in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem. It’s philosophy, as the name suggests, is making small batch beers, focusing on experimentation, rather than focusing on creating staple beers.

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I got a flight. They also were able to provide (pregnant) Sarah with a ginger beer, IMG_3260which she very much enjoyed. Easily my favorite was the Mr. Lemon Man IPA, and the Cucumber Basil Saison was good too – I think I would have enjoyed it even more were it Spring. A little research led me to discovering that the Mr. Lemon Man IPA used to be called Limonhead, and it is a rare beer that they do make over and over again. We also had some very delicious food. Particularly, the pumpkin bread pudding! Overall, we both really enjoyed the atmosphere of this place and the friendliness of the staff. If you find yourself in Winston-Salem and have already done the foothills thing – this is a great place to catch a game, sample some beer, or grab a bite to eat!

Brewery Info: Small Batch Brewery (241 West 5th Street Winston-Salem, NC 27101)

  • Number of Beers: 8 taps, beers continually rotating
  • Favorites: Mr. Lemonhead IPA
  • Prices: The Flight was $8 which I thought was a little high for only 4 beers. Most pints are $5.
  • Food: Gourmet Bar Food

Medoc Mountain State Park

Our quest to visit all of North Carolina’s State Parks took us to Medoc Mountain State Park this Labor Day Weekend. Neither one of us had heard of it, and we both kind of saw why once we got there. It is sort of in middle of nowhere, not near any major highways, and didn’t seem to be very popular. The only other person we saw during our time was the park ranger as we began on our hike.

There are a couple of 5 mile loops in the park and we elected to do the one that ascended Medoc “Mountain” via the Summit Loop Trail. If there was an actual summit at some point, we missed it, so certainly don’t come here expecting to see much of a view. The trails were well maintained though, and the lack of other hikers, gave it more of a secluded feel than most of the hikes we do closer to home. Guessing it’s not always like this, but on the particular day we hiked it was unbelievably humid. Also, along the trail were nickel-sized frogs and bowling-ball sized mushrooms.

Overall we enjoyed the hike, but probably not enough to rush back to this park anytime soon. Mostly because the creek was a little stagnant, and not as interesting to look at as we are used to. Our favorite part of the whole trip actually was the drive to the park, and back home, going through several small NC towns – Henderson, Warrenton, and Louisburg.

Hike Info:

  • MapMyFitness Link
  • Starting Point: Medoc Mountain State Park Office (1541 Medoc Mountain Rd Hollister, NC 27844)
  • End Point: Same
  • Length: 4.75 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 1 Hour, 45 minutes
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Trail Map
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View of the Trail
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Bridge across the Creek

Hillsborough Day – Occoneechee Mountain and Mystery Brewing

Occoneechee Mountain is a very popular hiking destination in the Triangle. While there are only a few miles of trails in this State Park, it has much to offer, including the mighty waters of the Eno and Occoneechee “Mountain” itself – which at 867 feet, boasts the title of the highest point in Orange County.

On this beautiful Saturday in August, we elected to make a full day out of hiking Occoneechee, by ending the hike at Mystery Brewery Company. We also had the fortune of having our dear friends Patrick and Marissa join us for the adventure.

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Riverwalk Overlooking the Eno. Near the Starting Point

We started the hike in downtown Hillsborough, beginning on the Riverwalk, a paved trail along the Eno River. About 500 feet before the Riverwalk trail hits Eno Mountain Road, it turns to a trail, which is currently marked as “closed”. Don’t worry – we had no issues bushwhacking it through. We took Eno Mountain Road across the Eno River, and quickly made a right onto a gravel trail which led us to Occoneechee Mountain State Park. There are several hiking options once at the park. We elected to start along the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail, then take the Brown Elkin Knob Trail to the Cheshnut Oak Trail (with a pit stop atop Occoneechee Mountain), which hits the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail to finish back to where we started. Basically, this enabled us to cover a lot of ground, and still see the top of top of Occconeechee Mountain, which we would have missed had we just done the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail on its own. See the trail map below for specifics.

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Trail Map – Full Map Here

If you haven’t been to Occonneechee yet, you should. The elevation changes make it a truly unique hike in the Triangle, and the view atop Occonneechee isn’t to be missed. If you want to skip the Riverwalk part of the hike, you can make it much shorted, by just starting in the Parking area at the south area of the park.

We exited the park in the same area we started and headed back towards town via Eno Mountain Road, turning on Dimmocks Mill Road, and then Nash Street where Mystery Brewing Company’s “public house” is (you’ll pass the brewery itself on Dimmocks Mill Road, but its not open to the public).

This was probably the 4th time I’d been to Mystery Brewing Company, and each time I’ve been I’ve liked it more than the last. I was unimpressed several years ago when their offerings where limited, and mostly Belgians. They have since grown their offerings, with over a dozen options of continuously changing options available, of all types of beers (though Belgians are still their primary focus). At any given time they have a “Core Four” of four seasonally rotating drafts available, and “Novellas” which continually rotate and are often more experimental in nature. Also a couple of guest taps to boot.

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Mystery Brewing Company’s Draft Offerings

Sarah and I started with a couple of “Cour Four” beers – the Lockwood’s Retreat (IPA), and Evangeline (Summer Saison). Both were quite tasty, but especially the Evangeline – their Saison’s have never let us down. As one of their guest taps they had Wicked Weed’s Pernicious IPA, which we simply couldn’t pass up for our next beer. Patrick was a little more adventurous and tried a Novella – the “Karass”, a Lime Basil Wit. It didn’t hit the mark for any of us, but I do like that they experiment, and I have no doubt someone enjoyed it immensely.

To finish out the hike, we left Mystery Brewing and headed north on Nash until we hit King Street, which we took into town, admiring the historic houses (some dating back to the 18th century) along the way. If you still have time to kill I recommend grabbing some food (and maybe even another beer or two) at The Wooden Nickel, a quaint little beer bar that is my favorite in all of the Triangle. I’ll save a post for that on another day so I have an excuse to go back there!

Hike Info:

  • MapMyFitness Link
  • Starting Point: Parking Deck next to Weaver Street Market (228 S Churton St, Hillsborough, NC 27278)
  • End Point: Same
  • Length: 6.5 Miles
  • Approximate Hiking Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (excluding beer break)

Brewery Info: Mystery Brewing Company (230 S Nash St, Hillsborough, NC 27278)

  • Number of Beers: 14+ – (4 rotating seasonals, 8+ constantly rotating experimental beers, ,2 guest taps)
  • Favorites: Any Saison
  • Prices: Decent ($5 for a pint, $3.50 for a 10 ounce pour).
  • Food: Meat and cheese plates
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Mystery Patio and Euchre Domination