21 Of The Best Hiking Spots Near Chapel Hill, Raleigh, & Durham

Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh make up the North Carolina Triangle – a spectacular space for hiking and trails.

This area is full of incredible natural spaces, including forests, lakes and fields. Not only that, but there are a number of mountains and hills that offer plenty of adventure for those who want to visit the area.

21 Jaw-Dropping Hikes Near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

If you have been thinking about hiking in the North Carolina Triangle but are not sure where to start – we’ve got you. This is a lift of some of the best trails to visit if you are ever in the area.

In fact, many of these trails are worth the drive, so you should just visit them anyway!

Before we get into the trails, let’s explore the North Carolina Triangle a little more – what draws people to this area?

Why Is The North Carolina Triangle Such A Great Place For Hiking?

Besides the Triangle having impressive places for filming and arts, the landscape is something that draws thousands to the state every year.

There are breathtaking forests, mountains and rivers that will leave you in awe. This area is as picturesque as you could imagine, and makes for the perfect postcard.

If you are someone who can appreciate nature and the views that this state, and more specifically this area has to offer, you will love every moment.

Additionally, if you want to get some great photographs of nature in action, this is the perfect place for you to be, no matter the time of year.

Wildlife In The North Carolina Triangle

Animal lovers will love this area, too. In the Triangle, you could come across white-tailed deer, black bears, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and even opossums.

There are cardinals, wood ducks, owls, sapsuckers and turkeys spread across this area, too, so packing binoculars is always a good idea if you prefer to keep your eye in the sky.

But that is not all – watch out for Eastern Box Turtles in the shallow ponds and cottonmouth snakes who thrive in swampy areas and lakes.

If you are lucky, you could see a slimy salamander and tree frogs – so there is plenty of reason to stay alert and appreciate nature.

Packing For A Hike

Packing the right equipment for a hike is crucial. You may come into contact with issues you might not foresee, but you have to be prepared for anything.

The time of year will have a strong effect on what you do or do not take with you, but it is better to be over prepared than suffer the consequences of being under-prepared. Some hiking necessities include:

Sunscreen

You want to protect your skin while out hiking, whether it is summer or winter. Even in the winter months, the sun can burn you and cause damage, so no matter the time of year, you need to be well-equipped with sunscreen.

Your sunscreen should be sweat proof, too, since you will probably be working hard on your hikes.

Bug Spray

Since you will be out in nature, nature will probably want to take a bite out of you. Keeping bug spray handy could save you a lot of pain, even in the winter, so always make sure that you have it.

A Water Bottle

This one is obvious, but should still being pointed out for those of you who forget to stay hydrated.

Water is the one thing that will keep you going above all else, so having it available is the most crucial thing you can do for your own wellbeing.

A First Aid Kit And Emergency Blanket

You should always be safe, or one day you might be sorry. Having an emergency blanket and first aid kit could be the things that saves your own or someone else’s life one day.

A Cap Or Brimmed Hat

You need to protect yourself from the sun, and besides sunscreen, wearing a hat that will shield you from the run’s rays is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Breathable Or Airy Hiking Clothes

It is important to dress appropriately for your hikes. For hot weather hikes, you should wear breathable clothes in the form of shorts or t-shirts/tank tops.

If you are hiking in the cold, make sure to layer the clothes on, including woolen under layers, jackets, boots and a waterproof shell to protect yourself from the rain or snow you may experience while outdoors.

A Strong And Durable Day Pack

The backpack you take with you will hold all your gear, food and other necessities. You need to make sure that it is durable and can survive any mishaps that may happen.

Trekking Poles

If you are going to be hiking in a steep area, you may want to consider bringing trekking poles along. You definitely will not need these for every hike, but keeping them in your vehicle would be a good idea.

North Carolina Botanical Garden

If you are looking for something that you, your children and your dog can enjoy, the North Carolina Botanical Garden is the perfect place for you.

This trail is short and sweet, and super easy. The area is family (and dog) friendly and is a stunning mix of nature and education. You can pick your trail and enjoy your walk.

The grounds of the botanical gardens are home to a number of plant and animal species that you can learn more about from the informational plaques in the park.

You can stroll by the picturesque streams as well as the wooden boardwalks, but be sure to take a moment to appreciate the surrounding area and all of its beauty.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 1.3 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 150 feet
  • Located in – Chapel Hill, North Carolina

North Carolina Museum Of Art Trail

There are a number of weird and wonderful trails to pick from at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

These trails are unique, and have outdoor sculptures that will tower above you and give you something a little different to look at.

The Art to Heart Trail is one of the most popular trails in this area, but all trails are great for families, including ones with young children.

You can explore the163 acres of park museum area and immerse yourself in the artistic world around you. There are paved trails that make this place the perfect spot for wheelchair users as well as strollers.

This museum park is one of the most unique urban green spaces that Raleigh has, and is one that should definitely be visited when you have a day off.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 2.2 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 180 feet
  • Located in – Raleigh, North Carolina
American Tobacco Trail
Source: TCLF

American Tobacco Trail

The American Tobacco Trail is a well-loved and highly popular route for hikers, cyclists and even joggers. This trail is almost 22 miles long, but has a number of points where you can loop back to the beginning.

The landscape is not challenging but is altogether stunning nonetheless. On your route, you will make your way through magical forests, waterways and even swamps (look out for cottonmouth snakes).

The trail is a mix of dirt and gravel in some areas, while others are paved. This trail gives you the perfect opportunity to get yourself into nature without straying too far from Durham.

If you are looking for a peaceful and scenic hiking route that will not be too strenuous for you or anyone else, the American Tobacco Trail is the one for you.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 21.9 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 613 feet
  • Located in – Durham, North Carolina
Neuse River Greenway

Neuse River Greenway

The Neuse River Greenway is the perfect trail for you if you want to see some wildlife, including white-tailed deer, birds and turtles.

This idyllic area is another highly popular trail. This is because although it is long, it is a very enjoyable walk (or cycle) and allows you to feel at one with nature.

It is accessible, with paved sidewalks and dirt paths that take you through forests, as well as beside rivers and farmland.

You can pass over boardwalks and stop to appreciate the flow of the rivers, and all the surrounding wildlife.

Do not expect too much peace and quiet, though – this is a popular trail, so you will never be too far from other families or people.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 27.2 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 562 feet
  • Located in – Wake Forest, North Carolina

Hemlock Bluffs

There are several trails to pick from at Hemlock Bluffs. They are all great for beginners, or those who do not want to break too much of a sweat on their day out.

This park is full of stunning forest scenery, as well as overlook points and wooden boardwalks. The most popular trails in this park are the Chestnut Oak and the Swift Creek Trails, but there are many more to choose from.

If you are up to it, you can even take on several trails in a day, since they are short and very pleasant. If you do get tired, though, there are picturesque places to take a break in the sun or shade, so everyone will be happy.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 1.8 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 173 feet
  • Located in – Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, Apex, North Carolina

Al Buehler Trail

One of the most popular hikes around Durham is found in the Duke Forest. This forest is owned by Duke University, but is open to nature-lovers and spreads over 7,000 acres.

In this forest, you can find the Al Buehler Trail. Here, you can mosey around the easy, flat paths that wind through a beautiful wooded area.

There is little else to see other than the simple beauty of nature, but it is peaceful and quiet.

This is one of the most peaceful and idyllic trails you can find in the area, so if you want some time to yourself or simply want to take a moment to listen and be with nature, this trail is a great choice.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 2.9 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 159 feet
  • Located in – Duke Forest, Durham, North Carolina
Carolina North Forest
Source: Alltrails

Carolina North Forest

Looking for a peaceful place to bring your dogs on your day off? Stop off at Carolina North Forest. Here, you can wander around and take in the sights of nature.

Although there are few overlooks or landmarks in the area, there is no need for them. It is easy to enjoy this park just because of how tranquil and beautiful it is.

The short trail will take you through the woods and give you some breathtaking views of the lakes.

This 3-mile walk gives you the opportunity to take a step away from the bustle of city life and allows you to breathe in the fresh air of the forest, as well as potentially see some local wildlife.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 2.3 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 206 feet
  • Located in – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Horton Grove Nature Preserve
Source: Naturefind

Horton Grove Nature Preserve

If you are looking for a place where you can sit with your thoughts, Horton Grove Nature Preserve will allow you to do just that.

This site was once one of the biggest plantations located in North Carolina. Now, however, the Black people and families who once worked on the plantation are now commemorated instead, and the plantation is there to serve as a reminder of the dark history.

Trails that are located on the land are named after the slave families that were forced to work on the plantation and offer visitors a place to clear their mind and reflect.

Here, you can also learn more about the surrounding wildlife and nature that has taken the land back since its plantation days.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 7.1 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 416 feet
  • Located in – Bahama, North Carolina
Shelley Lake

Shelley Lake

This trail is virtually flat and super easy. The hike will take you around the Shelley Lake, allowing you to have continuous views of the calm waters as you wander.

The trail is only 2.2 miles long, so is suitable for anyone and will be enjoyable even in the colder months. Some areas of the trail will take you through wooded areas and forest, as well as by the creek.

That is not all, though – keep walking, and you will pass through a tunnel in no time.

Since the trail predominantly travels with the shape of the lake, there are great opportunities for birdwatching if you get there early enough, too.

It is a very accessible area, and one that is suitable for anyone who wants to try out a short but sweet walk.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 2.2 miles
  • Total elevation gain – minor / flat
  • Located in – Shelley Sertoma Park, Raleigh, North Carolina
Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
Source: Alltrails

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve is home to many easy yet enjoyable trails. The trails in this preserve connect with each other, so you will have plenty to choose from and even change your mind frequently.

Here, you can walk the 4 miles of trail through forests and past creeks. Anyone can make the journey since the hike is super easy, with no challenging areas.

You can spend a few hours taking in the sights of the trees, local wildlife, creeks and stunning open fields.

This preserve is extremely diverse but is great for families or anyone who does not want to work too hard to see the beauty of nature.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 4 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 187 feet
  • Located in – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail

Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail

This trail is perfect for the NASCAR lovers of the world. The Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail is located on a NASCAR track and gives you the chance to appreciate enjoy two passions.

This area has now largely reclaimed by nature, but the car skeletons, dirt track and old bleachers are still there. If you do not feel like staring at the remnants of vehicles, there are also beautiful views of rivers to find and enjoy.

You can also learn more about the site’s history through the plaques that are dotted around, which will also further explain the racetrack and all that went on.

Feel free to visit this Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail with your whole family, including your dogs.

  • Difficulty level – beginner level / easy
  • Length of trail – 1.3 miles
  • Total elevation gain – minimal / flat
  • Located in – Hillsborough, North Carolina
Falls Lake State Recreation Area
Source: Alltrails

Falls Lake State Recreation Area

The search for peace and serenity will bring you to the Falls Lake State Recreation Area near Raleigh and Durham.

This trail is not as well known as other urban trails, so if you are hoping for some time to yourself, you may get just that.

Falls Lake State Recreation Area trail will take you along the lake’s shoreline, so you will get plenty of amazing water views on your adventure.

You may get the chance to see the local wildlife, including the birds that call the lake their home.

If you do not feel like the 8.3 miles is enough for you, you can continue onto the Mountains to Sea Trail, which joins the Falls Lake route, so you can stay out for as long or short as you want.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 8.3 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 488 feet
  • Located in – Falls Lake State Recreation Area, Durham, North Carolina
Piney Mountain Trail
Source: Alltrails

Piney Mountain Trail

Looking for a trail that is so fun you could do it over and over again? Head to the Piney Mountain Trail, located in Duke Forest, Durham.

This trail is a little more challenging than the ones previously mentioned, but is still great for people who are beginners and want to learn.

Piney Mountain Trail is a favorite, so there are almost always people out on the trail enjoying their hikes, but do not let that put you off.

Here, you can hike through beautiful forests, enjoy some stunning river views and make your way past some rocky areas.

There is the opportunity to do scrambling here, too. Do not worry, though – the scrambling on this trail section is small and is suitable for beginners, so it is a great place to learn the skill.

The wildlife is another great attraction in this area, as you will more than likely come across a number of animals on your fun day out.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 3.6 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 255 feet
  • Located in – Duke Forest, Durham, North Carolina
White Pines Nature Preserve
Source: Alltrails

White Pines Nature Preserve

This intermediate trail is 2.5 miles loop and is beginner-friendly, as long as that beginner does not mind some minor elevation gain.

You can get some incredible views of the river on this trail, since it rests at the Rocky River and Deep River confluence.

The trail will take you to higher ground, giving you the chance to get some amazing views of the water below, as well as being surrounded by an endless ocean of trees.

You can bring your dog with you, too, as long as they are kept on a leash for everyone’s safety. While on the trail, you can also stop to do some fishing and bird watching.

This is a lovely place to get away from the city and even bring your kids, as long as they have the energy to make the trip.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 2.5 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 269 feet
  • Located in – White Pines Nature Preserve, Sanford, North Carolina
Umstead State Park

Umstead State Park

Umstead State Park offers a great day out that can also be taken as a learning opportunity. Here, there are several trails to pick from, so you will not run out of routes any time soon.

It is one of this area’s most popular hiking areas within the Triangle, and it is not hard to see why.

The Company Mill Loop trail is a well-used route that will take you though over five and a half miles of historical land, along with 600 feet of elevation.

On this trail, you will come across historical remnants of the industrial past of North Carolina. These ruins, along with the iron bridge, are the two main attractions of the trail and are hugely popular for visitors.

Spending the day here will not only bring you closer to the beauty of nature, but also open your eyes to the history of the area.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – various trails ranging from 2 to 7 miles long
  • Total elevation gain – up to 600 feet on some trails
  • Located in – Umstead State Park, Raleigh, North Carolina
Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

New Hope Trail

If you want to experience some breathtaking lake views, the New Hope Trail may be your new favorite trail in North Carolina.

Here, you will walk the trail on the shore of Lake Jordan, one of the most stunning lakes in the state. You will come across forests and a variety of wildlife both on the lake and off as you wander along this trail.

The minor elevation gain of 557 feet means that, although this 4.9-mile trail is easy, you will also get your daily exercise in.

Despite being labelled as intermediate, the New Hope Trail is great for beginners. All you need is some stamina to get you through it, though there are plenty of places to take a break and take in the lake views.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 4.9 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 557 feet
  • Located in – Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, New Hill, North Carolina
Cox Mountain Trail
Source: Alltrails

Cox Mountain Trail

Cox Mountain Trail is a beautiful trail that offers some variety. Here, you can traverse the suspension bridge and listen to the river flowing below you and take on the elevation changes throughout the route.

You will pass by rapids and get some beautiful views of the river, along with the local wildlife. This area is also great for other activities such as horseback riding, fishing and camping, so if you can stay overnight.

Dogs can be brought here, too, as long as they are kept on their leash. This trail is a great choice for families and those who just want to take a moment to listen to the surrounding sounds.

If you do not feel like one trail is enough for you – don’t worry! There are plenty of other trails that can be enjoyed in Eno River State Park.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 3.8 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 367 feet
  • Located in – Eno River State Park, Durham, North Carolina
Hollow Rock Trail
Source: Alltrails

Hollow Rock Trail

This trail is a three and a half hour drive from the state capital, but worth every minute you need to wait. The Hollow Rock Trail is a well-marked and stunning trail that will take you through forests up to a rocky precipice.

There, you will be able to overlook the surrounding area, including the mountains that sit not too far away. That isn’t all, though. You will get the chance to see some amazing bluffs and rock formations on your journey, too.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can go rock-climbing here, so you will not run out of activities in this stunning recreation area.

By the end of the trail, if you do not feel like 3.1 miles is enough for you, there are other trails you can enjoy so that you can extend your hike for as long as you want.

Because of the unique landscapes, Hollow Rock Trail provides some incredible opportunities if you enjoy nature photography.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 3.1 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 688 feet
  • Located in – Rocky Face Mountain Recreation Area, Taylorsville, North Carolina
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Source: Alltrails

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

This trail is one of the best areas to visit during the fall. The color of the leaves as they change is captivating, as are the remarkable views.

Here, you can get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area and get some cool pictures of the rock formations.

You will end up on a small mountaintop with a rocky ridgeline where you can gaze at the treetops and land in the distance.

There are plenty of opportunities for fun on this trail, including traversing areas full of thick roots and stairs.

If you like to experience a number of different things while out on a hike, the mix that this trail offers is perfect.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 2.7 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 387 feet
  • Located in – Hillsborough, North Carolina
Dutchman’s Creek Trail
Source: Alltrails

Dutchman’s Creek Trail

If you have come here looking for a strenuous hike, this one is for you. Dutchman’s Creek Trail is located a 2-hour drive from Raleigh, but will be worth it.

This trail takes you through some beautiful forested areas and will challenge you with elevation gain (1,637 feet!) and rocky outcrops.

You can spend the whole day on this trail and even stay the night and camp (ensure that you follow the rules you need to follow for backcountry camping).

Backpacking in the forest is a popular pastime, too, so make sure you pack everything you might need!

You can bring your canine complain here, too, as long as they are kept on a leash. This is a trail you do not want to miss if you are looking for a more challenging trail in the Triangle.

  • Difficulty level – difficult
  • Length of trail – 12.1 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 1,637 feet
  • Located in – Uwharrie National Forest, North Carolina
Durant Nature Preserve
Source: Alltrails

Durant Nature Preserve

This preserve is known to be an extremely popular hiking areas close to Raleigh, do not expect to come here and be alone.

Here, you will get to see some amazing forest canopies mixed with breathtaking lakefront views. The lake water is often so still that it turns into a perfect mirror, reflecting the trees to a near perfect degree.

Because of this, Durant Nature Preserve is highly popular among photographers, especially at sunrise and sunset and fall, when the colors are outstanding.

The trail itself has some rocky areas but is not too challenging. The lake also provides great opportunities for birdwatching and relaxing away from the city.

  • Difficulty level – intermediate
  • Length of trail – 2.5 miles
  • Total elevation gain – 180 feet
  • Located in – Durant Nature Preserve, Raleigh, North Carolina

Final Thoughts On Hiking In The North Carolina Triangle

The North Carolina Triangle (Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh) offer some breathtaking hiking trails if you know where to look.

Whether you are a beginner, or prefer a challenge, there are trails here for you to enjoy and try out.

There and landscapes that will take your breath away, including mountains, forests and swamps, and they are all worth exploring.

If you are lucky, you may come across various animals, too, and maybe even snap a photograph or two along the way.

Why not check out one (or more) of these beautiful hiking trails the next time you find yourself in North Carolina?

Emily Winters