5 Places to Hike Near Raleigh to See Fall Leaves

The mountains get a lot of attention this time of year—but Raleigh boasts a few tourist-worthy spaces for leaf-peeping, too. Here are five easy hikes.
Writing and photographs by Addie Ladner

Can’t head west towards the Blue Ridge Mountains this time of year? Fear not: You don’t have to drive hours to get your fix of those coveted autumn views. We’ve rounded up our favorite Raleigh spots for easy hikes with wonderful fall vantage points of those warm shades of crimson and ochre. With lows in the 50s and highs in the 70s, many people in town agree, Raleigh is a wonderful place to be right now.

Photo by Jon Eakins / Courtesy the Umstead Coalition

William B. Umstead State Park Sals Branch Trail
8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 2761
The Sals Branch Trail is a quick but scenic hike (just under three miles) where you can access Big Lake. For folks wanting to see the bridge, the Sycamore Trail (which can be accessed from the multi-use trail) in the center of the park offers scenic views and is about seven miles long.

Photo by Ali Marjani / Courtesy the Umstead Coalition

Lake Johnson West Loop Trail
4601 Avent Ferry Rd, Raleigh, NC 27606
While the East Loop Trail of this popular park offers paved trails (just under three miles) and a walk along the water, if you’re looking for fewer crowds and a bit more rugged terrain, explore the unpaved west side of Lake Johnson. It’s a short trail at 1.5 miles so doable for little feet or novice hikers. As with all unpaved hikes, however, watch for tree roots!

North Carolina Museum of Art Park and Reedy Creek Greenway Trail
2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607
An oasis for both art and nature lovers. What better backdrop to your autumn walk than the museum’s iconic Gyre rings? Take the paved recreational trails in and out of the museum park while immersing yourself in the various public art installations. For a longer and more strenuous outing, head deeper into the woods where you can access the Reedy Creek Greenway which connects you to loads of other Raleigh spots like Prairie Ridge Ecostation, Umstead Park or the Schenck Forest.

Yates Mill Park High Ridge and Mill Pond Trails
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603
It’s hard to believe this historic spot (and 174 acres) is less than ten minutes from downtown Raleigh. The oldest still-operating water-powered grist mill in Wake County serves as the park’s centerpiece and has you feeling a bit like you’re in the country. The Mill Pond Trail (just one mile) and the High Ridge Trail will allow you to explore some lesser-known areas of the park crossing stone paths, climbing steps and exploring wetlands. Note: Starting in late fall of this year and lasting through the winter, the Creekside Trail will be closed due to maintenance, but the other two remain open.

Photo by Jeff Pettitt / Courtesy of Historic Yates Mill

More walks along the water:
Fall scenes are always amplified when they reflect off the water, giving you a double dose of that color. For walks along the water, try Shelly Lake, Lake Crabtree or Falls Lake.

A little bit farther:
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area Mountain Loop and Overlook Trails
625 Virginia Cates Road, Hillsborough, NC 27278
Enjoy the highest views in the area on the bluffs of Occoneechee Mountain, in Hillsborough after just a short hike through an old oak forest (the Overlook Trail), or add some incline and distance and take the Mountain Loop Trail along the Eno River (just over two miles in distance).