Visit Historic Yates Mill County Park for Tranquility & History

I have no idea why it took us 8+ years of living in Raleigh for us to visit the Historic Yates Mill County Park but we finally visited last Sunday and thoroughly enjoyed it.

A house with trees in the background
Yates Mill

If you love learning about local history, and walking nature trails that make you feel like you’re a million miles away (but you’re only a 10-minute drive from downtown), then put Yates Mill County Park on your list of things to do in Raleigh.

Yep, it’s hard to believe that Yates Mill Park is just off I-40 along Lake Wheeler Road and only 4.8 miles from downtown Raleigh

people walking on a bridge across a body of water
Mill Pond Trail

This 174-acre wildlife park features hiking trails, the Historic Yates Mill, and the mill’s 24-acre pond which is fed by Steep Hill Creek. 

If you have a few hours spare and are looking for nature based things to do, consider coming to one of the top attractions in Raleigh. This is what’s on offer. 

The Historic Mill Building

An old wooden house with trees in the background
The Mill

The centerpiece of the park is of course, the Historic Yates Mill. The Mill and the property surrounding it were purchased in 1963 by NC State University.

The Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was restored to working order through a grassroots community effort by 2005.

This mill served Wake County as a water-powered mill for more than 200 years, and of the 70 gristmills that served Wake County, Yates Mill is the only one still in operating condition. 

This 18th century mill was restored via a partnership with the county, Yates Mill Associates, NC State University and NCDA & CS. 

The mill contains multiple generations of milling technology and displays the evolution of early industries in the Piedmont of North Carolina. 

A body of water surrounded by trees
Distant view of the mill across Mill Pond

The water-powered gristmill was an important economic and social center for residents from colonial times through the early 1900s and provided the important service of grinding corn and wheat into meal and flour.

In “normal times”, guided tours are available March through November with corn-grinding demonstrations by costumed interpreters on the third weekend of each month. All tour revenue directly supports the mill’s upkeep and operations.

NOTE: Tours of the old mill and corn-grinding demonstrations are on hold due to the pandemic. Keep an eye on their website for updates. 

There is a small fee for all guided tours ($5 for Adults; $3 for Children ages 7–16) and all proceeds are given to the non-profit Yates Mill Associates and directly support the mill’s maintenance and operations.

Hiking Trails

Millpond Trail (0.8 miles)

people sitting on a wooden bench in front of a lake
Overlooking the pond

The Yates Mill Pond Trail is a 0.8 mile moderately trafficked loop trail and perfect for families and all fitness levels, and is accessible year-round.

Starting at the AE Finley Center, we headed clockwise towards Yates Mill on the gravel pathway to take some photos, then continued on across the creek and around the lake.

A person sitting on a bench next to a body of water

There’s several viewpoints along the way, and benches for resting on. 

Creekside Trail (1 Mile)

people walking across a bridge
Creekside Trail

The other trail we walked was the Creekside Trail. We continued on from the Millpond Trail at the Wetlands boardwalk bridge (about three miles in total to combine both trails).

We liked that the Creekside Trail took you deeper into the forest and over wooden planks through the “swampy” area along the Steep Hill Creek floodplain, and past the open fields of NC State’s 329 acre dairy farm (don’t miss their ice cream shop, see down below for details).

A large green field with trees in the background

Creekside trail is a lightly trafficked out and back trail with a short loop at the end, and is also accessible year-round.

High Ridge Trail (0.8 Mile)

We’ll have to go back and do this trail which  travels along the ridges above the pond through mixed old field pine, hardwood forests and north-facing bluffs. 

NOTE: All trails close a half-hour before sunset. You can pick up a copy of the Tree Identification Trail brochure at the Finley Center (when opened). 

Video: Historic Yates Mill County Park

Watch this short video to see the beauty of these two trails at Historic Yates Mill County Park. Subscribe to our YouTube.

A.E. Finley Center for Education and Research

Unfortunately at the time of our visit (May 2021), The Education Wing of the A.E. Finley Center is currently closed due to the ongoing pandemic (check their website for updates) so we’ll have to go back and check this place out another time.

This Education & Research center houses a 2,200 square-foot exhibit hall containing artifacts and interpretive panels on local history, agriculture and the environment. It also features fun interactive activities including a historic dress-up corner. 

Plus there’s an auditorium, classrooms and staff offices. NC State University conducts biological studies in the center’s Research Wing. 

Typically open 7 days per week, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the visitor center is FREE.

You can enjoy an excellent view of the pond and mill from a rocking chair on the building’s back porch.

Fishing Rules & Regulations

people standing in front of a body of water

Fishing is allowed from the Pond Boardwalk and upper boardwalk only. All baits except minnows are allowed. 

Note: all North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Rules and Regulations apply; adults must have a NC fishing license.

  • There is a one-pole limit per fisherman on the pond.
  • As of January 1, 2007, everyone 16 years of age or older is required to possess a state fishing license, no matter the type of bait being used and place of residence. 
  • No cast nets.
  • Fishermen must clean up any trash, fishing tackle and fishing line left behind at the end of their fishing trip.


Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park and available on a first-come, first-served basis if you’d like to enjoy a picnic. There are no available grills, and open flame is prohibited in the park.

Don’t Miss Howling Cow Ice Cream

Did you know they make ice cream on campus at NC State University? When you visit Yates Mill, don’t miss stopping in at Howling Cow and rewarding your kids, or yourself, with a refreshing ice cream just a few hundred yards up the road from the mill.

With a 329-acre dairy farm and a nationally recognized food science program, NC State’s Howling Cow make delicious ice cream on campus in the Feldmeier Dairy Processing Lab, part of the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Science.

Howling Cow Ice Cream, Raleigh. NC
Enjoy your treat on the porch

Our kids loved their mud pit sundae and banana split. Cool porch area too. Address: 100 Dairy Ln, Raleigh (off Lake Wheeler Rd). The milk and cream come directly from over 300 NC State cows on their farm in Raleigh.

Yates Mill Details:

  • Address: 4620 Lake Wheeler Rd, Raleigh
  • Website: click here

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