When we first moved to Raleigh in 2004 we lived right on Lake Johnson Park in an apartment complex. And I’m so glad we did.
Having easy access we walked around this lake so many times that I feel like I know every turn in the path, every tree, and it quickly became our favorite lake and nature spot in Raleigh.
After a long day at work we would walk around the lake, or just sit on the small beach area by the boat house and relax, or get some gentle exercise on the weekends!
Lake Johnson is peaceful and calming, with plenty of shade and sunny spots and it’s also a great place for getting out on the water, which we love to do with our stand up paddle boards.
If you crave getting back to the water or among the woods, or are looking for relaxation or nature based exercise, check this place out!
A scenic urban lake close to downtown Raleigh, NC State campus, and Cary.
Located near NC State University (and just a 10 minute drive from downtown) it’s a popular lake for students to get active, and for locals living in Raleigh.
So if you’re looking to escape the city, Lake Johnson is a wonderful spot for walking, jogging, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing or just relaxing with a picnic.
For me, it’s one of the best free things to do in Raleigh (or cheap activity if you rent one of the water crafts.)
A “Nature Break” in the woods.
Lake Johnson Park comprises more than 300 acres of land surrounding the 150-acre lake.
There’s a lovely three-mile paved greenway loop around the lake, plus a separate two miles of unpaved trail.
There’s also a 700-foot-long boardwalk across the lake, a boat house, small beach area, and picnic shelters.
In the fall, the leaf colors are beautiful and reflect in the water and it’s our favorite time to come here, but it’s an all-year-round destination.
With all the activities on offer, whether you visit solo, as a couple or as a family, it’s a great place to spend an hour or longer.
You can recharge and reconnect to nature, or work up a sweat. It’s also a beautiful place to start your day in Raleigh with sunrise!
Lake Johnson Activities
At the main entrance (4601 Avent Ferry Rd) there’s a boat house where you can rent canoes, kayaks, sunfish sailboats, stand-up paddle boards and Jon boats.
You can also fish from the boardwalk across the center of the lake.
There are restrooms here, as well as vending machines to purchase drinks/snacks, a nice deck with rocking chairs overlooking the lake and a rentable conference room.
Lake Johnson is divided by Avent Ferry Road which creates two separate walking trails.
East Loop (3 miles paved)
The east side of the lake is the main heavily trafficked trail and where the boat house and main car park is located.
It’s completely paved for the entire 3 miles and has helpful signs and mile markers so you have a good idea of where you are at all times.
This trail is great for a stroll, a casual hike, or a bike ride. It’s mostly wooded with various overlooks of the lake along the path.
If you head clockwise from the boat house, the first half of the trail is flat and easy!
Then after you pass the dam section (which offers a nice view across the lake) and cross the small bridge the second half of the loop becomes more challenging with some hills, two of which require some effort!
If you want to do the harder hilly section first, then head anti-clockwise from the boat house and start by going across the 700-foot-long boardwalk across the lake.
There are plenty of benches along the trail to rest, and it will take you about 1 hour to leisurely stroll the full loop.
You will see all types of people on this trail, and plenty of people walking dogs.
If you don’t like hills, or have young kids and are pushing a stroller, or you are just looking for a stroll, head in the clockwise direction from the boat house to the dam section, then turn around and walk back.
- All dogs must be under control and on a 6-foot leash.
- Pet owners must clean up after their pets.
- Biking is allowed only on the paved greenway and the wood-chip trail leading to the boardwalk at the headwaters of the lake
West Loop (2 miles unpaved)
Across the road from the boat house you’ll see another trail head. This trail is unpaved and a more natural walk in the woods.
The initial section is easy and flat, but then becomes a little more difficult than the eastern side of the lake and more like a hike, therefore isn’t nearly as busy as the paved one.
I think you’re allowed to mountain bike on this trail.
We love stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, it’s one of our favorite family activities, and Lake Johnson is perfect for it – the water is calm and wind has never been an issue.
You can rent:
- Jon Boats ($4 per hour)
- Pedal Boats ($6 per half hour)
- Canoes ($5 per hour)
- Kayaks ($5 per hour)
- Stand up paddle boards ($10 per hour)
Rentals are reasonably priced making for a great cheap activity all the family can enjoy. We find the staff friendly and accommodating and mostly attentive.
The lake is also popular for fishing. Up for grabs are large mouth bass, shell cracker, crappie, bream, catfish and carp.
Call ahead to make sure rentals are open.
On their website it says “Boat rentals may be stopped or postponed at any point during the day for weather, programs, or safety reasons”.
They have 3 different parking lots available, the main lot being at the boat house:
- Main Parking Lot: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd
- South Parking Lot: 5041 Avent Ferry Rd
- Lake Dam Parking Lot: 1320 Lake Dam Rd
During the weekdays you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot at the main lot, except for after work hours in the warmer months.
And weekends especially get busy all day in good weather.
Keep in mind the main parking lot spaces are a little tight. Our Ford F250 truck fits width wise but hangs out into the drive. The other two lots are not as tight.
If you park at the South lot you have a mostly downhill 10-minute walk to the boat house via the 700-foot-long boardwalk.
If you park at the Lake Dam lot, you have a 20-minute walk to the boat house, which is flat and a lovely stroll hugging the lake.
If you park on the road shoulder near the South Lot, police are known to book you.
Getting to Lake Johnson
Easy access off I-40 / I-440 (the belt line). Take exit 295 (Gorman Street).
From downtown Raleigh, you can also take Western Boulevard onto Avent Ferry Road.
From NC State campus, simply take Avent Ferry Road.
- Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd., Raleigh
We love Lake Johnson Park. It’s a great getaway from urban life to go walking, get out on the water, or have a picnic or grill out.
Put it on your list of nature and outdoor activities to do in Raleigh.