Why Lake Johnson Is Our Favorite Lake In Raleigh (Walk, Kayak, Relax)

When we first moved to Raleigh back in 2004, we lived right on Lake Johnson Park in an apartment complex. And I’m so glad that we did.

A woman walking across a bridge over a body of water
700-foot-long boardwalk

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.

Lake Johnson, Raleigh

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. It’s our favorite of all the lakes in Raleigh and one of the best kid-friendly trails in Raleigh.

Where Is Lake Johnson Park?


Lake Johnson Park is a scenic urban lake close to downtown Raleigh, NC State campus, and Cary. Being located near NC State University (and just a 10-minute drive from downtown) makes it a popular lake for students to get active, and for locals living in Raleigh.

Getting to Lake Johnson

Lake Johnson Park, Raleigh

Easy access off I-40 / I-440 (the belt line). Take exit 295 (Gorman Street). Then, simply follow Avent Ferry Road which takes you straight into the park.

From downtown Raleigh, you can also take Western Boulevard onto Avent Ferry Road. And from NC State campus, simply take Avent Ferry Road. 

You will find parking on the South side of Avent Ferry Road, across the lake, as well as on the East side of the lake by Thea Lane.



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.

Warning: If you park on the road shoulder near the South Lot, police are known to book you.

Why Visit Lake Johnson Park? A “Nature Break” in the woods

Lake Johnson Park, Raleigh, NC

Lake Johnson Park comprises more than 300 acres of land surrounding the 150-acre lake. The park is part of the Raleigh Greenway system and includes natural surface trails as well as paved trails and a nature preserve.

There’s a lovely three-mile paved greenway loop around the lake, plus a separate two miles of unpaved trail. Biking is allowed only on the greenway trails.

There’s also a 700-foot-long boardwalk across the lake, a boat house, small beach area, and picnic shelters with picnic tables.

lake johnson raleigh nc 5

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.

So if you’re looking to escape the city, Lake Johnson Park is one of the wonderful parks in Raleigh and a top spot for walking, jogging, biking, kayaking, paddleboats, 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.) And we love visiting here in the fall.

Woman walking a greenway trail in the Fall
Lake Johnson Park

With all the activities the park offers, and 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!

Sunrise at Lake Johnson, Raleigh

Lake Johnson Activities

Whether you’re looking for a scenic walk, a space to reel in the variety of fish in the lake, or you want to take out a paddle boat, there is so much to see and do at Lake Johnson…

Visit the Boat House

A bridge over a body of water
The boat house

At the main entrance (4601 Avent Ferry Rd) there’s a boat house where you will find all the outdoor facility rentals, so be sure to check it out.

If you like fishing, the lake is great for fishing of largemouth bass, shell cracker, crappie, bream, catfish and carp. Free admission but fishing regulations apply; fee for boat launch and rod rental.

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.

The boat house has special events, public programs, recreational opportunities for the entire family as well as concessions.

Go Bird Watching

Lake Johnson Park is a perfect destination for avid bird watchers and nature enthusiasts. The 300 acres of serene woodland is the perfect home for Osprey, Bald Eagles and many other wildlife to thrive.

Birding enthusiasts have said to have spotted Canada geese, Cormorants, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Red-tailed hawks, Ruddy ducks, Sparrows and Broad-winged hawks in the park. As well as this, you can also find small turtles living in the lake.

Visit the Swimming Pool

Although you cannot swim in the lake, there is an outdoor swimming pool which opens every summer. The pool also features a spray ground and wading pool, which is perfect for kids who need a bit more entertainment.

Kayak, SUP, Canoe on the Lake

A small boat in a body of water surrounded by trees
Caz and Savannah kayaking

We love stand up paddle boarding and kayaking in Raleigh, 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. 

Lake Johnson, Raleigh, North Carolina
A man stand up paddle boarding on a lake

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.

people kayaking on a lake

The lake is also popular for fishing. Up for grabs are large mouth bass, shell cracker, crappie, bream, catfish and carp.

Hot Tip:

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”. 

VIDEO….Watch Us Explore Lake Johnson

Press play below to watch the short video of us exploring Lake Johnson. And then Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more Raleigh videos.

Lake Johnson Trails

Lake Johnson is divided by Avent Ferry Road which creates two separate walking trails. Below are our favorite park trails…

East Loop (3 miles paved)

people walking on a hiking trail through the forest

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!

A group of people standing next to a body of water
View from the dam section

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.

A group of people in a forest road

Hot Tip:

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

Click play to see the beauty of the Lake Johnson paved trail in the Fall:

West Loop (2 miles unpaved)

A tree next to a body of water

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. And it’s beautiful.

A bench next to a body of water
woman walking across a bridge
people walking through a forest

FAQs About Visiting Lake Johnson Park

Here is what people usually ask us about visiting Lake Johnson Park:

How long is the walk around Lake Johnson?

If you want to walk around the whole lake, it’s 7.2-km and will take roughly 1.5 hours.

Does Lake Johnson have bathrooms?

Yes, there are restrooms at the Waterfront Center.

Is Lake Johnson a man made lake?

Yes, it was built in 1952 along with the surrounding park.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Lake Johnson

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 grills out. Put it on your list of nature and outdoor activities to do in Raleigh.

  • Address: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd., Raleigh
  • Website

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