Lake Raleigh: A Hidden Gem

Talk about a hidden gem. It took us 6 years of living in Raleigh before we even knew that Lake Raleigh existed, now it’s one of our favorite lakes in Raleigh, and if you’re searching on your phone for lakes near Raleigh don’t miss this one!

people standing on a board walk next to a body of water
Lake Raleigh jetty

Since then we have walked the lake trail a few times and love going stand up paddle boarding here. When we paddle boarded here last Sunday and headed straight across the lake to the lily pad section, it felt like we were somewhere in Florida, not three miles from downtown Raleigh!

woman paddle boarding on a lake
Paddle boarding bliss

Located in the heart of North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus and surrounded by 96 acres of protected forest, Lake Raleigh is an oasis for NC State students and the general public.

It’s not one of the biggest lakes in Raleigh (75 acres) but so peaceful and far from overcrowded, we basically had it all to ourselves when paddle boarding, there were a few other people fishing and kayaking. 

woman kayaking on a lake

We are making our way around all the best paddle boarding spots in the Triangle, and this one is a gem – there’s an easy launch spot at the boat ramp for non-motorized watercraft, such as kayaks/canoes/paddle boards.

Positioned on the southern side of Centennial Campus (the jetty and car park is near the James B. Hunt Jr. Library if that helps with your bearings), Lake Raleigh Recreation Area offers a picturesque retreat nestled between college buildings, residential space, and the on-campus StateView Hotel (read about our Staycation).

A view of a lake surrounded by trees
StateView Hotel on Lake Raleigh
Lake Raleigh with downtown Raleigh in the distance
Lake Raleigh with downtown Raleigh in the distance

Created as a reservoir for the city of Raleigh in the early 1900s, Lake Raleigh is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown and offers opportunities for walks, picnics, disc golf, fishing, and kayaking/paddle boarding. Its trails are open from dawn until dusk

Fishing is allowed from the two jetty’s or from non-motorized boats, and fish in the lake include largemouth bass and catfish.

Walnut Creek Trail (Lake Raleigh Trail)

Walnut Creek Trail, Raleigh, North Carolina
Walnut Creek Trail around the lake

The paved Walnut Creek Trail follows the northern perimeter of Lake Raleigh for about 1.5 miles (about half the lake) and extends in both directions.

The Walnut Creek Trail is part of the greater Capital Area Greenway System (over 100 miles of paved and unpaved trails) and this trail around Lake Raleigh connects to the Neuse River Trail (0 mile marker), Little Rock Trail, Rocky Branch Trail, and Lake Johnson East and West Loops for a total length of 15.6 miles – I’d love to bike the full length one day!

people walking on a path surrounded by trees and a body of water

It does not loop around the lake (see map) but it’s fully paved and flat, and is just a nice place to go for a leisurely walk, or run/bike ride and escape campus life for students, or escape city life for the wider community. 

A group of people walking on a path in the forest

When looking at the jetty, head to the right along the path towards Avent Ferry Rd and you’ll pass the North Shore residential complex, and cross a nice bridge for photo opportunities, and forestry and wetlands area.

people walking on a bridge surrounded by trees
a bridge surrounded by trees

Walk to the left for nice lake views and past the Centennial Disc Golf Course before coming to the tunnel under Main Campus Drive. 

Apparently Lake Raleigh is a nice place to watch a sunset – on our list for things to come back for a sunset paddle, or maybe a sunset picnic!

Watch our Video of Lake Raleigh

Press play below to watch this short video of Lake Raleigh. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more Raleigh videos.

Park Guidelines

people looking at a lake
  • Lake Raleigh and its trails are open to the public from dawn until dusk.
  • No swimming or wading allowed.
  • Dogs must be kept on a six-foot leash.
  • No alcohol permitted.
  • No overnight camping.

Parking & Access Points:

A large body of water with a city in the background
See the jetty at bottom, and J.B Hunt Library top right
  • NOTE: the small parking lot does require a NC State parking permit (Mon-Fri) we went on a weekend. The small carpark down near the jetty was full, so we unloaded our paddle boards and then parked up the hill on Campus Shore Dr.
  • Main Campus Drive — From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday-Friday, paid parking is available at the nearby Poulton lot on Partners Way. At any other time, free parking on campus is open to the public. After 5 p.m. and all day on weekends, public parking can also be found at the waterfront.
  • Park Alumni Center — Free parking is available all day. The Park Alumni Center is open to the public for lunch and dinner on weekdays.
  • Centennial Campus Middle School — Free parking is available all day.

Have you been to Lake Raleigh? 

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FREE Printable CHECKLIST for all the best things to do in Raleigh  + updates + insider tips. 
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2 thoughts on “Lake Raleigh: A Hidden Gem”

  1. You should check out the mountain biking trails on the other side of the Lake Raleigh near Centennial Campus Middle School.

    Also, biking from the Neuse River to Lake Johnson is pretty awesome. Do it sooner rather than later.

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