17 Wonderful Parks in Raleigh, NC, to get to know Raleigh

We are lucky to have many excellent parks in Raleigh, and a great way to get a real feel for the city of Raleigh is enjoying the parks and all the recreational activities they have to offer. 

Pullen Park, Raleigh, NC
Pullen Park, Raleigh

If you’ve ever wondered, what is Raleigh famous for, well, Raleigh is well known for being the “City of Oaks” for its sheer number of majestic oak trees which line the city streets, and one of the other things you will immediately notice when you visit Raleigh is how GREEN it is. 

Besides the beautiful parks, we have wonderful wooded neighborhoods, pretty lakes, and a 100+ mile Capital Area Greenway System of trails, so Raleigh is a great place for those who like to be active and out in nature!

Dorothea Dix Park
Dorothea Dix Park

Let me point out that this post is about Raleigh parks that include beautiful lakes, trails, history, art, amusements and fields, not kids playgrounds! There is also a ton of good playgrounds in Raleigh and if you’d like to learn about them check out this resource list by the folks over at Fun4RaleighKids.com

But if you’re searching on your phone for parks near me, below is my personal list of what I think are the best parks in Raleigh to experience a range of outdoor fun and activities for the whole family!

Pullen Park (especially for kids)

Pullen Park, Raleigh

One of the top Raleigh attractions for kids is historic Pullen Park, which dates back to 1887 and happened to be the first public park in North Carolina, and is the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the US. In my opinion, any list of parks in Raleigh has to start with Pullen Park.

Located on 66-acres of land near NC State University and just a five-minute drive from downtown Raleigh, at Pullen Park you can ride a historic carousel and miniature train, rent pedal boats, let the kids run free on the playgrounds, have a picnic or grill out in one of the picnic areas, see a play, or use the sports fields or tennis courts to play your favorite sport.

Pullen Park carousel, Raleigh
Pullen Park carousel

So if you’re looking for amusement parks in Raleigh for young kids, don’t miss this park and be sure to read our full guide to Pullen Park.

William B. Umstead State Park (for nature lovers)

Sal's Branch Trail, Umstead State Park

Curious if there are any State parks in Raleigh? One of the highlights of living in Raleigh is having easy access to an awesome state park just 15-minutes drive from downtown Raleigh.

If you love nature trails through the forest, biking, trail running, picnicking, camping, canoeing, and horseback riding, put Umstead State Park on your list.

Umstead State Park
Umstead State Park

With more than 5,000 acres of forest, Umstead is one of North Carolina’s most visited state parks and a natural oasis surrounding three man made lakes with easy access from I-40 and I-70. 

For families, we especially love the 2.8 mile loop Sal’s Branch Trail. 

sals branch trail william umstead state park 2
Sal’s Branch Trail

Dorothea Dix Park

Dorothea Dix Park
Dorothea Dix Park

If you happen to be wondering, what is the biggest park in Raleigh, that distinction goes to Dorothea Dix Park which is set on a whopping 300+ acres and located just 5-minutes south of downtown. 

Dix park is a lovely space with wide-open fields, rolling meadows, and tree-lined streets and offers many vantage points with impressive skyline views of the city. Dix also plays host to numerous events and festivals, including the Dreamville Festival, the field of sunflowers and Falling for Local.

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Field of sunflowers at Dix Park

Excitingly, the City of Raleigh has bigger plans for a transformative public space at Dix Park – think mini Central Park in NYC.

Mordecai Historic Park (for history lovers)

Mordecai Historic Park
Mordecai Historic House

At the Northern end of one of our favorite streets in Raleigh, N Person Street, you’ll find Mordecai Historic Park, once known as the largest plantation in Wake County and home to many interesting pieces of North Carolina history.

Here you can see the Mordecai Historic House, the oldest residence in Raleigh still on its original foundation, and the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President.

mordecai historic park raleigh nc 7
Birthplace of Andrew Johnson

Begin your visit at the Visitor Center (a short walk from the parking area which lines Mimosa Street) where you’ll find tour tickets and park information, as well as the gift shop and meeting space.

Lake Johnson Park (for lake lovers)

lake johnson raleigh nc 2
Lake Johnson boathouse

Located near NC State University, Lake Johnson is one of our absolute favorite things to do in Raleigh and definitely our favorite of the lakes in Raleigh. When we first moved to the city in 2004 we lived on Lake Johnson for four years and we take all our first time visitors here.

Just a 10-minute drive from downtown, Lake Johnson Park is also popular for University students and locals who like to get active. There’s a fantastic paved three-mile loop around the eastern side of the lake, plus two miles of unpaved trail around the western side. 

Lake Johnson
700-foot-long boardwalk

At the boathouse you can rent canoes, kayaks, sunfish sailboats, stand-up paddle boards and jon boats. Or you can fish from the 700-foot-long boardwalk across the center of the lake.

Read our full review of Lake Johnson

Moore Square Park (for city park lovers)

Moore Square, downtown Raleigh
Moore Square

In the heart of the city, Moore Square is a four-acre urban green space, and since 1792, Moore has been a place of gathering, reflection, entertainment, and recreation for the citizens and was originally conceived as one of five public green spaces for the City of Raleigh. 

The square and surrounds is a charming mix of old and new in downtown Raleigh, and a nice place to hangout on a sunny day.

Moore Square, downtown Raleigh
Large open grass area

You’ll find a large open lawn area, magnificent oak trees, a shaded “tree house” area for kids, 30-foot-wide sidewalks on the edge of the park, and a small splash pad for kids during the warmer months.

Lake Crabtree County Park

Lake Crabtree, Raleigh

Located on a 215-acre site and adjacent to a 520-acre lake, Lake Crabtree County Park has more than 16-miles of trails and the park is great for hikers, kayakers and mountain bikers. 

The Lake Trail is a six-mile loop that meanders it’s way around the lake. Other activities include picnicking, playgrounds, catch-and-release fishing, and seasonal boating. And the pontoon area is a great spot to catch the sunset in Raleigh. 

Sunset at Lake Crabtree, Raleigh
Sunset at Lake Crabtree

John Chavis Memorial Park (for kids and history lovers)

John Chavis Memorial Park, Raleigh
Playground at Chavis Park

More Raleigh history and fun for the kids can be found at John Chavis Memorial Park which opened in 1937 as a recreational facility for African-American residents. Raleigh’s city council no longer wanted Black residents visiting the existing Pullen Park and mixing with Raleigh’s white residents.

This 37 acre park was a vibrant place for Black Americans to come together and enjoy its facilities, including a swimming pool and famous 1923 carousel (which you can still ride today).

It was named after John Chavis, a free Black man who fought in the Revolutionary War. As a teacher and activist, he opened schools for both black and white children throughout Wake and Orange counties.

John Chavis Memorial Park
Community center

In 2016, John Chavis Memorial Park was added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places and the park has recently undergone a huge renewal project with a new community center, central plaza, and playground (that people rave about), as well as renovations to the original carousel building. 

Fred Fletcher Park (for anyone, really)

Fred Fletcher Park
Image by Raleighnc.gov

This 21-acre Raleigh park sits on the former home of the Methodist Home for Children and was purchased by the City in 1982. 

A tranquil park offering a water garden, walking paths, a playground, sport fields and courts, and an amphitheater. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic.

The water garden and wetland is an aesthetically pleasing garden with a variety of evergreen and perennial plant species, and the ecosystem for this area of the park for butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, ducks, and other animal species

This is one of the cool urban parks in the area, and parking is available at 820 Clay Street and 805 Washington Street

Ann & Jim Goodnight Park (for art lovers) 

BIKING THE ART TO HEART TRAIL (NC MUSEUM OF ART – DOWNTOWN RALEIGH)

Another of the top attractions in Raleigh is the NC Museum of Art, and within it lies the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, a 164-acre park and trail system through natural areas that features more than a dozen commissioned works of art. 

Designed for hiking, walking, and jogging only, the unpaved natural trails allow visitors to deeply experience art and nature – cyclists and self-propelled wheeled vehicles may travel on the paved trails only.

The park connects art, nature, and people and features temporary and permanent public art installations by international artists, miles of recreational trails, and a terraced pond.

NC Museum of Art
Gyre rings

Picnic near the iconic trio of Gyre rings, relax on the Ellipse lawn, bike and jog along the Capital Area Greenway and wooded trails, or participate in recreational programs and performing arts. 

NOTE: one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh is the Art to Heart bike trail, a 6-mile trail from the Museum of Art to downtown Raleigh (not a loop).

Historic Yates Mill County Park (more history and nature)

Historic Yates Mill

If you love learning about local history and walking along nature trails, then put Yates Mill County Park on your list of parks in Raleigh NC. 

There’s lovely hiking trails, a 24-acre pond, and the Historic Yates Mill that make up this 174-acre wildlife refuge and environmental resource center. The Historic Yates Mill is the last remaining water-powered gristmill in Wake County.

Historic Yates Mill.

Admission is free, but to tour the mill to learn about the “farm-to-fork” process, witness the corn grinding process and purchase bags of ground yellow and white cornmeal will cost $3-$5 (March through Nov.). 

Read our full review. 

Shelley Lake Park (for an easy stroll)

shelley lake park 5

An easy 2-mile paved scenic Greenway trail is the highlight of Shelley Lake Park and loops around the lake. This lake is popular with locals in North Raleigh, and better for walkers and runners than cyclists at peak times.

Also on offer at this park are basketball courts, a playground for younger kids, and a fishing pier. 

shelley lake park 14

The Sertoma Arts Center has classes and workshops in painting, drawing, photography, pottery, performing arts, and more. The arts center also offers exhibits, studio spaces, group support, and community outreach.

Read our review: Shelley Lake Park loop trail

Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden (for rose lovers)

Rose Garden

As one of three accredited rose gardens in North Carolina, the grounds of the Raleigh Municipal Rose Garden include sixty rose beds surrounded by an arboretum of evergreen and deciduous trees.

In the summer months, a free outdoor movie series is a local-favorite. And every year (in non-pandemic times) they host Art in the Garden, the annual arts festival benefiting Raleigh Little Theater. 

The Raleigh Rose Garden is open to the public 7 days a week.

JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State (for garden lovers)

JC Raulston Arboretum
Image by VisitRaleigh.com

Speaking of gardens, this nationally acclaimed garden has one of the largest and most diverse collections of landscape plants in the Southeast.

The JC Raulston Arboretum is a 10-acre arboretum and botanical garden administered by North Carolina State University. Here you can stroll through 10 acres of gardens with 5,000 plants collected from all over the world on display. 

JC Raulston Arboretum
Image credit: JC Raulston Arboretum

It is open daily to the public without charge and is located in west Raleigh near the NC State Fairgrounds, two miles west of the NC State University’s main campus.

Anderson Point Park (for nature lovers)

Anderson Point Park
Image from Raleighnc.gov

Anderson point offers a variety of habitats for wildlife viewing, walking trails and canoe sites, and is home to the enchanting historic Anderson Family Homestead. 

There are lots of natural wonders to see at the park including animal tracks, rivers, creeks and squirrels. There’s also a playground and several picnic shelters. 

Anderson Point is a great starting off point to do a section of the Neuse River Trail, one of the most well-known of the Raleigh trails and is an overall 27-mile paved trail stretching from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County border in southeast Raleigh.

Fred G. Bond Metro Park (in Cary)

Bond Park, Cary, NC

Looking for parks in Cary? Bond Metro Park is one of the largest municipal parks in Wake County and like an oasis in the town of Cary, and just 3.5 miles from downtown Cary.

Here you’ll find 310-acres of recreational space, 4.2 miles of trails, and a variety of athletic fields, all in a natural setting.

Bond Park Trail, Cary, NC
Bond Lake Trail, Cary

It offers opportunities for many types of recreation with hiking trails (a two-mile loop around the lake), picnic shelters, sports fields, a playground, and a boathouse that rents out pedal boats, kayaks and canoes.

All facilities are integrated into the natural setting. Visitors may enjoy picnics, play ball on the athletic fields, see a performance in the amphitheater, walk along the trails, or play on the Lazy Daze Playground. 

  • Address: 801 High House Road, Cary
  • Website

Apex Community Park (in Apex)

Apex Lake, NC
Apex Lake

This 160-acre park is just 2.5 miles from charming downtown Apex and offers athletic fields, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, picnic areas, playgrounds, fitness and nature trails, and a 50+ acre lake.

The highlight of Apex Park is the Lake Pine Loop, a 2-mile fully-paved loop around the lake that is good for all fitness levels and accessible year-round. 

Apex Lake Trail
Lake Pine Loop

There’s also a fishing dock (fishing permit required) and an opportunity for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, sailboards, john boats and rowing skulls to go out on the lake but they must be launched from the designated launch site only (vessel permit required). Vessels may not exceed 14ft in length.

There you have it, a great list of Wake County parks and one of the top reasons we love living in Raleigh. Now it’s your turn, share in the comments below, what is one of your favorite parks in Raleigh NC?

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