12 Kid-Friendly Trails in Raleigh (walk or bike)

One of our favorite things about living in Raleigh with kids is having access to so many Greenway trails, lakes and nature, and if you’re searching on your phone for walking trails near me, below are our favorite kid-friendly trails in Raleigh to do as a family!

Umstead State Park
Umstead State Park

Raleigh literally is a city within a forest, the best perspective of that is when you fly into Raleigh-Durham airport, and along with that forest setting comes an abundance of lakes and 100+ miles of The Capital Area Greenway System, there are so many trails to explore in the city of Raleigh!

We’ve always been a family that likes to be active outdoors, and whether it’s a paved trail around a lake or a natural path through the forest, a short day hike in sunshine and fresh air is always fun and does wonders for our physical and mental health. 

Lake Johnson - one of the best trails in Raleigh
Lake Johnson Trail

There are 28 trails that make up the Greenway system, many of them family-friendly and connect to other attractions nearby so you can even make a day of it. Here are our favorite hiking trails in Raleigh with kids.

Worried about hiking with your kids Don’t be! Use this guide sharing our top 21 tips for hiking with kids to help!

Sal’s Branch Trail (Umstead State Park)

Sal's Branch Trail, Umstead State Park

We are extremely lucky in Raleigh to have an awesome State Park just a 15-minute drive from downtown Raleigh, and when you visit Raleigh (or live in Raleigh like us) and love nature trails through the forest, don’t miss the 5,000 acre William B. Umstead State Park which has many excellent trails. 

And one of the best kid-friendly trails in Raleigh is one of Umstead State Parks most popular, the Sal’s Branch Trail.

People walking down a trail in a forest

This is an easy to moderate 2.8 mile loop trail that is suitable for all levels through the woods with lake views about half way along

We hike this trail with our two kids (aged 13 & 9) which takes about an hour at a leisurely pace, and we stop several times for photos and a brief rest at the lake.

Sal's Branch Trail, Umstead State Park

Keep in mind that the trail surface is natural and uneven in parts with tree roots, so would be difficult with a stroller!

Located on the northeastern side of Umstead Park, to get to Sal’s Branch Trail drive to the Crabtree Creek park access and visitor center off US-70.

Dogs can also use this trail too but must be kept on leash!

Read our full review of the Sal’s Branch Trail.

Lake Johnson Loop Trail

Lake Johnson Park, Raleigh, North Carolina

If you’re on your phone searching for paved hiking trails near me, it doesn’t get any better than the Lake Johnson loop trail.

We’ve been walking around our favorite lake in Raleigh with our kids since 2008 when our eldest was just 10-months old pushing her in a stroller, and we’ve walked the loop so many times I’ve lost count. 

Located 10-minutes from downtown Raleigh, the Lake Johnson loop is one of our absolute favorite things to do in Raleigh with kids (or without). The 3-mile loop trail trail is fully paved and has mile markers so you have a good idea of where you are at all times.

Lake Johnson, Raleigh

It’s mostly wooded with various overlooks of the lake along the path, and plenty of shaded spots in the warmer months. There’s a 700-foot-long boardwalk that crosses the lake, plus a boat house, small beach area, and picnic shelters. 

A group of people standing next to a body of water

NOTE: If you head clockwise from the boat house, the first half of the trail is flat. The second half of the loop becomes more challenging with some hills, two of which require effort. 

This trail usually takes us about one hour with our kids to leisurely stroll the full loop. 

There are three parking lots:

  • Main boatshed lot: 4601 Avent Ferry Rd
  • On the far east side, off Lake Dam Rd
  • Drive further south on Avent Ferry Rd past the boatshed towards Tryon Rd, there is a lot on the left.
  • Website

Read our full review: Why Lake Johnson is our favorite lake

Lake Lynn Trail

Lake Lynn Trail, Raleigh, North Carolina

Probably our second favorite of the lake trails in Raleigh is this one around Lake Lynn. 

At just under three miles, this 2.6 mile paved loop trail is perfect for families. We love all the wooden boardwalks across the lake, and the mixture of paved trail, forest setting, and lake views.

Mostly flat with a few small inclines, it’s the perfect length with kids and we always see plenty of families pushing strollers. If you get tired, there’s some nice areas to rest and take in the views, especially along the boardwalk areas!

The trail follows the perimeter of the lake offering lovely views. In the warmer months most of the trail is shaded with gorgeous trees offering some relief, but there’s a good mix of open sunshine too!

a girl bike riding on a bridge

If you’re looking for some solitude on one of the most beautiful trails in Raleigh, we thoroughly enjoy walking (or biking) the Lake Lynn Trail in Northwest Raleigh, just 8 miles from downtown.

Lake Lynn Trail, Raleigh, North Carolina

Parking:

There are two entrances, both with parking. The biggest car park is at the Lake Lynn Community Center entrance: 7921 Ray Rd, Raleigh

The other car park is directly off Lynn Rd, near the intersection of Leesville Rd. This entrance is where the mile marker starts, but it is a smaller car park so will fill up quickly in peak times.

Read our full review of the Lake Lynn Trail.

Bike the Art to Heart Trail

Art to Heart Trail

Besides walking trails, if you’re looking for Raleigh bike trails you’re in luck. We love how bike friendly Raleigh is becoming as we love riding our bikes, and the 6-mile Art to Heart Trail is fantastic. 

This is NOT a loop, but a point-to-point trail that connects the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) to the heart of Downtown Raleigh!

This trail begins at the NCMA which is the state’s premiere collection of art, and this 6-mile trail is a short segment of the larger East Coast Greenway, a developing trail system linking major cities of the eastern Seaboard between Canada and Key West – totaling 2,900 miles!

A little girl riding a bike across a bridge

The trail starts by winding its way through the museum’s 164-acre park, passes behind Meredith College, cuts through the main campus at NC State University, passes by Pullen Park, through Boylan Heights, then finishes in the city just outside of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts – or wherever your heart desires!

people bike riding through a forest trail

You can of course bike one way downtown, and then back again. But we decided to stay downtown for lunch so I  caught an Uber back to pick up our car from the museum.

Parking:

There is a large car park at the NC museum of Art. Address: 2110 Blue Ridge Rd

Ann & Jim Goodnight Museum Park (at NCMA)

a girl walking through a park

Speaking of the Museum of Art, within the park is the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park which features temporary and permanent public art installations by international artists, cool landscapes, colorful gardens, and a terraced pond. 

There is a 1.7 mile paved loop trail you can walk that takes in the outdoor art and nature exhibits. The majority of the trail is a gentle grade but some steeper sections also. 

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

The trail is accessible year-round. Dogs are able to use this trail but must be kept on leash. And it’s from here you can hook up to the previously mentioned Art-to-Heart trail. 

Shelley Lake Trail

people walking next to a body of water

Another one of the popular Raleigh walking trails with the locals is around Shelley Lake in North Raleigh – just 7 miles northwest of downtown and just north of I-440. 

This is a 2-mile paved loop trail around the 53-acre lake. The trail is mostly flat with one small incline at the start (or end depending on which direction you walk) and is good for all fitness levels and for those with kids pushing a stroller.

Shelley Lake Park, Raleigh

Ample shade is available along the trail, but I would say at least a quarter of it is open to the sun in the warmer months so keep that in mind.

Parking: 

The car park entrance is off W Millbrook Road and is easily accessible. Address: 1400 W Millbrook Rd, Raleigh

Starting at the main car park, you will see a sign with a map as the beginning point, then head down the hill past the kids playground on the right towards the lake.

Read our full review: Shelley Lake Park loop trail.

Trails at Historic Yates Mill Pond

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

The Historic Yates Mill is worth a look not only to learn about some cool local history, but also for the kid-friendly trails around the pond and through the forest. 

When you come here you feel like you’re a million miles away, but you’re only a 10-minute drive from downtown Raleigh.

The Yates Mill Pond Trail is a 0.8 mile moderately trafficked loop and perfect for families and all fitness levels, and is accessible year-round. There’s several viewpoints along the way, and benches for resting on.

people walking across a bridge

The 1 mile Creekside Trail is an extension of the Millpond Trail starting at the Wetlands boardwalk bridge (about three miles in total to combine both trails).

The Creekside Trail takes 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. 

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

Historic Yates Mill County Park, Raleigh

Getting here is easy, just off I-40 along Lake Wheeler Road and only 4.8 miles from downtown.

FYI – you can reward your kids after this trail with an ice cream nearby at Howling Cow Ice Cream (NC State’s own ice creamery).

Read our review of the Historic Yates Mill.

Neuse River Greenway Trail

Neuse River Trail

The Neuse River Greenway Trail is 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. 

But you can break it up into short sections which makes it great for families, and along the way are winding boardwalk areas, views of historical sites, and suspension bridges. 

Of course this is NOT a loop trail, and a good place to start with kids to do a small section of it is Anderson Point Park, which has plenty of parking, restrooms, and a playground!

Bond Lake Trail (Cary)

Bond Park, Cary, NC

Bond Lake is a beautiful lake within Bond Park in Cary, and just an 8-minute drive from downtown Cary which is definitely worth a look when you do this trail. 

We love this nature trail as it hugs a picturesque lake, and the trail is a mix of ½ paved, and ½ unpaved natural woodland setting. The paved section is easy with a stroller, the unpaved section is NOT suitable for strollers, but young kids who can walk would enjoy the nature aspect through the forest. 

Bond Park Trail , Cary, NC

The 2-mile Bond Park Lake Loop Trail hugs the picturesque lake, is moderately trafficked and rated as easy and good for most skill levels. The trail is primarily used for walking, running, biking and bird watching!

Leashed dogs are allowed on this trail. 

A person walking on a forest trail

Overall, Bond Park includes the 42-acre lake, small beach area for launching kayaks, a 200-foot boardwalk, 4.2 miles of trails, and a variety of athletic fields becoming like an oasis in the middle of Cary.

Read our review of the Bond Lake Trail. 

Lake Pine Trail (Apex Lake)

Apex Lake Trail

Yet another lovely lake trail in the Raleigh area, this one close to the charming and historic downtown Apex. 

The 2-mile Lake Pine Trail is a loop trail around beautiful Apex Lake. It is fully-paved and mostly flat, with plenty of shade for the warmer months, easy for all ages including those in a stroller, and accessible year-round – beautiful leaf colors here in the Fall.

Apex Lake Trail

Parking:

There is a small car park at the beginning of this trail, off Lake Pine Dr. Address: 1808 Lake Pine Dr, Cary. Another access point is from Apex Community Park Playground off Laura Duncan Rd. 

Trails at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

people walking on a board walk through a forest

For family-friendly nature trails, Hemlock Bluffs in Cary is a popular nature preserve to explore. 

Here you can do the 0.8 mile Beech Tree Cove Trail, and then for a longer walk connect with the Chestnut Oak Loop Trail (1.2 miles), and the Swift Creek Loop Trail (0.8 miles).

Located just off Kildaire Farm Road close to the Whole Foods store in Cary, this 140-acre preserve along Swift Creek is home to a unique community of eastern hemlock trees and other plant species.

A group of people in a forest

There’s also a small playground here.

Read our review of hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.

Lake Raleigh Trail

Lake Raleigh, North Carolina

Lake Raleigh is a hidden gem located in the heart of the Centennial Campus of NC State University, and less than a 10-minute drive from downtown.

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.

Lake Raleigh, North Carolina

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 city life. 

Parking options:

  • The small parking lot down near the jetty (near corner of Campus Shore dr & Main Campus Dr) does require a NC State parking permit (Mon-Fri), so go on a weekend. 
  • 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. 
  • Read our full review of Lake Raleigh

Pullen Park

Pullen Park, Raleigh

First of all, if you haven’t taken your kids to Pullen Park yet, it’s one of the classic Raleigh attractions and one of the best things to do in Raleigh with kids, especially with younger kids.

Located 5-minutes drive from downtown, the park sits on 66 acres of land and opened way back in 1887 as the first public park in North Carolina and when I think of parks in Raleigh, it doesn’t get more historical than this. 

Well known for gentle rides like the historic carousel, the iconic miniature train, paddle boats, and playgrounds, there is also a nice easy gentle stroll around the small lake, Lake Howell, across some pretty bridges. 

Pullen Park, Raleigh

Read our full review of Pullen Park

Parking:

There you have it. We’ll be adding to this list of kid-friendly trails in Raleigh as we explore more of the Greenway system and neighborhood walking trails.

Join our free VIP email community so you don’t miss updates from us. And share in the comments below any Raleigh trials not on this list you recommend?

If you like maps, download the current Raleigh Greenway map.

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