Where to see the Fall colors in Raleigh (and close by)

I was driving to Zumba the other day and turned down a residential street and saw a row of blazing oranges on the trees. Only two days ago they were green. It was the first week of September and I almost pulled over the car to have a talk to the trees.

“How could you even think of coming this early when the summer heat is still lingering? Did you not get the memo that Real Fall in Raleigh doesn’t start until mid-October at least. You should know the cooler weather we had just a couple of weeks ago was just the first of many False Falls.

Every day now I’m seeing the vibrant, warm glow of Autumn popping out of several trees around the city. 

I’ve made publishing this post a priority, so you don’t miss the opportunity to see the Fall colors in Raleigh. We’ll help you avoid having to google search “Fall colors near me,” with our list of Raleigh lakes, greenway trails, urban parks, and state parks near Raleigh where the Fall foliage will be most beautiful. We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments!

Our beautiful oak trees offer rich tones in contrast to the evergreen pines that surround them. Their beauty a little salve for the irritation I feel at the death months coming earlier than they are wanted. 

I’m sure some of the other trees understand how it’s meant to go and will start changing in October when they are meant to. 

woman hiking a lake johnson trail lined with fall foliage
Time to hit the trails!

With the cooler temps, Fall is the perfect time for hiking and biking, which we think is the best way to appreciate one of nature’s most brilliant shows. 

We’ll be out exploring the colors, so follow our adventures on Instagram, so you don’t miss our discoveries. 

We also have a free Fall Bucket List PDF for members of our email community. You can grab yours by filling out the form below. We send updates and insider tips including our fresh finds and happenings for the week every Friday. 

The best place for you to see the Fall colors would of course be in the North Carolina mountains. We have a post here on Fall road trip ideas from Raleigh.

But, if you can’t make a road trip out to the Blue Ridge Mountains, try these nature places in Raleigh and beyond instead. 

Wake County Lakes in the Fall

moody picture of the fall colors bond lake cary nc (1)
Bond Lake, Cary

Let’s start with the lakes in Raleigh. Most have trails perfect for hiking or biking. During the Fall you can still paddleboard or kayak on them as well. 

We love seeing the Fall colors on the lakes the most because the reflections in the water really amplify the colors! It’s two for the price of one. 

The best time to see the colors is in the morning and evening golden hours!

We don’t have any Fall pictures for most of these lakes in Raleigh. We’re putting our best effort to capture some this year, so keep following us on social to see them popping!

Lake Johnson

fall colors on the edge of lake johnson raleigh
Lake Johnson in the Fall

Our favorite lake in Raleigh, especially in the Fall is Lake Johnson in Southwest Raleigh. Enjoy the colors on a 2.8 mile loop walk, while fishing from the bridge, or paddling on the water.

Click play on the video below to see the beauty of Lake Johnson in the Fall

Read our Guide to Lake Johnson

Bond Lake, Cary

fall foliage on the edge of bond lake
Bond Lake with a hint of Fall

The 2-mile nature trail at Bond Lake mix of paved and unpaved natural woodland setting  is it loops around hugging a picturesque lake. There are also greenway trails running in and out of Bond Lake, as well as a kid’s playground, sports fields, and a boathouse. There are often Fall events on, like the Pumpkin Flotilla in October.

Read our guide to Bond Lake

Apex Lake

girl bike riding through a forest
Riding the Lake Pine Loop

Another easy Wake County lake to enjoy the Fall Colors is the his 160-acre Apex Community Park is just 2.5 miles from charming downtown Apex. The Lake Pine Loop is a 2-mile fully-paved loop around the lake that is good for all fitness levels and accessible year-round. 

There are also fishing piers, athletic fields, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, picnic areas, and playgrounds

Lake Lynn, Northwest Raleigh

a girl bike riding on a bridge
Imagine this in the Fall?

The Lake Lynn Trail is a paved 2.8 mile loop that follows the perimeter Lake Lynn. There are beatuiful views throughout. This trail is part of the Hare Snipe Creek Trail and the greater Capital Area Greenway system

Read More: Biking the Lake Lynn,

Shelly Lake, North Raleigh

woman looking out over pier, boathouse and Shelley Lake

Another place to see the Autumn colors is Shelley Lake in North Raleigh. An easy 2-mile paved trail loops around the 53-acre lake

Read More: The Shelley Lake Loop Trail

Jordan Lake, South of Raleigh

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is especially beautiful during leaf-peeping season, particular around sunset. You may even still have warm enough weather to enjoy swimming with the colors as a background. 

Lake Crabtree County Park, Morrisville

Sunset at Lake Crabtree, Raleigh
Sunset at Lake Crabtree

We’re yet to explore the hiking trails, bike trails, and greenway trails of the 520-acre Lake Crabtree, said to be spectacular with fall colors. We have enjoyed paddleboarding here and recommend it as a top place to see a sunset!

Falls Lake State Recreation Area, North Raleigh

Falls Lake is flanked by Falls Lake that is flanked by the beautiful Autumn colors. Get out on a boat or paddle board, go fishing or hike many of the trails. 

Why not enjoy the colors from amongst the canopies? Go Ape High Obstacle course is situated right near Falls Lake, and is a perfect Fall activity. We also did it in Roanoke in the Fall and loved the autumn glow surrounding us.

Video: Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course

Umstead State Park

people standing next to a body of water
A few colors starting in Umstead

More than 20 miles of hiking trails with Fall foliage await you in Raleigh’s state park. Most of the deciduous trees in Umstead State Park are native species, which can lead to spectacular Autumn hues 

The trails close to water will be the best for Fall colors.

Consider the following:

  • Sal’s Branch Trail will take you through the woods to a golden view of Big Lake.
  • The Sycamore Trail will take you along Sycamore Creek surrounded by yellow forests! 
  • We love the Loblolly Trail and its hidden Davis Pond. We haven’t seen it in the Fall yet, but we know with those reflections it will be WOW.

Videos: Umstead Park Trails

Watch the video to see the different trails in Umstead State Park

Wake County Greenway Trails

people bike riding through a forest trail
Art to Heart Trail

There are 104 miles of Greenway trails and 28 individual routes in the Capital area Greenway system. You’ll find even more trails in neighboring towns and counties.

Basically, wherever you live, there’s a greenway trail. And with the deciduous trees abundant throughout the city, expect fall foliage along them all. 

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Walnut Creek: This greenway trail connects some of our favorite Raleigh areas: Lake Johnson, Lake Raleigh, Dorothea Dix Park and Downtown Raleigh. 
  • Art to Heart: A very unique Raleigh greenway trail, it takes you from the NC Museum of Art, along several different greenways into Downtown Raleigh passing through NC State, Pullen Park and Dorothea Dix. 
  • Crabtree Creek: We did a small section alongside the creek in north Raleigh near Mordecai Beverage Co. This 15 mile trail connects the east and west of the city and passes through North Hills. We saw deer!

Video: Biking Greenway Trails

Press play to watch us explore the greenway trails of Walnut Creek the Art to Heart Trail, and Lake Lynn Loop.

Here are three greenway trails we have on our 2022 Fall bucket list. Follow along on Instagram.

  • The Neuse River Greenway Trail: this 30-mile paved, greenway stretches from Falls Lake in North Raleigh to the Wake County line in southeast Raleigh.
  • American Tobacco Trail: Catch the train to Durham and then ride back along this 23-mile rail trail built on an abandoned railroad corridor. The trail stretches from the western edge of Apex passing through Wake, Chatham and Durham Counties on its way to Downtown Durham.
  • White Oak Creek Trail: The 7.38 miles White Oak Creek Trail begins at Bond Lake, and passes through woodlands, over wetlands and through Cary neighborhoods before finishing with a connection to the American Tobacco Trail.

Let us know in the comments your favorite greenway trail in the Fall?

Raleigh Parks & Preserves

orange and green trees in Nash Square Raleigh
Nash Square in the Fall

Looking for a more sedentary way to experience the Fall colors in Raleigh? Pack a picnic, and your bocce set, and head to any of the wonderful parks in Raleigh. 

Some may have easy walking trails or even Fall events to further enjoy the season. 

Don’t forget the squares in Raleigh as well. They have many oak tress so colors will be bountiful. It’s the perfect place for a lunch break if you work downtown.

Dorothea Dix Park

A large green field with a city in the background
Dorothea Dix Park

Dorothea Dix Park: One of the best places in Raleigh for a picnic and city skyline view. Even better with the changing of the leaves. You’ll find Fall events like Falling for Local on as well.

Historic Yates Mill County Park

people sitting on a wooden bench in front of a lake
Yates Mill

Historic Yates Mill County Park is one of the early parks to see leaves change, with its Yellow Poplar trees. There is an easy loop trail around the pond to enjoy the Fall colors. 

Read More: Guide to Historic Yates Mill County Park

Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park

sculpture in NC art museum garden with fall foliage behind it
Sculpture Garden in the fall

Bring a picnic and enjoy the fall leaves among the sculptures in the 164-acre NC Museum of Art’s Museum Park. 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.

Pullen Park, Downtown Raleigh

girl walking across a bridge
Pullen Park

Pullen Park has been the city’s favorite park since 1887. It’s the first public park in NC and the 5th oldest amusement park in the US. Younger kids will especially love visiting here in the Fall with the carousel, pedal boat and train ride soaking up all the colors.

Read our guide to Pullen Park

E. Carroll Joyner Park, Wake Forest

 Residents of Wake Forest enjoy exploring the A 117-acre Joyner Park. There are three miles of trails, an amphitheater, a pecan grove & some old farm buildings. Last year they had a special Fall foliage tour, so keep an eye out for that. 

The J.C. Raulston Arboretum , NC State

The J.C. Raulston Arboretum is a nationally acclaimed botanical garden, which is administered by NC State University. It includes 10 acres of gardens with over 6,000 types of plant

Durant Nature Preserve, North Raleigh

There are five miles of trails in the 237-acres of Durant Nature PReserve. Enjoy the Autumn colors with a Hike along a stream, through hardwood and pine forests, through wetlands, and alongside two lakes.

Robertson Millpond Preserve, Wendell

Mother and daughter on a paddle board on the water at Robertson Millpond Preserve near Raleigh, NC
Supping on Robertson Millpond

A Fall experience with a difference awaits in this cypress swamp near Wendell, in EAst Raleigh. 

Bring your own kayak, canoe, paddle board The 1.15 mile trail is marked by numbered buoys guiding you through the cypress swamp. You will feel like you’re in Florida! 

Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, Wake Forest

How did I only just hear of this u-shaped nature preserve that is surrounded on three sides by the Neuse River? The 150 acres of pastures and woodlands offer great natural beauty, abundant wildlife and rich heritage.

This was once private land owned by a medical doctor and his family. They sold to the City of Raleigh in 1994 so it could be come a public park. Today, Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve contains almost connected to the Neuse River portion of the city’s greenway trail. 

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, Cary

people hiking the trails in the hemlock bluffs preserve in cary

We love the three easy walking trails in Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. This is a little pocket of serenity that will make you feel like you’ve been dropped in the mountains.

Thanks to the north facing bluff face, eastern hemlock trees thrive here in this cooler, shadier spot. This is the only place to see them outside of the NC mountains. You get beautiful foliage in the Fall on its leaf-covered pathways. We love the Swift Creek trail! 

Read our guide to the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary

Where to find Fall Colors Beyond Wake County

Fall colors in the North Carolina Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains near Bryson City

There are several state parks and gardens beyond Raleigh in the Triangle and neighboring counties. Here are few you can explore in an hours drive or less.

You can also go further and use our Fall foliage road trip ideas from Raleigh for inspiration and useful information.

Eno River State Park, Durham

small waterfall in eno park
Eno River State Park in the summer Photo: Discover Durham

A popular place for many Triangle locals to visit for hiking, fishing, canoeing, and swimming is the Eno River State Park. 

What better time to explore it with the cooler Fall temperatures and vibrant colors. 

The Eno River flows through Durham for 33 miles before eventually spilling out into Falls Lake . The river winds through hills and bluffs with shrubs and pines with plenty of beautiful views along the trails. 

The Eno is one of the state parks along North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham

A person standing in front of a flower
Duke Gardens in the spring

The Fall colors in the Duke Gardens in Durham are pretty spectacular. 

It’s not just a place for leaf peeping. There are a range of Fall classes and activities.

Why not learn about Autumn plants for your gardens, celebrate Fall Harvest Festival, or participate in a Japanese Tea Ceremony?

Note: We’ve seen magnificent gardens around the world, and we think Duke Gardens are pretty special, especially since they are FREE! Just another reason to love living in Raleigh and the Triangle. 

Read our guide to the Sarah P Duke Gardens

North Carolina Botanical Garden, UNC Chapel Hill 

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is operated by the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

This free conservation garden is one of the largest native plant botanical gardens in the Southeast. There are numerous ways to enjoy the Fall season with free public tours and hikes throughout the botanical gardens, Piedmont Nature trails, Coker Arboretum and Battle Park.

Every Fall they host the Sculpture in the Garden exhibit, featuring 75 installations by nearly 50 local artists. They also have a popular Fall plant sale. 

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

An easy day trip to the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in Hillsborough (15 miles northeast of Durham) offers a beautiful leaf peeping opportunity. 

At 350ft high, it’s the highest point between Hillsborough and the Atlantic Ocean.

There are three miles of trails that will take you through oak forests, along the Eno River, and to views from the overlook. News on the street is this is quite the epic sunset spot!

While here visit, downtown Hillsborough, which is meant to be beautiful in the Fall with its multitudinous deciduous trees.

Raven Rock State Park, Lilington

Less than an hour from Cary near Lillington in Harnett County is Raven Rock State Park, a popular destination for fall foliage views. 

Hiking trails will take you through a 150-foot bluff with views over the Cape Fear River. There’s an abundance of hardwood trees showing off their Autumn colors. 

Comment: Time to share your hidden secrets. What other places in Raleigh are great for Fall colors? Or close by?

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