Last week my boyfriend Kenan and I took our first trip to Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC. It was so strange to leave the noise and highways of uptown Raleigh and, within a few hundred yards, enter the silent and undisturbed forest. As soon as we began our drive down the narrow paved road that runs through the center of the park, through the dense tree canopy and the dappled yellow and green light, I knew I was going to love this place.
Before beginning to explore, we stopped by the visitor center. After checking out a display with a stuffed woodchuck (very amusing), we realized that we had forgotten to bring any water bottles with us, so Kenan took the opportunity to guzzle half the park’s water from a nearby water fountain in preparation for our hike. While he drank, I read over the conveniently placed Park Rules. Number 3 warned against picking up and taking anything out of the park, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I picked up a leaf and stuck it in my pocket. Would sirens, cleverly concealed under tree foilage, start to blare? Would park rangers rush out of the woods and tackle me? (I wasn’t gutsy enough to try it, so we never found out.) After he was finished, we picked up our free handy-dandy park map, and were on our way.
The first trail we tried was the Oak Rock trail, which seemed to be the best one that we found. The weather was perfect, sunny and about 75 degrees in the shade, and we saw lots of curious birds, squirrels, and frogs. Oak Rock trail was beautiful. Although we never saw any oaks, there were a lot of rock formations, streams, and older trees. I was quickly inspired to try out my photography skills, even though Kenan complained that it made me a slow hiker. In several places the stream was spanned by natural bridges made by falling trees (in so many places, actually, that I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “natural” at all…) and the little elf girl in me just had to run accross every one. After getting impatient with my picture-snapping and stream-hopping, Kenan decided to take off running down the path to see if I would chase after him. I did, of course, and we ended up running through the patches of sunlight and green leaves like Pocohantas, and probably giggling loud enough to disturb the wildlife (and a couple of other hikers – who knows what they were thinking). What can I say – we’re just a couple of kids who enjoy life!
When we were too out of breath to run anymore and finally stopped, we quickly realized several things we hadn’t noticed before, and which I suggest that anyone visting Umstead keep in mind… (1) We had forgotten water bottles and all of Umstead’s trail-side water fountains were either completely dry or malfunctioning, and (2) Umstead’s trail markers in no way corresponded to the markings used on the map. Trails were marked by color and shape, while on the map, they were simply labled with their name. It only took Kenan, who had been officially name Gandalf the Map Bearer, a few minutes to discern that we were Well and Truely Lost. With no water.
Luckily for us, all of Umstead’s trails run in a circle, so it wasn’t long before we had found the parking lot again and were in site of Kenan’s green CRV. After exploring a few more trails and checking out the boathouse and man-made lake, and vowing to return sometime with bottles of water and bicycles, we drove down to the Cameron Village shopping center for some much-needed refreshment. (And by refreshment, I mean we ate icecream and cheeseburgers -in that order- for supper!) Although parts of our planned hiking trip were a bit of a disappointment, we’ll know better next time! And besides, Umstead is the kind of place that I don’t really mind getting lost in.
Visit William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, NC (and be more prepared than we were)!
Check out the link at the bottom of the page for general info, activities and events, park maps, and directions!