Clemmons Educational State Forest

Clemmons Educational State Forest

North Carolina’s first educational state forest

Facts & Figures

Address: 2256 Old U.S. Hwy 70, Clayton, NC 27520

County: Johnston and Wake

Size: 825 acres, 1.289 square miles


  • Saturday & Sunday: 11am-8pm
  • Monday: Closed
  • Tuesday-Friday: 9am-5pm

Phone: (919) 553-5651


Management: North Carolina Forest Service


  • Outdoor Education Workshops
  • Picnic Facilities
  • Ranger Conducted Classes
  • Trails
    • Forest Geology Trail with “Talking Rocks”
    • “Talking Tree” Trail
    • Forest Demonstration Trail
    • Watershed Extension Loop



Clemmons Educational State Forest is an 825-acre educational state forest in Clayton, North Carolina. Opened in 1976, it is North Carolina’s first educational state forest and is managed by the North Carolina Forest Service. Clemmons Educational State Forest offers a variety of educational and recreational opportunities free of charge. It is situated between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions and features pine stands and hardwoods, along with streams and rock formations. There are a variety of accessible trails featuring exhibits that teach about trees and forest management practices, including the “talking trees” and “talking rocks” trails. Conveniently located on Old U.S. Hwy. 70 in Clayton, it is less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Raleigh, making it easily accessible to anyone in the Triangle.

Our Experience

Our family has made many visits to Clemmons Educational State Forest over the years. It’s one of the first parks we explored locally and we make a few trips there every year. A huge highlight for our kids and what keeps us coming back are the “talking trees” and “talking rocks,” a series of electronic educational kiosks that talk about the different types of trees and the different types of rocks located in the forest. These educational exhibits are a huge hit for our family!

There are several different trails ranging from less than a mile at the shortest to a 3-mile loop at the longest. These trails are mainly rolling terrain and are great for family hikes with smaller children. In addition to the trails, the educational kiosks make for great learning opportunities for kids. With only a 20-minute drive from home to the forest for us, we typically head there for late morning hikes on the weekends, followed by picnic lunches on one of the many picnic tables available for use.

Our oldest son also had a field trip with his 1st grade class from his elementary school a couple years ago in the spring to learn about forestry and trees, which I was able to help chaperone. The forest rangers did a wonderful job teaching the students about forests and trees while making learning fun for the students. Clemmons Educational State Forest offers educational programs for school groups by reservation.

Be sure to check the hours of operation, especially on the weekends! The forest does not open until 11am, which we learned the hard way the first time we visited. Also, during COVID-19, all indoor facilities are closed to the public, including the information center, shelters, and restrooms, so plan your trip accordingly.

Lake Wheeler Park

Lake Wheeler Park

A lakefront recreation area centrally located in Raleigh.

Facts & Figures

Address: 6404 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, NC 27603

Size: 800 acres (650 acres of lake, 150 acres of land and buffer)

Opened: Constructed in 1956 with the aid of the Army Corps of Engineers

Hours: Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (closed on Mondays – October through March)

Phone: (919) 662-5704


Management: The City of Raleigh, Department of Parks, Recreation, & Cultural Resources


  • Boat Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Site Rentals and Picnic Shelters
  • Sand Volleyball Courts
  • Playgrounds



Lake Wheeler Park, conveniently located on the south central side of Raleigh, is 800 acres (650 acre lake and 150 acre park) that offers a wide variety of amenities for enjoyment. While all types of boating are the primary attraction, the park offers picnic shelters, a playground, and sand volleyball courts, as well. The lake was constructed in 1956 by the Army Corps of Engineers and once served as Raleigh’s second auxiliary water supply lake. The park offers boat rentals including canoes and kayaks, as well as launch ramps for personal boats. Launch fees are charged through daily or annual rates. The lake is also a popular spot for fishing by foot, with the purchase of a fishing permit.

Our Experience

My wife and kids had been to Lake Wheeler without me years ago to play on the playground while I was working. They met up with a friend and her kids for a play date. My wife told me how beautiful the park was, but words can’t describe how beautiful the lake and park truly are until experiencing it first hand.

As a kayaker, I had not been to Lake Wheeler over the past seven years since living here until this past Thursday. With four young children at home with two in remote learning, 8+ hours per day of screen time of emails, Zoom meetings, and projects while remote working for the past seven months, and everyday life, I decided to take a day of vacation for some self care for both my wife and I. I spent the morning kayaking around the perimeter of the lake for a couple hours and gave my wife the afternoon to herself. Just getting out on the lake for a couple hours helped me clear my mind and recharge myself. I felt like a new person going back to remote working on Friday!

I got off to an early start and loaded my kayak on top of my vehicle and left home about 7:30am. Even in rush hour traffic, I was able to get to the park right at 8 a.m. when they opened. After stopping to pay the daily launch fee, unloading my kayak and gear, using the restroom, and suiting up, I hit the water about 8:30 a.m. I headed east toward the dam along the northern shore of the lake. I paddled the entire perimeter of the lake over the course of 1 hour, 36 minutes for a total of 5.8 miles, according to my Garmin VivoActive HR connected to my Strava app. I stopped several times along the way to enjoy the beauty of the wildlife, take photos, and admire the private residences located along the southern shoreline of the lake. I could not believe the homes along the lake and their views! Wildlife I saw out on the lake included a snow goose, Mallard ducks, Great Blue Heron, and an Osprey in flight. It was incredible!

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

A Joint Project between the Town of Cary and the State of North Carolina

Facts & Figures

Address: 2626 Kildaire Farm Rd, Cary, NC 27518

County: Wake

Size: 140 acres

Hours: Open daily from 9:00am to sunset

Phone: (919) 387-5980


Management: Joint partnership between the Town of Cary, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Hiking
  • Nature Programs
  • Sightseeing



Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve is a joint project between the Town of Cary and the State of North Carolina. The majority of land is owned by the state, with a small parcel owned by the Town of Cary. The area is named for the Hemlock trees which grow in this area, which is rare and unique for the Piedmont region of North Carolina and is why they are protected. Hemlock trees typically grow in the Westernmost part of the state in the mountains, but a small forest of Hemlocks lie here in the heart of the Piedmont and Triangle area of North Carolina, making for a unique site.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve features the Stevens Nature Center, over three miles of hiking trails with interpretive signage, and observation decks with scenic overlooks. It is a great place for families with small children, as there are several short loops for hiking, many covered with wood chips.

Our Experience

We discovered Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve after seeing a post on Facebook with a link to an article from titled: Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in North Carolina is So Hidden Most Locals Don’t Even Know About It. Boy were they right! Our family has lived in the Triangle for almost seven years and all the dozens of hikes through the years around our area, we had never even heard about Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve!

So, I made a point that the next time we went out to explore a new area, this would be it. With the cooler temperatures and fall-like weather last week, we decided to go for a hike on Saturday morning. So, I did some research on the hiking trails in the area, packed up our hiking gear and a picnic lunch, loaded the kids in the vehicle, and made our way to Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. Upon arrival, the Stevens Nature Center was closed due to COVID-19, but the restrooms were open. There were tons of families with children out hiking, as well, with the same idea as we had: get out and enjoy hiking in this beautiful weather.

We explored the Western half of the park, starting toward the Chestnut Oak Loop Trail, right toward the Beechtree Cove to the West Hemlock Bluffs Overlook, then to the Beech Tree Cove Overlook, then to the Chestnut Oak Overlook, finishing the entire Chestnut Oak Loop Trail, then right on the main trail back to the Stevens Nature Center, then back to our vehicle in the parking lot. Altogether we hiked just under two miles, that included an additional half mile double back, after we realized that our toddler son had lost his sandal while being carried on our backpack child carrier as we were almost finished with our hike. We ended our adventure with a tailgate lunch in our vehicle, which our kids greatly enjoyed! Of all of the places we have explored here in the Triangle, I can see this as our new local favorite destination for hiking…

A Fall Family Hiking Tradition

A Fall Family Hiking Tradition

Our Favorite Way to Connect with the Outdoors for the Past Decade

As I recently mentioned on the Let’s Talk Parks podcast episode 2.16: Connecting Youth to the Outdoors with Dave Herpy and as I shared in my Fall Favorites Around the Triangle article last September 2019 in Carolina Parent Magazine, my favorite way to connect our children to the outdoors has always been hiking. With an abundance of city, county, and state parks in every state, hiking is a great activity to get outside and fun for all ages. Some of my fondest memories with our children through the years has been our family hikes at local parks on the weekends. Likewise, some of my fondest memories as a child growing up were family hikes with my parents through the years. There is no better time to hike than the fall season, with cooler temperatures and the changing colors of leaves. Fall is the perfect time to hike and to begin your own hiking tradition!

As Northeast Ohio natives, what got us inspired to begin hiking regularly was the annual Fall Hiking Spree through the MetroParks Serving Summit County (Akron, OH), hosted September 1 through November 30 each year. It is the largest and longest-running event of its kind in the nation. Trails range from easy to challenging. This program is free for all hikers to participate and the rewards are free for Summit County residents and only $10 for non-county residents the first year and $5 for following years. There are a total of twelve designated trails at each of their parks and you must complete at least eight hikes to finish the challenge over the three month period. Hikers who finish the challenge receive a wooden hiking staff and metal shield their first year, then a metal shield every year after.

One of the first pieces of outdoor gear that we bought as young parents was a nice backpack child carrier, which has proven to be a great investment! I began hiking with all of our children when they were about 5-6 months old. Our oldest two children earned their own hiking staffs and shields each year until we relocated to North Carolina seven years ago.

Last year we decided that we would continue our family hiking tradition here in North Carolina and continue adding to our hiking staffs. We have hiked dozens of trails since we moved here, but last year we decided to focus on North Carolina State Parks, which sell hiking medallions for each of their state parks in their nature centers. Since that decision, we have added four new medallions to our hiking staffs, with a fifth yet to be claimed for our hike in May at Oconeechee Mountain State Natural Area, which doesn’t have a nature center.

As for destinations here in North Carolina, the following are links to previous blog posts in Explore NC with some of our favorite State Parks for hiking:

In closing, the fall season is here! The cooler weather this week has really got us excited about getting outside hiking again. Although COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, our parks have always been open for hiking throughout this pandemic. As stated many times, hiking is great for all ages and the entire family. We encourage you to begin your own fall family hiking tradition if you don’t have one already. You will be glad you did.

Happy Trails! 🙂



A celebration of the NC State University Wolfpack community

Facts and Figures

Address: Hillsborough Street, NC State University Campus – Raleigh, NC

Attendance: 55,000-80,000 +/- people annually, average attendance

Date: Third or Fourth Saturday in August (cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19)

Hours: 2:00pm – 10:00pm

Phone: (919) 800-0135


Management: North Carolina State University, with presenting sponsorship by Live It Up! Hillsborough Street



Packapalooza is a free, all-day, family-friendly block party capping off NC State’s Wolfpack Welcome Week. It is typically held on the third or fourth Saturday every August at the start of the fall semester at NC State University. It draws anywhere from 55,000 to 80,000 attendees, making it one of the largest street festivals in Raleigh, North Carolina. It is located along Hillsborough Street on the NC State University campus and features a variety of student and university organizations, local businesses, live entertainment, and street vendors, including food. It has something for everyone, making it fun for the whole family. Packapalooza would have been on Saturday, August 22, 2020, but unfortunately was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Our Experience

My family has been attending Packapalooza since the second event in 2014, during my first year as a proud staff member of NC State University. It is one of the events and festivals that my family enjoys and looks forward to the most. We love getting dressed up in our NC State Wolfpack gear as a family and attend the event early at the start. That tends to be a better time for families with smaller children, before the largest crowds later in the evening. Parking is free in the Reynolds Coliseum parking deck and only a short walk up Pullen Road to Hillsborough Street. We typically begin from near the main stage and NC State bell tower and make our way West along Hillsborough Street. We spend the majority of our time in the Play Zone, located in the North Hall parking lot. The Play Zone features tons of games and inflatables for the kids and it’s all free! After enjoying time at the Play Zone, we walk the remainder of Hillsborough Street where the event takes place and turn around and make our way back. Packapalooza would not be complete without a stop to get a snowball from Pelican’s Snowballs!

North Carolina State Fair

North Carolina State Fair

“Nothing Could Be Finer”

Facts and Figures

Address: 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607

Attendance: 1,000,000 +/- people annually, average total attendance

Dates: October 15-25, 2020 (subject to cancellation due to COVID-19)

Hours: 9:00am – 9:00pm

Phone: (919) 821-7400


Management: North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services


The North Carolina State Fair is an annual fair and agricultural exhibition hosted at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC in mid-October every year. It draws nearly 1 million attendees each year, coming from all over the state of North Carolina and out of state. It is managed by the North Carolina Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, with large involvement by North Carolina 4-H Youth Development through NC State University. It includes agricultural and educational exhibitions, livestock shows, kiddie rides, live entertainment, and homemade fair food made fresh daily on site. The N.C. State Fair is a fall family tradition for many families across North Carolina and beyond.

Our Experience

Professionally, I have direct involvement with the N.C. State Fair every year, working full-time with North Carolina 4-H Youth Development through NC State University. This includes setting up and staffing our North Carolina 4-H Camps & Centers exhibit inside the Educational Building, as well as helping staff our 4-H exhibit inside the Educational Building during the course of the fair each year. This is my favorite time of the year, aside from our 4-H summer camp season.

Personally, my family attends the N.C. State Fair at least once every year as a family. Several years we have attended more than once. We have attended with extended family on both sides and just our immediate family. The N.C. State Fair is a fall family tradition for us.

The N.C. State Fair is one of the events I look forward to the most every year here in North Carolina. From the smells of fried fair food, to the screams of children riding kiddie rides, to the sights and sounds of animals, exhibits, and live entertainment, I love everything about the N.C. State Fair!

A typical day at the N.C. State Fair begins by parking along Beryl Road in designated parking areas, which is free and only a short walk to the Educational Buildings entrance to the fair. While there are several paid parking lots along Beryl Road, ranging from $5 to $20, we choose to park for free along the road. Just be sure to park in areas designated for parking. Once we park, it is less than a mile walk to the Educational Buildings entrance. A stroller or backpack child carrier make it easier to walk.

Once we get in the gates, we usually start in the Educational Buildings to check out all of the great 4-H exhibits from youth across the state, ranging from art to photography. There are also many private exhibitors selling and showcasing a wide variety of items to enjoy, including sweets and treats like baked goods, candy sticks, and giant licorice. After exploring the Educational Building, we make our way out to the Kiddie rides and get a few rides in with our kids, before it gets too crowded. After that, we make our way to see the live animals inside the Exhibition Building. Typically, by that time it’s lunch time, so we like to take a break towards the back (North) of the fairgrounds, where the bluegrass bands play. There are plenty of chairs to sit on, so we will enjoy a combination of picnic lunch and fair food, such as fried turkey legs, kettle corn, and hot sandwiches. After lunch, we usually head back to ride more Kiddie rides and use up the remainder of our pre-purchased ride tickets. We will often finish with a cup of Howling Cow ice cream, produced by NC State University, one of the few places in Raleigh you can purchase it besides campus.

Overall, the N.C. State Fair is a favorite fall family tradition for us, which I included in my Fall Favorites Around the Triangle article I wrote for Carolina Parent Magazine, published in September 2019. While the status of the N.C. State Fair is up in the air at the time of writing this due to COVID-19, it is my hope that at least some of the N.C. State Fair will be able to be experienced in 2020, whether in-person or virtually.

Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park

Durham, North Carolina

Facts & Figures

Address: 6101 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC 27705

Counties: Durham, Orange

Size: 4,312 acres

Hours: Open daily from 7:30am to 9:30pm

Phone: (919) 383-1686


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Paddling
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking


Located in Durham, North Carolina, Eno River State Park is a quick drive from Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh, as well as other parts of the Triangle. At 4,312 acres, the state park offers five access areas along a 12-mile stretch of the Eno River. The park has a rich history with the river flowing through mature forests and historic mill and home sites. Nearly 30 miles of trails along the river provide a variety of activities including backcountry camping by permit, fishing, hiking, and paddling, and is a popular spot for photography and sightseeing.

Our Experience

We’ve only been to Eno River State Park once in November 2019. I met my brother for a fall hike with our children together, which was a perfect half-way meeting point from our homes. We hiked the 1.5-mile Buckquarter Creek Trail, which was a great hike for our younger children. There was lots to see along the Eno River, including rocks and stairs for our kids to climb. The trail begins and ends at the Piper-Cox Museum parking lot near the park office. After our hike, we stopped in the park office to purchase a hiking medallion to add to our hiking staff collection. With our hike during the first weekend in November, it was the perfect fall hike for enjoying the fall colors and sightseeing.

Nature Quotes

Nature Quotes

My Favorite Nature Quotes to Inspire Others

For this blog post, instead of my usual post about a destination in North Carolina, I just wanted to share some of my favorite nature quotes to inspire others. Here they are…

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.

John Muir

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

By discovering nature, you discover yourself.

Maxime Legace

We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

Native American proverb

Not all who wander are lost.

Henry David Thoreau

I hope you enjoyed my favorite nature quotes! Please share your favorite nature quotes in the comments below. Happy Trails! 🙂

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Occooneechee Mtn. State Natural Area

Highest Point in Orange County, North Carolina

Facts & Figures

Address: 625 Virginia Cates Rd, Hillsborough, NC 27278

County: Orange

Size: 206 acres

Hours: Open daily from 8:00am to 9:00pm

Phone: (919) 383-1686


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking



Located in Hillsborough, North Carolina in Orange County, Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is 206 acres and features Occoneechee Mountain, the highest point in Orange County, rising more than 350 feet above the Eno River below. It is a spectacular place for hiking and sightseeing. The area offers several hiking trails, including the 2.2-mile Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail around the mountain. It also offers access to the Eno River below for fishing, as well as picnic tables in a grassy knoll near the main parking lot. The Occoneechee name comes from Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. With its central location to the Triangle area of North Carolina, it is easily accessible from Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, just off of Interstate-40.

Our Experience

On Saturday, May 16, 2020 I loaded up our four children and made the one-hour drive to Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area from our home near Clayton, NC. This was our first hike of 2020 and first hike in more than six months, due to COVID-19 and the closure of most of North Carolina’s State Parks. We began making our way up on the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail, then connected the with Chestnut Oak Trail to the Overlook Trail. It was about a 1.1 mile hike to the scenic overlook and took us about 30 minutes to hike. When we arrived to the scenic overlook, it was taped off with caution tape to prevent people from congregating and to enforce social distancing, so unfortunately we weren’t able to experience the overlook along the Eno River down below. However, we were able to find some large rocks to take a break for some snacks before making our way back down to the parking lot. Altogether, it was a 2.25-mile hike that our 9-year old son, 7-year old daughter, 4-year old daughter, and 1-year old son were able to make on their own fairly easily. They were so proud that they had hiked “up a mountain” and I was even more proud of them for doing so. Afterward, we treated ourselves to milkshakes and slushies from the local McDonalds on our drive back home.

Outdoor Gear for Families

Outdoor Gear for Families

As a father of four, husband, and outdoor recreation professional, there is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding for me than sharing my love for the outdoors with my family. Being able to experience nature together and spend time together outside as a family is one of our favorite things to do together. Whether it’s hiking the trails at our local park, riding bikes on our local greenway, or spending a day at the beach, time outside together unites us as a family. As they say, “A family that plays together, stays together.”

A family that plays together, stays together.


Having the right outdoor gear is important for enjoying your time together outside. Just like you need the right tool for the job in work, you need the right equipment for outdoor activities with young children. The following are our favorite pieces of equipment that we have used with all four of our children to enjoy our time together outside.

1. Backpack Child Carrier


The first piece of outdoor gear we bought as young parents ten years ago was a backpack child carrier. We went with the Deuter Kid Comfort II. It has provided a decade of hiking adventures with all four of our children. We’ve hiked hundreds of miles at local parks and state parks in both Northeast Ohio (before relocating here) and across North Carolina. I began a tradition with our two oldest children by participating in the Metroparks Serving Summit County (Akron, OH area)’s Fall Hiking Spree, earning a hiking staff and hiking medallions for all three of us. Since relocating to North Carolina, we began a new tradition of adding hiking medallions from our state parks to our hiking staffs after our hikes. Hiking has been an awesome way to experience the outdoors together as a family. Quick tip: start with shorter hikes and gradually build up to longer hikes. Don’t get to the halfway point when your kid starts fussing or you’re in for a long second half of your hike!

2. Bike Trailer


A close second piece of outdoor equipment that has served our family well has been our bike trailer for rides on our local greenways and at the beach on vacation. We’ve ridden thousands of miles with all four of our children over the past decade. We went with an Avenir Sport Dual Bike Trailer with Stroller Kit. This is two pieces of equipment in one! First, it’s a dual bike trailer for 1 or 2 kids. Second, it’s a jogging stroller with detachable front wheel and handlebar. This piece of equipment has provided bike rides and runs for our family. Quick tip: for efficient packing while traveling, stow your bike helmets, pump, and other equipment in the bike trailer to take up less room in your vehicle.

3. Pop Up Tent


A third piece of equipment that has been extremely useful for our family, especially on our beach vacations, is a pop up tent. This provides a “home base” and plenty of shade during our 6-8 hour days on the beach during vacation. We went with a 10’x10′ E-Z Up Vista. We are on our second one now, since we typically visit the beach about 3-5 times in a season. It is easy to set up, durable, and provides lots of shade when our children need a break from the sun. Quick tip: be sure to rinse the tent down with a hose after you get back from the beach to prevent corrosion on the metal frame.


Spending time outside together on the weekends and on vacation is a great way to bond as a family. Having the right equipment can make it that much more enjoyable! These pieces of outdoor equipment have allowed us to make many memories with our family in the outdoors through the years. If there is a favorite piece of outdoor equipment you enjoy with your family, please share in the comments below.

Create your website at
Get started