Hike: Raven Rock Loop
Location: Raven Rock State Park
Nearby Town: Lillington, NC
Elevation (Max): 320'
Elevation Gained: 400'
Trailhead: Raven Rock State Park is pretty far from interstate highways, so directions will vary widely. From the Research Triangle area, though, take Rte 55 S (for western Wake County towns like Morrisville, Cary, Holly Springs) and turn R on Rte 401 S in Fuquay-Varina. From Raleigh, take Rte 401 S. When Rte 401 ends, turn R onto Rte 421 which crosses a river and enters Lillington. Rte 421 turns R in Lillington, and follow to Raven Rock Rd. Turn R and follow to the parking area in the park.
Web Site: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/raro/main.php
Raven Rock State Park is, in my opinion, the most impressive geologic feature in the Triangle area (it is about an hour from Durham and 40 minutes from Raleigh). The main attraction in the park is, obviously, Raven Rock--a long, high rock cliff overlooking the Cape Fear River 150 feet below. In an area seriously lacking when it comes to hills and cliffs, Raven Rock is a destination worth the trip.
E and I did this hike in late August. The drive down was interesting for us since we were new to the area so we got our first looks at Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs (where we stopped on the return trip for some delicious pizza at La Dolce Vita). When we got to the park, the parking situation was a bit confusing since it appeared they were in the process of construction or renovations of what appeared to be a visitor center and parking lot. However, we ended up parking in a dirt parking lot to the right of the main road. We found the trailhead at the back of the lot and began the hike down the Raven Rock Loop Trail.
The vast majority of the Raven Rock Loop Trail is basically flat. Only at Raven Rock does that change--a long stairway takes hikers from the top of the cliffs to the riverbank. The cliffs look very impressive from beneath as they overhang the riverbank. E and I spent a while walking around the cliffs exploring and using the large overhangs to produce very powerful echos. After we explored all we could, we headed back up the stairs and continued on the Loop Trail. After a short while, a short spur goes out to an overlook from the top of the cliffs. E and I really enjoyed this overlook simply because features such as these that afford long views are so rare around the Triangle--and so common in New England. From the overlook we could see some rapids up the river and what appeared to be people out in the middle of the river. We decided to check it out.
I consulted the map and determined that what we saw must have been the Fish Traps so after returning to the Loop Trail, instead of going left at the next junction, we went right down the Fish Traps Trail. This trail was a steady but gradual descent to the river. The river was pretty neat. We were able to walk out on large flat rocks that stuck out into the river creating chutes, rapids, and eddies. After checking everything out, we headed back up the Fish Traps trail and returned to the parking lot. Raven Rock is pretty impressive and unique in this area, and we left a lot of park unexplored so hopefully I will get back there someday.