Explore America's park logoWedged between Raleigh, Durham and a sprawling business complex called Research Triangle Park is a park with more than eight square miles of woods dotted with lakes and laced with streams and trails. William B. Umstead State Park is a little bit of wild in the middle of a Southern metropolis where you can fish, canoe, hike, bike or ride a horse after work.


And, if you don’t want to go home, there are 28 campsites.



Most of the acreage for William B. Umstead State Park was assembled in 1934 under the Resettlement Administration, a short-lived New Deal federal agency that converted worn-out farmland to other uses. Two other New Deal programs — the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration — built picnic grounds and other facilities for the park opening in 1937.


Reedy Creek State Park — now the southern portion of the park — was established for African-Americans in 1950. The two parks were combined as Umstead State Park in 1966.


Things to do:

There are more than 30 miles of trails in William B. Umstead State Park, some for hiking, some for biking, some for horseback riding.


While there are just 20 miles of hiking trails in the park, the looping, criss-crossing trail system makes it possible to a seemingly endless combination of treks. First time visitors will need a map. About 13 miles of bridle trails travel through the park and mountain bikers are allowed to share the trails with equestrians. Horses and mountain bikes are prohibited on the hiking trails.


Spreading across 55 acres, Big Lake is the largest of the three lakes that dot the park. Canoes and rowboats are available for rent at Big Lake. And if you’re on the water, why not fish? Fishing is also an option at Sycamore and Reedy Creek lakes.


Why you’ll want to come back:

The Piedmont Beech Natural Area, a 50-acre tract of big beech trees included in the National Registry of Natural Landmarks, requires a special permit to visit.


Flora and fauna:

Big beech trees, oaks, dogwoods, red maples, tulip poplars and eastern redbuds provide plenty of shade along the trails. You’ll also find mountain laurel, rhododendrons and wild azaleas that provide a splash of color.


If you don’t spot a white-tailed deer while hiking, well, you’re not paying attention. The park is also a refuge for beavers, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and wily coyotes.


Fact box:

  • Website: William B. Umstead State Park
  • Park size: 5,579 acres or 8.7 square miles
  • 2011 visitation: 881,180
  • Funky fact: In 2010, researchers discovered that embryos of the spotted salamander, which is found in the park, have photosynthetic algae inside.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.


MNN tease photo: base10/Flickr


William B. Umstead State Park: A user's guide
Wedged between Raleigh, Durham and Research Triangle Park is more than eight square miles of woods dotted with lakes and laced with streams and trails. William