Lanier Falls
Lanier Falls at Raven Rock State Park southwest of Raleigh.

The gravitational pull of the Blue Ridge causes a lot of us Triad types to overlook places like Raven Rock State Park, which hasn’t a single peak to its name. I’ll confess my main motivation for checking out Raven Rock was that it’s off U.S. 421, one of the main highways through the Triad, so I didn’t have to fret over being able to find the place.

Raven Rock

I did fret a bit over driving 112 miles one way — $3.50-a-gallon gas does that — but on the right day at the right time of year, Raven Rock can be a fret-free environment.

Raven Rock (right) represents the tall, jaggy cliffs on the west shore of the Cape Fear River (one of the best river names anywhere, even if it’s not exactly fearsome). The hike down to the cliffs is easy and the cliffs are pretty impressive; just bear in mind it’s one of the most popular places in the park, so you’ll have plenty of company down there on weekends.

About Saturday’s hike: Perfect weather — breezy, sunny, high in the mid-70s — in the weeks before the trees fill up with leaves might well be the best time to see Raven Rock (autumn would be nice, of course, but the place is probably mobbed on weekends).

I notched about 9 miles on all the best hiking trails at Raven Rock, including the two-mile Raven Rock Loop and side trips to the Scenic Overlook and the Fish Traps, plus essentially a second hike on the Campbell Creek Loop. Raven Rock Loop is a great place to take the kids (just keep ’em out of the river), while Campbell Creek is a bit more rugged than you might think: lots of ups and downs on a six-miler with a must side trip to Lanier Falls, the prettiest place in the park.

Let’s see some more pictures:

Water's edge, Cape Fear River

In retrospect this represents my most memorable moments on the hike: when I gleefully ignored the “Trail Ends” sign and set out along the steep riverbank, only to come within a splash of sliding into the Cape Fear River at the base of Raven Rock. A fanny plant in the mud a few moments later persuaded me to tiptoe back where I came from.

Trees near Raven Rock

Trees near the river at the base of Raven Rock.

Scenic overlook

If you take the Raven Rock Loop, be sure to follow the sign to the Scenic Overlook: the view’s pretty great, especially on a day when a smattering of clouds decorates the sky. I had a cool conversation with three young Army guys who’d been to Afghanistan and were grateful to have someplace quiet to hang out. I of course recommended they spend the next several months doing something productive like hiking the Appalachian Trail. Let’s hope they take me up on it.

More of the Fish Traps

Another required side trip is to the Fish Traps — this is a section of the river where bowls in the rocky riverbed attract fish — I’m guessing they stop in to feed, and, being fish, are not bright enough to notice when the river goes down, stranding them to their fates. (Mind you this very phenomenon most likely led to the evolution of creatures with feet, legs and other appendages, so in a sense we have fish traps to thank for, well, everything.)

After you finish the Raven Rock section of the park, you can either call it a day, or do like I did and add another six miles on the Campbell Creek loop just to keep things interesting.

You have a choice on your hands when you hit the junction where the Campbell Creek Loop starts (about a mile or so from the parking lot). Half of the loop tracks the creek and the other just wanders through the woods. The halfway point has a side trail to Lanier Falls, which isn’t much of a waterfall, to tell the truth, but it’s a lovely spot to kick back and watch the river.

I chose to walk by the creek first; note almost everybody else goes the other way, saving the riparian stroll for the return leg of the hike.

Campbell Creek empties into Cape Fear River

Best thing about hanging a right and doing the creek first: you come right to the end of the creek, where it empties into the Cape Fear River. From here it’s pretty easy to follow a use trail right along the river’s edge most of the way to Lanier Falls. You do have to scramble up a fairly steep hillside when the trail peters out, but it’s worth it. I’m not sure you can even find the path down to the river if you come the other way.

All in all, Raven Rock’s a pretty nice park, given its distance from the nearest mountain range. Trails are well marked and nicely maintained. Crowded on a Saturday, but that’s true of any North Carolina state park on a weekend.

Links for this hike:

Google map:

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