By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, Division of Parks and Recreation
In the heart of North Carolina, an ageless landmark rises, steep, dark and jagged, from the banks of the Cape Fear River. Less than an hour’s drive south from Raleigh, Raven Rock State Park hosts a confluence of Piedmont and Mountain region ecology that brings the some of the best of both regions together in one park.
I would call Raven Rock a “hidden gem.” Its ecology and geology are some of the most diverse and varied parks in our state parks system. The park truly has something for everyone. It is a bit farther away than our metropolitan folks are used to driving to say Umstead from Cary and Raleigh or Crowders Mountain from Charlotte, so visitation to Raven Rock is not overwhelming like the busiest parks, allowing for quiet and peaceful experiences there. This park has a new superintendent, John Privette, who is digging in to bring out the best of the park and ensure North Carolinians know and enjoy the lessons, experiences, and activities it offers.
Raven Rock is a great example of a four-season state park. Visit in spring to enjoy the wildflowers, summer to enjoy the Cape Fear river, or winter for a mild mountain-like hike closer to home that will offer quiet trails and spectacular views. Fall, of course, will bring radiant colors and ideal hiking weather.
Salamanders make their home along river bluffs and turtles of all sizes thrive in the Piedmont forest alongside lizards. The park offers a valuable stop-over for migratory birds as well as longer-term homes for others. In the spring when migratory bird visits are at their peak, visitors can observe as many as 20 species of warblers in a single day! Wood ducks nest in hollowed trees along the river and predatory birds like hawks owls soar over the river and forest.
The park’s unique topography is what makes it such an anomaly in the Piedmont . The river bluffs and cool, moist ravines are home to mountain laurel and rhododendron, as well as elm and red maple. Flat, dry uplands are characterized by pine and oak/hickory forests where sourwood, dogwood and blueberry fill out the understory. The rolling hills of the trails are reminiscent of a mountain region park, while the broad, sandy banks of the Cape Fear River remind you that you’re not far from North Carolina’s Coastal Plain.
My visit reminded me of childhood visits to “Little Mountain” in Natchez Trace’s Jeff Busby Park, just down Highway 9 from Eupora, Mississippi, my mother’s hometown. Mostly surrounded by flat areas, Little Mountain was a retreat from surrounding areas. Winding roads, shaded trails, cooler temperatures– the park really allowed us to feel like we were “in the wilderness.” We hiked, played Red Light – Green Light, and ate at the picnic areas there during each summer visit.
Raven Rock provides a similar atmosphere, and I hope it will provide more and more families the same kind of wonderful memories. One of my favorite things about visiting this park is that I grew up just over an hour from it and yet it was my first time not only to this park, but to this area of the state. Exploring our state parks system has provided this gift over and over. I hope you are all able to enjoy these experiences as much as I do. See you in our parks!