Little River - North River Trail
A short drive north of Durham there's a park that promises few crowds and fun trails for hikers and mountain bikers
The last time we went to Rougemont we were going to see a house, and on the way we ended up stuck behind, well, a house. A massive truck was moving this massive house down this tiny country road - a country farmhouse with whitewash peeling off the side boards, scraping past oaks whose branches creeped over the road's narrow shoulder.
We managed to avoid any Rougemont houses this past weekend, making our way to Little River Regional Park & Natural Area, a cooperative conservation park funded by Durham and Orange counties. If by chance we'd actually moved out to Rougemont - if the commute hadn't been so far, if the house hadn't been out of budget, if maybe there'd been a second bathroom in that crazy quirky house on 13 acres with a funky detached shed that was perfect for holing up and writing all afternoon - it was a good chance that I'd have done much of my running at Little River.
I knew about Little River because of the popular trail race, and McCrae knew about Little River because of the mountain bike trails, but when we pulled into the parking lot McCrae said, "Hey, we've been here before."
"No way. I don't recognize it all."
"No, really, we've hiked here with Ryder before."
"I don't believe you."
I really shouldn't say something like that to McCrae.
In any case we poked around a bit, checked out the playground, the garden area, the bulletin, and the corn crib. Several signs made it quite clear that they weren't joking around; the park closes at 5pm in winter and if you're not out of the parking lot by then - guess what! - you're spending the night in the park. (Separate accounts have confirmed this information; seriously, don't get stuck there late.)
From the wide, paved planet walk with informational signs posted about major objects in our solar system we meandered down the path towards the natural trails with a short stop by the skills section of the mountain bike area. An advanced area is under construction, but McCrae walked me through some of the basic and intermediate obstacles and jumps. Even on a Sunday there were no crowds on the bike trails or hiking trails, so we took our time exploring.
Finally we linked back up with the hiking trail and took Ridge Trail up to North River Trail to do the lollipop route, switching trails at a well-marked area with a map kiosk and orange cones. Ridge trail was not memorable in any way - just a walk in the woods without even much elevation change to make it remarkable. The 15-acre park sits on former tobacco fields, so much of the woods is new growth with skinny little tree trunks clamoring up to soak in the sunshine and crowd out their neighbors.
The trail along the water was worth the trek though. It was exactly as the name implies - it's a little river with rocks and moss and wide shallow areas where the river lazes past a wooden bench and a few narrow areas where the water gushes white over a short drop. It's quiet, reposed, and familiar in a way that I exclaimed, "Oh yeah, maybe we have been here!"
My bad, McCrae. You were right.
We clamored a bit over rocks to explore the area, McCrae and Ryder running off to hop onto tiny islands in the middle of the river while I played with the camera. Despite the less than exciting trail to get there I'm sure it's a popular spot during summer.
Total hiking - out on Ridge trail, around the North River loop trail, and then back down Ridge trail - theoretically put us around 2.88 miles, though my activity tracker claimed I'd hit 6 miles total that morning and the map doesn't give a distance for the planet walk to get to the hiking trails (plus counting putzing around at home before heading out and exploring the mountain bike area, so we'll say I probably hiked a little over 3 miles). The trail itself is easy, but scrambling to get close to the riverbank involves a little sure-footedness, and be careful to leave no trace in this pristine habitat.
Get there: Little River Regional Park & Natural Area
Little River Park Way, Rougemont, NC 27572
Distance: Our hike was about 3 miles, but there are 7+ miles worth of hiking trails and 8 miles of singletrack mountain bike trails at the park.
Our route: From trailhead at parking lot follow planet walk, connect to Ridge trail, take North River loop trail, back down Ridge trail, to planet walk, back to parking lot. (A bit over 3 miles, easy effort)
Dog friendly? Yes, but dogs must be leashed.
Kid friendly? Yes. For younger kids you may just focus on the planet walk and then explore the garden and play on the playground. Older kids may enjoy exploring more trails. Parts of the trail might be boring. For example, getting to and from the river via Ridge Trail was not exciting, but the walk along North River loop trail was very scenic.
Tips: Exercise caution if you venture onto mountain bike trails. Mountain bikers may take the trails very fast; be alert and be aware that you may need to jump out of the way to ensure no one gets hurt. Don't play on obstacles and avoid the mountain bike trails when the trails are wet to help reduce wear and tear on the trails.
Additionally, this park is a collaboration between Durham and Orange counties. You may need to check both county websites (linked below) for information.
1) Eno River/Little River: http://www.enoriver.org/what-we-protect/little-river-regional-park/
2) Durham County site: http://dconc.gov/government/departments-a-e/board-of-commissioners/special-projects/little-river-regional-park
3) Orange County site: http://www.orangecountync.gov/departments/deapr/little_river_regional_park_and_natural_area.php
4) Additional site: https://www.durham-nc.com/listings/Little-River-Regional-Park-Natural-Area/2140/