Enjoy challenges and puzzles? Feel your goat needs to work on learning to adapt to the unknown during an adventure? Then take a trip to Umstead State Park for the day. Barely a stone’s throw from downtown Raleigh this sizable state park is a major draw for the area’s population, thus providing ample opportunities for teaching both yourself and your goat(s) to navigate any number of difficult obstacles. From the hordes of jogging and joking adolescents, to the high speed mountain bikers who should have bought a motorcycle instead, and even the occasional terrified horse this park offers many chances to learn to problem solve and overcome adversity. Or at least, to disentangle a freaked out goat who has wrapped its leash around both you and itself. So throw out your plans for a relaxing hike this weekend and instead aim for a little excitement at Umstead State Park.
Location: William B. Umstead State Park on the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina
Is it goat approved? Yes. The park rangers are even pretty fond of goats, (provided they are leashed), and will stop to take pictures of said goats sometimes. Which will stress any normal person out because park rangers are really only one step removed from the cops, and lets be honest, there’s only one situation where the cops take your picture! The park hosts bikes, horses, dogs, runners, and hikers, and I have it on good authority I am not the only person who hikes with goats on its premises.
How you get there: To limit the hassle, go in to the park on the backside by taking exit 287 off Hwy 40 onto North Harrison Avenue. You want to turn after you take the exit so that you are headed to the end of the bridge that is wooded and appears to have no buildings on it. That is the entrance to Umstead. This will lead you to a parking lot which is fairly sizable. If the weather is nice, get to this parking lot at the latest by 9am because it fills up. There is another road (Old Reedy Creek Road) that dead ends into the park about 1/2 a mile west of exit 287 that you can park on the side of. However, getting to this road and parking on it is a real pain, so only do it if you are arriving late to the preferred parking area.
Time for hike: The distance is approximately 6.5 miles.This is a loop hike.
Best season to do this hike: Winter. Yes, you can hike it any time of the year, but take into account that Wake County (the county in which this park lies) is home to over a million people. Do you want to challenge a million people for a spot on the trail? No? Then go when it’s freezing cold outside and that will trim the competition considerably.
Trails to Take
My favorite loop takes in most of the interesting sightseeing in the park and uses both gravel roads and traditional dirt trails. However, if you’re a hiking purist or you want to minimize the traffic you’ll meet stick to the foot only dirt trails in the park. Additionally, the western side of the park near the airport is usually quieter than the eastern side. This is because there are a lot of housing developments that border the park on the east side, the south east side is where one of the Raleigh city walking trails enters the park, and the north part of the park is the main entrance and lodging areas.
To start the loop from the parking lot you want to head west towards the public restrooms in the small wooden building to one side of the parking lot. There is a foot trail heading down the hill into the woods towards a covered picnic shelter. Take that trail, (this is Company Mill Trail). It will go around the large fancy picnic shelter, and continue down the hill on a section of trail lined with white quartz rocks. The trail will then meander out through the woods and across a few small foot bridges. Watch out for joggers coming at you on this section. The climb up this hill is very popular as a last masochistic push back to the car for many of Raleigh’s diehard long distance running community.
Eventually the trail will come up to a short section of post fence above the river and it will turn right. As the trail makes its final descent to the river, keep an eye out to your right for mill ruins. There are several wall sections from the old mill in this area that can be explored and climbed on. This is also a good area for people with off leash dogs and out of control kids, therefore caution is needed.
Once you’ve had your fill of ruins, cross the river on the green metal bridge, then turn left after crossing the bridge. This will take you down the quieter part of Company Mill Trail on a pleasant walk by the river. Keep an eye out for more ruins in and on the opposite shore of the river. Company Mill Trail will leave the river and go into the upland pines, with it finally dumping out onto a gravel road, (this is Reedy Creek Park Road). If you are unsure of your current location, at this intersection there is a sign post with a map available, (hurrah for inner city parks). Turn left onto Reedy Creek Park Road. As you walk you will pass a dog watering station that can also, with a little bit of patience, be a great goat and human watering station as well.
Continue walking until you reach a clearing on the left hand side of the road with picnic tables. You know you are in the right place if there are signs on the right hand side of the road telling you not to trespass on RDU Airport property. This is a nice spot to stop for lunch or breakfast and usually not super popular with other trail users. There is a hitching post here to tie up goats, but it’s never impressed me as being very sturdy so I don’t really use it lest I have to explain to angry people and park rangers that I can’t help the fact they built with substandard materials and methodology. I mean, if a goat breaks it and it was actually intended for horses, what does that say about your construction skills? Yeah, not an argument that’s going to end well.
Anyway, once you’re done eating or hanging out, turn around and head back the way you came. You’ll pass the watering point and the trail head for Company Mill, then you’ll pass an old graveyard. If you like really rustic graveyards this isn’t for you, but if you’re more into history than atmospheric leaning memorials and mist the signage here has a lot on the history of the area before the construction of the park that is of interest.
Continue heading down the road after the cemetery and you’ll eventually reach a big impressive bridge over a small creek. Once you’ve crossed that bridge and started up the next hill, keep a sharp look out for Reedy Creek Lake Trail going off to your right.
It is a gravel road that splits off from the main road and goes down a short incline to a park bench and a small pond. You want this trail. The pond is fairly picturesque, and the trail will take you along its dam and over a fancy bridge. After that, just keep climbing up the road until it dead ends into a paved road with a gate blocking access. Go around the gate and walk along the paved road to your left. If you are doing something that might cause the ire of the park service to descend upon you, (such as walking a goat off leash), cease and desist whatever it is at this time. You will be passing by the houses where the park rangers live, and like the police, what they may tolerate at a distance they will take personally if you do in their front yard. It’s also pretty common to see a park ranger driving by on this stretch.
Continue down the road. You will be looking for a dirt trail crossing the road. This is Loblolly Trail. When you find it, go right on it. This trail will take you back to the parking lot that you started at.
Mostly just be warned about people. This is a popular place, and like most parts of the planet, when too many people gather in one location what was a nice, pretty, pristine environment rapidly degrades into hell on earth.
- If you are on gravel then you are on a multi-use trail. Bikers at this park like going fast and weaving in and out of the crowd. They can be prone to getting really way too close to a goat.
- Large groups of adolescent males running without shirts on are your worst nightmare if you like to be low key. Mostly found on gravel roads in the park, they insist on “baaing” loudly and in unison when spotting a goat. Which means that anyone who wasn’t paying attention to you is definitely paying attention to you now.
- Dogs. Most dogs are leashed but I keep meeting owners who think my prey animal goat would be thrilled for their predatory dog to meet it. Some of which do not ask before attempting to allow the dog to meet the goat. If you can, take a goat with horns as this makes owners more reluctant to do this.
- It is a punishable offence in Wake County to walk an animal without a leash. Have I ever been charged for doing it with the goats? No. However, every once in a while you meet a really motivated law enforcement officer, so keep an eye out if you’re not using a leash.
In sum: Bomb proofing is best achieved not just through the use of actual bombs, but also by simply terrifying a goat in as many ways as you can think of. Have fun making that list.