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Destination: 'Hidden' rocks, resurrection ferns at Raleigh's Wilkerson Nature Preserve

Posted April 13
Updated April 14

The nature preserve, 5229 Awls Haven Rd., Raleigh, includes the one-mile loop that features rock outcrops.

Big rock outcrops. Rare resurrection ferns. A teepee. You'll see it all along a mile-long trail at north Raleigh's Annie Louise Wilkerson MD Nature Preserve Park.

The Hidden Rocks Trail at the park features all of those things and more, keeping kids entertained as they trek along the fairly easy path.

The 157-acre park is named after Wilkerson, the pioneering doctor and first female obstetrician and gynecologist in Raleigh. More than a decade ago, Wilkerson left the property to the city in her will, requiring that the property remain relatively untouched and used primarily for nature and wildlife education.

Today, you'll find a small park office on the property, a picnic shelter, restrooms, trails and a small nature playground where kids can play with sticks, make fairy houses or dig in a sandbox. Wilkerson's former home also has been converted for classroom space and programs.

I've written about this beautiful property, which sits near Falls Lake, before, but I'd never hiked along its Hidden Rocks Trail. I had the chance last month when my daughter's class went on a field trip here.

As we set out, I was ready for complaints from the dozen or so kids in my group about how "long" the trail was. Instead, they flitted from one point to the next, eager to see an animal or uncover a bug and spy those hidden rocks.

Because we were part of a scheduled field trip, we had a wonderful guide. But families and individuals heading to the park on their own can check out an online interactive geologic guide of the Hidden Rocks Trail to get more details about what you'll see along the way.

The focal point of the trail, of course, are the large rock outcrops made of Falls leucogneiss, a "metamorphic rock consisting of high amounts of quartz, making it extremely resistant to weathering and erosion," according to that online trail guide.

The rock runs almost like a backbone right down through Wake County, Marti Kane, the park manager tells me. You'll also see some of it at Historic Yates Mill County Park at the mill pond dam. The hard, attractive rock is perfect for contruction. Lots of buildings in downtown Raleigh, including Broughton High School, are made of it, Kane said.

And while most rock outcrops like this are visible from the bed of a stream, this formation is different because of its location at the top of a hill, Kane said. In fact, the outcrop is listed among one of the Wake Wonders, which lists outstanding natural features across Wake County.

Some of the rock outcrops are large and very obvious. Others, near the beginning of the trail, are trickier to find.

For the kids, the first big find was that teepee, which sits at the beginning of the trail and is made of tall branches. They ran in and out of it before they started back down the trail. (You'll find another teepee near the park's picnic shelter).

The second big find: those large rock outcrops. The kids scrambled up on the rocks, posing for pictures, getting back down and scrambling up them again. We had to pull them away.

Kane said it's just fine for visitors to climb on the rocks.

"We want people to be able to climb on the rocks, to look at the features, to be able to see the veins and to be able to see places where the softer minerals have eroded away," Kane said.

They were eager to climb on the next rocks we came to ... but a sign asks hikers to steer clear. Those rocks are home to rare resurrection ferns, which turn brown during dry periods and, after a rain, turn green, appearing to return to life. Though they are called resurrection ferns, they never actually die when they shrivel up.

The plant can survive a loss of between 75 percent and 97 percent of its water content, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Most plants die after losing only 10 percent of their water content.

From there, we finished out the hike along the natural surface trail, exiting at a clearing right next to Wilkerson's former home. There, the kids got to pump water from a working well pump.

If you go, be sure to check out the park office, where you can check out backpacks for exploring the park or kits for doing everything from building forts to building fairy houses; borrow kites to fly in the park's open spaces; and ask questions. The staff members here have lots of knowledge to share. If you're a teacher planning a field trip, I highly recommend the fantastic programs they offer here.

If you do go, just be sure you don't take any small rocks, pebbles or anything else you find with you.

"Being a nature preserve, you can’t take rocks form the park," Kane said. "You can come in and explore and study them and take pictures. But we don’t allow collection."

The park has plenty of parking and restrooms, along with a large picnic shelter if you're bringing a picnic or lunch. The Hidden Rocks Trail has a natural surface, which could make it tricky for most strollers to navigate over. But Kane said it's definitely popular with families.

"Most of our parents that come here, they say it's their favorite trail," she said.

Find Wilkerson Nature Preserve at 5229 Awls Haven Dr., Raleigh. The park is closed Mondays.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.

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