Editor's Note: Sean Higgins, the interpretation and education manager for North Carolina State Parks and a father of a six-year-old and twin 18-month-olds, shares a favorite hike for families in the Triangle.
When your family is ready for more advanced hikes, there are some wild adventures within one hour of Raleigh. These moderate hikes offer some mountain-like views and elevation change. They make great training hikes for an upcoming trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area boasts the highest point in Orange County at 867 feet. To find the next highest point to the east, you would need to go to Portugal. You definitely get a mountainous feel at the park, both in scenery and in your thighs as you gain 350 feet in elevation. The 2.2-mile Occoneechee Mountain Loop trail is a good family challenge, or you can plan a shorter loop with the Chestnut Oak trail. In either case, a side trip on the 0.15 mile Overlook trail is a must for one of the best views in the Triangle.
The mighty Cape Fear River carves a 150-foot cliff at Raven Rock State Park, just south of the Triangle. The Raven Rock Loop Trail is a moderate 2.6-miles to a breathtaking river view atop the rock cliff, down 135 steep steps to the river’s edge and along a creek lined with evergreen mountain laurel. Though I would not recommend descending the stairs wearing a backpack carrier, I do think this trail is a great challenge for motivated elementary-aged hikers.