"Harris Lake County Park? How far away is that?"
Jackie Trickel, the assistant park manager for programs at the Wake County park, tells me those are common questions from potential visitors to this park, which sits in New Hill in southwestern Wake County.
But, in all reality, the park isn't that far from most points in Wake County. It took me a little less than 30 minutes to get there from central Raleigh. It's just about three miles off U.S. 1 and only five miles from bustling Holly Springs.
Regardless of the time it takes you to get there, there's plenty to do once you arrive. My kids, their friend and I spent nearly three hours just on the playground, at the park's new nature playground, eating a picnic lunch and taking a short cell phone-guided tour around a pond. We could easily have spent another few hours there, checking out the fishing piers, taking a longer hike, playing disc golf and spending more time on those shady playgrounds.
"Harris Lake is a destination," Trickel said. "You come here and you can spend some time."
The nearly 700-acre park, which opened in 1999, features a large lake and fishing pond, which is stocked with catfish monthly from May to September. You can borrow a fishing pole and other equipment from the park. (Just bring your own worms!).
There are several miles of hiking trails, including the five-mile peninsula trail, which takes visitors through several habitats, including the shoreline and forest, and brings you within view of the massive Shearon Harris cooling tower, part of Duke Energy.
Visitors can take cell phone tours along some of the trails, dialing a number or scanning a QR code to get more information about the trees and other flora and fauna they're seeing on their walk. We took a short hike around the Cypress trail where we learned about some of the different trees along the way.
Another eight miles are available just for mountain bikers, with courses for beginners to advanced riders.
"I see kids out there a lot," she said of the trails.
The park is absolutely gorgeous, especially now as the leaves change color. The kids spent most of their time on the traditional playground, with its slides, monkey bars and other pieces to climb.
But they loved the new nature playground, a patch within sight of the original playground and right next to the bathrooms. Here, they hopped across logs, crawled through a tunnel, hid in a teepee and built their own shelter out of big sticks and branches.
Trickel said the nature playground was built in August. It continues to be a work in progress.
Trickel spends much of her time planning and organizing programs and classes at the park for kids to adults at Harris Lake and the American Tobacco Trail, which has an entrance a few miles from the park. With the addition of a new staffer to help with programming, she hopes to boost the park's offerings starting in January.
But the park is busy this November and December with regular series such as Nature Tots for ages 1 to 3 and their adults; Forest Friends for ages 3 to 5 and their adults; and Trail Treks for families.
The park is known for its hayrides. Two fall fun hayrides are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., Nov. 22 and Nov. 23. A winter hayride is set for 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., Dec. 27. The cost is just $5 per family.
You can find out more about the programs offered at Harris Lake and Wake County's portion of the American Tobacco Trail on Wake County park's website.
But, if you want to attend any of these events, Trickel said there's one important piece you need to know: Be sure to register at least two days before the program to ensure your spot and that the program isn't canceled for lack of interest. Trickel and her staff need to be able to plan ahead.
Harris Lake County Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, seven days a week. It's closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. There are bathrooms on site, multiple picnic shelters and tables and lots of parking.
Find it at 2112 County Park Rd., New Hill.