Durant Nature Park sits tucked away in the middle of north Raleigh. The 237-acre park features five miles of trails, a playground, two lakes and lots of activities for families.
It's among my favorite places in Raleigh. It's a nice respite from the usual hustle and bustle of life that's just around the corner on Capital Boulevard. And it offers one of my very favorite free programs for young kids in the city: Wee Walkers, which you'll see a bit of in the video.
Durant is a former Boy Scout camp. And some of the camp's old buildings and amenities are there, including a fishing pier, lodge and some camp sites (for organized groups only). Fishing is allowed at the park. And the city loans fishing poles if you don't have your own. Just ask the staff at the park office, which is a good place to orient yourself on your first visit. The office includes a small visitors center with some stuffed animals (both formerly alive and pretend) as well as field guides and a snake (in a cage). Karen Berry, park manager, tells me they are more than happy to answer your questions about things you've seen and heard in the park.
Durant has one big drawback for families who rely on a stroller. Most of the five miles of trails are natural and not stroller friendly. But you can push a stroller down to the playground, which features a small playset, a sandy area and some swings. A couple of picnic shelters are nearby,along with some restrooms. And if you're quiet, you might see some deer in the grassy area by the playground. At least my older daughter and I have more than once.
The trails take you through a variety of habitats, but it's mostly forested. There are creeks and tall hardwoods and lots of nature to look at. While the longest trail is about 2 miles or so, there are shorter options for younger kids. Berry recommends the Secret Creek Trail.
Durant offers all kinds of nature programs including classes for kids ages one and up that last an hour or two, evening walks in the park for families, concerts and yoga. It's also home to the popular outdoor Camp Ranoca in the summer. To search for programs offered at Durant (and for any Raleigh park program), check the city's RecLink. It will take you to a searchable list of all of the city's park programs. You can also register online.
The park is gearing up for its very popular Halloween Trail. For more than 25 years around Halloween, park staff have led evening walks with nature-based skits along the way. Hundreds of jack-o-lanterns light the way. There's a campfire and magician, along with a hayride. It's a familly event and not scary. As many as 600 come out for the two-day event, which runs Oct. 22 and Oct. 23. Registration is required and it closes a few days before the event.
Wee Walkers doesn't require registration and meets pretty much every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. this time of year. The one-hour program for kids ages 1 and up features an easy walk through the woods led by park staff, some simple lessons about nature and an opportunity to run the kids until they're ready for a nap.
I took my now five-year-old a few years ago. And my one-year-old and I went together for the first time on Thursday. (And my apologies to all the other moms out there for the crying. Apparently she has not given up her morning nap).
Durant Nature Park is at 8305 Camp Durant Rd. off Durant Road in north Raleigh. Camp Durant Road sits next to the Open Door Baptist Church on Durant Road (it's easy at least for me to miss the turn). Call the park at 919-870-2871 for more information.
And watch the video to learn more about the park, Berry's recommendations for families and some scenes of Thursday's Wee Walkers.