What it is: This is a beautiful state park surrounding the Eno River located in North Durham. There are camping sites, lots of hiking trails both along the river and through the hills, picnic areas, and great wildlife viewing. There are apparently five different parking areas, but we have only explored two of them. The two that we have been to are the "Cole Mill" area at the intersection of Cole Mill Rd. and Umstead Rd. and the "Fews Ford" area which is where Cole Mill Rd. dead ends at it's northernmost point.
We are most familiar with the "Cole Mill" parking area. Off of this parking area, the Cole Mill Trail is a nice 1.2 mile walking trail that follows the river for most of its length. Since you reach the river right after the hike starts it can be a great option for little ones that are walking themselves and may not make it very far. The Bobbitt's Hole Trail can be excellent for taking little ones in packs or older kids. It is a 1.65 mile loop, but the distance is a little longer because we access it off of the Cole Mill Trail. It ends at a pool of water, Bobbitt's Hole, which is a great place to explore. Depending on the strength of the current at the time of your visit, you can even jump in for a little swim. Usually we just stick to dipping our toes in and leave the swimming to the dog.
One of our other stir crazy moms has explored some other really neat parts of the park that we haven't made it to. Here's what she found:
The Fews Ford area has two areas that appeal a lot to kids. When you first enter the park from the end of Cole Mill Road, if you take the first turn on the right and park, you can hike down to Fews Ford. In olden days, you can imagine wagon carts using this ford to cross the river. Now it's a great place to let the little ones splash around in the summer, the water runs a foot deep with a gentle current. Older kids can take a dunk in the deeper upstream. It's usually part-shade throughout the day, but sunscreen might be a good idea, as well as water shoes for the tender little feet (and bigger feet too). Crocs, keens, and tevas all work. It does get muddy, so don't bring nice clothes there.
Other times of the year, it's fun to explore the exciting swinging bridge and play house in the log cabin further down the trail. Park at the head of Fanny's Ford trail, and head down--after a cement portion, you'll reach a dirt trail winding down the hill to the riverside. Wear good shoes, especially after a rain. Our two-year-old hiked half the distance, our four-year-old did the whole thing without whining! At the bottom, turn right and follow the river to the swinging bridge, and read the impressive high-water mark! Once you cross, if you follow the trail heading left back along the river, after five minutes you will reach an old log cabin for the kids to play house in.
Another Eno River spot is the , which is part of the Durham Parks. Its address is 5101 N Roxboro Road, the entrance can be easy to miss. It has an old water-run grist mill, which on the weekends is open and operational, and you can even buy stone-ground cornmeal there (it's yummy for cornbread)! Below the mill, there's a pebble area for the kids to throw rocks or wade into the water (again, it's muddy, dress accordingly). Hike up past the picnic area, and you will find the catchment area where in the summer, you can rent canoes. I am told that further on up the trail is a big rock quarry which is now part of the reservoir system, and you can do more serious swimming there in clean clear water. The Eno River Association there runs nature classes and the Schoolhouse of Wonder summer camps.
What we like: This is the closest state park to us and it has all of the benefits of a state park. When you explore the trails you feel like you're out in the wilderness. When you visit the park you and your child can see wildlife such as turtles, birds, squirrels, and the occasional deer. You can see a variety of forest and river plant life. You can also just explore the water and the shore and you hike along. My toddler loves being outdoors, and this is one of the few places nearby where you can truly feel like you are out in the wilderness.
What we would change: Because it is the great outdoors, you do have to make sure you keep a close eye on your child. Some of the river banks are very steep, so you have to make sure your child doesn't fall in. After a big rain, the river can be pretty strong and swiftly moving. In addition, the hikes are long enough that if you would like to go on the whole trail, you will need a backpack to carry your toddler. The distance is probably too far for them to walk.
Website and Directions: The Eno River State Park is located in North Durham with several access points off of Cole Mill Rd.
Address: 6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27705-9275
GPS coordinates: 36.0783, -79.0050
Office Phone: 919-383-1686
Below are views of the Cole Mill Trail taken in early March.
More great pictures of the Eno:
The end of Cole Mill Rd.
The swinging bridge in summer
The swinging bridge in winter
The Fews Ford trailhead
The Grist Mill at West Point on the Eno