|An inviting fireplace greets you at the visitor's center|
In my quest to see most of the state parks in the Triangle area, I made it to Umstead on a gorgeous and cool day. We started out at the Visitor's Center, which is the nicest one I've seen yet in any of the Triangle area state parks. There are lots of interactive exhibits in the Center that even my young children could enjoy. There is also a replica of a grist mill wheel in the Center.
I was told by one of the rangers that the trail down to the boathouse would probably be the most scenic option for my kids. It's a short trail that provides a view of Big Lake (seriously, that's what the lake is called) very soon after you begin your trek.The trail is easy for a stroller; there are a few spots where pieces of recycled fire hose cross the trail as an erosion control but you can easily ramp the stroller over these. Once you get to the end of the trail, you can then take the bridge over the spillway or turn right and go towards the boat house. There were several people fishing on the other side of the lake when we were there.
Once we finished the trail to the lake, we tried to do some more exploring on the Sycamore Trail but we had to go home because my preschooler was hungry and storm clouds were approaching anyway.
The part of the Park that I had heard about and really wanted to see - the old grist mill ruins - were not close to the entrance of the park that we came in (route 70). Apparently those ruins are on the Reedy Creek side of the park which is best accessed from Interstate 40. I was told by the ranger that I could have gone back to 70 and taken Ebenezer Church Road to Duraleigh and accessed the Interstate 40 entrance from there.
Umstead is a bustling park with plenty of joggers, bikers, and sightseers. There are campsites at the Park as well which make it a great place to introduce your kids to camping without going too far from home. I definitely plan to go back. It's a very beautiful woodsy landscape even if you just take a drive through the park on its' roads.
2nd Trip (2 days later) Reedy Creek Entrance
This trip had MISTAKE written all over it. Both of the kids hadn't slept well the night before. My preschooler's dance class was going to begin in less than two hours after we arrived at the park. And the trail we took - Loblolly - was definitely not stroller accessible. To top it all off, we weren't even on the right trail to see the mill ruins.
First, let's talk about the trail - a nightmare for a small wheeled stroller like mine. The trail crosses over hills and down into ravines and has a lot of switchbacks. But the surface of the trail is the worst part - it's loaded with above ground tree roots and large protruding rocks that make using a stroller almost impossible. If my toddler were any younger I would have worried about the ride giving him Shaken Baby Syndrome. You might be able to manage the trail with a large wheeled jogging stroller but I think even that would be strenuous. I wish the NC State Parks Department would start giving their trails a stroller accessibility rating or at least adapt their existing rating system to indicate stroller accessibility.
I was disappointed that I misread the map and didn't get on the right trail to see the mill ruins. What we did see was an old family cemetery a couple of yards to the right of the trail. The cemetery is pretty close to the trail head so you'd be able to see it without venturing too far down the trail. All of the legible headstones have the surname of 'Young' on them and the oldest legible stone sports a date of 1832. There are smaller and, what appear to be, older stones in the cemetery but age has all but erased their markings.
There is no visitor's center on the Reedy Creek side of the park but there are clean bathrooms at the trail head. If you're going follow I-40 west and get off at exit 287. There is no sign to tell you, but once you get on the exit ramp you need to prepare to turn right at the stoplight at the end of the ramp.
I would still like to see the mill ruins but I wouldn't plan to bring my kids to this side of the park again until both of them are old enough to walk the trails.