Just to the north and east of downtown Durham, the swift waters of the Eno River work away at the rock and earth beneath them. Aided by abundant rainfall and a moderate climate, the deep, narrow valley carved out by the Eno is dense with all manner of flora. Tall, thin birch trees rise through mountain laurel and rhododendrons, whose thick green foliage bursts with blooms of white and orange in late spring.
Higher up the steep valley wall, dogwoods, whose scent is the ubiquitous sign that spring has arrived in North Carolina, intermingle with towering poplar, beech, and oak. Later in the season, locals head to protected river bends to cool off in favorite swimming holes. In fall, the forest erupts in a palette of muted oranges and reds, while winter brings the monochromatic filter of frost and snow to the valley.
Created through a partnership with the state of North Carolina, the Eno River Association, and other organizations, Eno River State Park offers protection for the river and a gateway for Durham locals to take advantage of the river’s abundant offerings. Nearly 30 miles of trails carry hikers through the 3,900-acre park, some darting up the steep valley walls and others following the gentle grade of the river.
Five separate access areas make up the park, two of which hold the most popular hiking trails. Fews Ford is the access for the northernmost section in the park, a large tract hilly, densely forested terrain. To the south, where the Eno River bends to the east, Cole Mill is the place for river walks and swimming holes.
The most challenging trails ramble over the hills of the Fews Ford access. Cox Mountian Loop Trail is among the park’s most popular. Beginning at the southernmost parking lot at Fews Ford, the trail begins with a descent to the river and swinging pedestrian bridge. Looping for 3.75 miles, the trail rises nearly 300 feet, making it one of the most vertical paths in the park. For a little extra mileage, tack on the one-mile Fanny’s Ford loop, a gentler trail that generally follows the riverbed.
Bobbitt Hole is another popular spot for both its seclusion and mystique. The “hole” is a deep spot in the river reportedly reaching depths of 18 feet. It’s not known what caused this depression, but no matter the mechanism, Bobbitt’s Hole and the rocky shoal upstream of it make for a perfect summer swim. However, as the Eno is a force of nature, it’s important to play it safe when playing in the water here.
To reach Bobbitt Hole, park at the lot in the Cole Mill Access off Old Cole Mill Road. Follow the Cole Mill Trail and Bobbitt Hole Trail for roughly a mile. There are several other trails following the Eno that begin from the Cole Mill lot, making it easy to create a hike that matches any desired distance.
Eno River State Park offers bathrooms ranging from an enclosed pit toilet to complete facilities with flush toilets and sinks. While most campgrounds here aren’t necessarily primitive (they have tent pads and fire rings), they aren’t right next to the parking lots. Expect to haul your gear a half-mile or more to reach your site.
The visitor center and main ranger station are located at the first parking areas off the northern end of Cole Mill Road, in the Fews Ford access area.