With 16 trails woven among fascinating historic landmarks, swimming holes, and wildlife galore, Eno River State Park is an urban oasis amid the congestion of the densely populated Raleigh-Durham area of central North Carolina. A grassroots effort to save the Eno River from damming in the 1960s resulted in the establishment of the 1,000-acre state park in 1975, preserving signs of settlement from centuries past, including river fords, home sites, and the remnants from more than 30 grist mills that operated on the Eno in the 1700s and 1800s. Today, the park thrives as an outdoor playground for wilderness enthusiasts.
Farming and timber once stripped the valley of its tree canopy, but now its slopes are covered with native oak, poplar, maple, dogwood, and hickory. Mountain laurel, Catawba rhododendron, and ferns populate the forest understory, along with a carpet of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. As you explore the park, keep an eye out for wildlife including white-tailed deer, raccoons, chipmunks, red-tailed hawks, great blue heron, and wild turkey.
What Makes It Great
The moderate trails of Eno River State Park wind their way through the gently sloping river valley, at times ascending by switchbacks or stairs to the rocky bluffs overlooking the river before returning to the flat riverbank again. A heavy canopy of green leaves provides shade in summer, accenting the trail with brilliant golds and reds in fall. The park is equally appealing in winter, under the serene blanket of snowfall, and in spring, when the wildflower bloom turns the landscape into a riot of color.
Five parking areas access the park’s 16 trails. From Few’s Ford Access at the park office, you can hike the 1.5-mile Buckquarter Creek Trail to a rock outcropping overlooking the most scenic rapids on the river. Or hike the 3.75-mile Cox Mountain loop to cross the park’s suspension footbridge and connect with the Fanny’s Ford Trail.
Trails at the Pleasant Green, Cabelands, and Cole Mill accesses lead to some of the park’s most unique features. Hike the Laurel Bluffs Trail to Eno Quarry, once mined for rock to build nearby I-85 and now a favorite swimming hole in summer. Or hike the Cole Mill Trail to Bobbit Hole, another popular spot to cool off at the park.
Pump Station Access leads to some of the best spring wildflower viewing on the park’s longest trail. Laurel Bluffs, part of North Carolina’s 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail, follows the Eno over six miles for an out-and-back hike of over 12 miles total.
To turn your hike into an overnight adventure, camp overnight at one of several primitive and group camping sites located along the river. All sites are hike-in only and no more than 1.5 miles from parking areas. Reservations can be made online.
Who is Going to Love It
There’s something for every level of hiker at Eno River. Novice hikers and families with small children will love the short, relatively flat trail loops, many with scenic stops along the river perfect for splashing in the shallow water. More experienced hikers will enjoy climbing the trail to ridgeline views of the river and connecting multiple trails for full-day treks. Backpackers, meanwhile, can take advantage of the solitude of the river at the primitive camping sites, which are hike-in only.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Enos River State Park is located just over an hour east of Winston-Salem in Durham and Orange counties. Take I-85 east to exit 173 and follow Cole Mill Road northwest for five miles to the main park entrance and park office at the Few’s Ford Access. There are four other trailhead access areas along the Eno: Pleasant Green Access off Pleasant Green Road, Cabelands Access on Howe Street, Cole Mill Access off Cole Mill and Umstead roads, and Pump Station Access off Rivermont Road.