Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Cary, the Umstead Forest – technically known as the William B. Umstead State Park – is a far cry from the busy cityscape that’s found just a stone’s throw from its borders. Peaceful, entertaining, and a favorite destination for nature fans of all ages, Umstead Forest is where active Cary locals go for a breath of fresh air.
History of the Umstead Forest
Long before Cary turned into the hub of activity that it is today, the area terrain was wooded and rugged, with elk, bobcats, and wolves roaming wild through the natural scene. While the city of Raleigh would grow and expand for centuries after the first settlers arrived in the late 1770s, the undeveloped regions remained rugged, and in 1934, 5,000 acres of this central NC region as set aside as a recreational area. Four camps and picnic facilities were built within the newly designated park, thanks to the efforts of the New Deal era Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration, and the park officially opened for visitors in 1937.
About the Umstead Forest
Today, the Umstead Forest is surrounded by highways and popular destinations, but ut remains refreshingly quiet. US Highway 70 borders the Umstead Forest to the north, while US 40 borders the park to the south. Umstead Forest’s western border connects with the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and just to the east, visitors will find the Crabtree Valley Mall and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Yes, the region surrounding the Umstead Forest is certainly busy, but the forest itself truly feels like another world. Trailheads on both sides of the state park connect with three manmade lakes in the heart of the forest – the biggest being Big Lake – which are ideal spots for kayaking or canoeing. Fishing is also a popular activity at all of the lakes on site, and there are multiple picnic grounds and shelters that can feature fireplaces and other amenities for group events.
Camping is another popular activity at Umstead Forest, and the park has two accommodating camp sites complete with cabins, mess halls, and even rustic bathrooms / wash houses. Both primitive and more accommodating camping options are open from spring through he fall months, and can be reserved online.
From hiking and jogging, to kayaking and fishing, there’s simply a world of things to do with a visit to the Umstead Forest. Naturally wild, this unique destination that’s just a couple miles from cary feels like a natural oasis in an otherwise busy city that always seems to be brimming with activity.