Escape to the Lake
An afternoon, a day, a weekend—lakes in the Triangle offer a wonderful refuge for recreation and personal restoration.
By Carla Turchetti
Banner photo features Adventure Camp Lake Johnson; courtesy of the City of Raleigh.
You don’t have to travel far from home this summer for a day of leisure and fun at the lake—sailing, boating, fishing, or even just napping by the water. There is something special about spending a glorious summer day on the water. Gliding along in a canoe. Balancing on a stand-up paddleboard. Baiting a hook and settling in to see what’s biting. Or, simply packing a picnic and lunching by the water’s edge. Life just might be better by the lake—and the Triangle is overflowing with opportunities for you to find out.
Lake Johnson Park
Lake Johnson Park—operated by the City of Raleigh and located at 4601 Avent Ferry Road—features watercraft rentals, fishing, picnic areas, and trails. During boat rental season kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards are available. There are also boat launches for personal car-top boats that do not run on gasoline. Fishing at Lake Johnson is allowed from the property’s boardwalk or from rental or personal boats. Trails, some paved and some unpaved, ring Lake Johnson and offer 5.4 miles of opportunities for hiking and walking. Information is available at RaleighNC.gov.
Lake Wheeler Park
Located between Raleigh and Apex, Lake Wheeler Park was built in 1956 with the assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers to serve as a water supply lake. It’s still used for water, but it is also the home of a robust lake scene. The rental offerings include jon boats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats. Boaters are allowed to use the boat launches for motorized boats, except for personal watercraft, such as jet skis. Fishing is allowed, there are picnic areas for rent, and the Waterfront Educational Center offers programs for environmental education programs and a concession stand. Sailing and fishing are welcomed on Lake Wheeler, but swimming is not allowed. Visit RaleighNC.gov for more information.
Shelley Lake and Lake Lynn
These two North Raleigh spots are light on actual water recreation, but the lakes are the centerpieces of two very popular spots for outdoor fun. Both are operated by the City of Raleigh, and both have amenities to share. Shelley Lake, with entrances on West Millbrook Road, is circled by a two-mile trail of paved greenway, there is a playground on-site, and the Sertoma Arts Center is housed here. Lake Lynn is also home to a popular trail, the 2.8-mile Lake Lynn Loop. There is a community center at Lake Lynn that includes a fitness room, a gym, and a dance and art studio. Lake Lynn, located on Ray Road, also has picnic shelters, tennis and bocce courts, a baseball field, and playgrounds.
Lake Crabtree County Park
The beautiful water you see from the air as you are coming and going from Raleigh-Durham International Airport is the Lake Crabtree County Park in Morrisville. The 520-acre flood-control lake is surrounded by 215 acres of recreational space. When it opened in 1988, Lake Crabtree was the first park run by Wake County. Today, it is the county’s most-visited park, with more than 300,000 visitors each year. There is sailing, boating, catch-and-release fishing, picnicking, mountain biking, and 16 miles of hiking trails, which connect to Umstead State Park and to Cary’s greenway trails. “Most of our recreation is outdoor-focused and natural resource–focused,” says Chris Snow, director of Wake County Parks, Recreation, and Open Space. “It’s mountain bike trails, a place to go canoeing or kayaking, a place to hike or walk, and a place to do environmental education. We focus on the natural environment and recreating in the natural environment.”
Snow says a common visitor question is whether swimming is allowed in Lake Crabtree. The answer is “No,” all recreation is enjoyed on top of, or next to, the water. Information can be found at WakeGov.com.
Falls Lake State Recreation Area
There are seven access points to the 12,000-acre Falls Lake reservoir that touches Wake, Granville, and Durham counties. Recreation options feature five swimming beaches, picnic areas, playgrounds, 300 camp sites, hiking trails—including a section of the state’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail, trails for mountain biking, and boat ramps, some of which are reserved for non-motorized watercraft.
Falls Lake was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control Neuse River flooding and provide a source of drinking water. Completed in 1981, it is now a recreation hot spot, in addition to serving as a fish and wildlife conservation site, water supply, and water-control point. There is a nominal fee for cars to enter the access points from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as for weekends in the spring. Maps of what is available across the Falls Lake Recreation Area can be found on the website: NCParks.gov/falls-lake-state-recreation-area.
Lake Raleigh is located on the Centennial campus of North Carolina State University, near the corner of Main Campus Drive and Campus Shore Drive. The 75-acre lake is open to the public and has a boat ramp for non-motorized watercraft and a fishing pier where anglers wait for largemouth bass and catfish. The walking trails are augmented with a three-mile exercise course, complete with stations that feature exercise equipment and fitness challenges. N.C. State students enjoy views of the water while studying in the Lake Raleigh Learning Commons on the fourth floor of the neighboring James B. Hunt Jr. Library. Insider tip: This tranquil spot is a great place to catch a sunset. For details, visit Centennial.NCSU.edu.
Robertson Millpond Preserve
The newest water recreation spot opened by Wake County is Robertson Millpond Preserve in eastern Wake County. It is the only bald cypress blackwater swamp habitat in Wake County. Kayak, canoe, and nature enthusiasts are all welcome onto the property, and the county has a private contractor offering weekend canoe rentals. The development of Robertson Millpond Preserve is part of Wake County’s ongoing efforts to preserve green spaces and open spaces. “There are little hidden places like Robertson Millpond that we just recently acquired and opened to the public,” says Chris Snow, director of Wake County Parks, Recreation, and Open Space. “And we would love for folks to come out and visit and go canoeing or kayaking. You can get a great preview of the paddling trail created by park staff by watching the GoPro video on the preserve’s website.”