With over 300 miles of paved greenways and bike friendly roads, beautiful accommodations, and delicious restaurants, the greater Raleigh area, is a perfect destination in the Mid-South for a biking getaway. We wrote this guide to bike trails in Raleigh with the weekend traveler in mind; road riders looking to ride between 20 and 70 miles a day who want to stay at unique accommodations and enjoy the delicious Raleigh food scene.
We’ll break down the best bike rides in Raleigh North Carolina and give you detailed, interactive maps so you can recreate these rides for yourself.
Table of Contents
Introduction to Bike Trails in Raleigh / Cary North Carolina
The catch is a lot of these rides are isolated or neighborhood connectors. Below are the seven major bike trails in Raleigh / Cary that this guide will connect in a series of loop rides and out-and-backs.
- Neuse River Trail (27.5 miles) – Follows the Neuse River from Falls Lake Dam to the Wake/Johnston County Line.
- The American Tobacco Trail (ATT) (22 miles) – A rails-to-trails project located in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina.
- Crabtree Creek Greenway (15.9 miles) – Follows Crabtree Creek northwest from the Neuse River Trail to Lindsay Dr. (not to be confused with the Town of Cary Trail that runs along Lake Crabtree)
- Walnut Creek (15.6 miles) – Follows Walnut Creek from the Neuse River Trail to Lake Johnson.
- Black Creek Greenway (7.8 miles) – Runs from Crabtree Lake to Bond Lake, where it joins up with the White Oak Creek Greenway.
- White Oak Creek Greenway (4.6 miles) – Connects the Black Creek Greenway to the ATT across wetlands.
- Rocky Branch (3.9 miles) – Follows Rocky Branch from the intersection with Walnut Creek Trail to Reedy Creek Trail
Interactive Map to Cary / Raleigh Bike Trails
Before you get going, you should read our bike disclaimer. Also, be sure to check here for current greenway alerts. Also, if the interactive bike map doesn’t load, just hit the refresh button on your browser. We’ve loaded it with native Google pins so you can click around and explore the routes before you even start pedaling.
Biking on Lake Crabtree Loop Trail
The 8-mile Lake Crabtree Loop connects the best parts of the Black Creek Greenway with the Crabtree Creek Greenway and Weston Park Greenway for a ‘loop ride’. I put the quotes around ‘loop ride’ because bike loops in Cary and Raleigh all require a little route finding and the use of connector roads.
What makes this trail special is the extended riding along Lake Crabtree, the chance to explore North Cary Park, and the deep, shaded canyons along Black Creek. This ride is also a perfect introduction to bike riding in Raleigh / Cary, with what you’ll see along the way. Plus, you will notice some oddities in naming and route finding that you will see repeated in the city.
I started the ride from the Umstead Hotel and Spa, North Carolina’s only 5-star hotel and a magnificent home base for a Raleigh biking getaway. From there, it’s 1.7 miles to the Old Reedy Creek Trailhead (which ironically isn’t on the Reedy Creek Trail). Note– if you’re not staying at the Umstead, you’ll want to start and finish this ride from the trailhead.
As you head around Lake Crabtree, you cross the picturesque Crabtree Creek Bridge on the City of Cary Crabtree Creek Greenway (not to be confused with the Capital Greenway Crabtree Creek Trail). A little route finding gets you to North Cary Park, which is remarkably hilly as it drops into the Black Creek drainage. The last little bit of route finding is the 200′ climb up Tynemouth Drive. I like this greenway exit because you get the most time on the Black Creek Greenway while climbing on small residential streets instead of the larger Weston Parkway.
Gravel Riding in Umstead State Park Trails
Biking on the Umstead State Park trails is a lot like mandatory gravel riding. You’re biking on unpaved park roads that are a little too rocky and rutted for tires under 32mm. There’s also a set of hiking trails that would be single-track, but bikes are prohibited. I took my Trek Top Fuel, which was more than beefy enough for riding in Umstead Park. Road riders will need to proceed with caution if they’re trying to use Umstead State Park and the Reedy Creek Trail to get into the Capital Greenway Trail System. If you’re on a road bike, I would recommend loading up the bikes and driving to a trailhead on the system instead of trying to ride through Umstead. On the bright side, Umstead Hotel has a couple of fat tire loaner bikes available if you’re staying at the hotel and want to take a lap through the park.
In addition to being a gravel ride, there is quite a bit of elevation change inside the park. As drawn, the Umstead Loop trail is 11 miles with 750′ of climbing. If you take out the relatively flat 2-mile out-and-back from the hotel, you’re gaining about 100′ / mile, which is an average of a 4% grade and much steeper in some parts. Your hard work is rewarded by biking through mature forests with lakes, streams, and a unique piece of installation aptly known as the Chainsaw Log. A 25-foot-long fallen red oak tree was carved by artists Jerry Redi and Randy Boni of Smoky Mountain Art, creating a series of animals, tree branches, and leaves in relief on the old log.
Cary Loop Trail
The Cary Loop trail is an extension of Lake Crabtree Loop, but you make the loop closure with Hatcher Creek Greenway, Davis Drive Side Trail, and a little bit of the White Oak Greenway. It’s about a 20-mile loop as drawn, but you can cut a couple of miles off if you start from the Old Reedy Creek Trailhead instead of the Umstead Hotel.
The Cary Loop is a loop that’s almost entirely on paved trails and neighborhood roads that you might want to utilize, depending on your ride plan. The tail end of Crabtree Creek and its continuation onto Hatcher Creek are ok but not spectacular, and the Davis Drive Side Trail is not much more than a 3-mile perfunctory loop closure. The best parts of this trail are covered in the Lake Crabtree Loop. However, if you’re looking to get the most riding in Cary on unique trails, you can combine the Cary Loop (19 miles) with the American Tobacco Trail (ATT) out and back from Davis Park (48.2 miles).
Umstead Hotel to American Tobacco Trail
The 22-mile-long American Tobacco Trail is the one must-ride trail in the Cary / Durham area. It’s a rails-to-trails classic and the longest trail in the area. It also terminates at the American Tobacco Campus, a foodie hotspot with beautiful, shady rest spots (and pay-parking). The catch is that the lower 6 miles aren’t paved, but Jenn had no problem riding this on her hybrid Trek with 25mm tires. Also, the southern terminus in New Hill is remote and unremarkable. Instead of only cycling on the American Tobacco Trail, we recommend joining the ATT with the White Oak / Black Creek greenway system for more paved miles and ride diversity.
As drawn, the route is a 68-mile out and back that leaves out of the Umstead Hotel and covers the best parts of the Crabtree Lake Loop and Cary Loop. However, the Black Creek Greenway is unremarkable in spots, particularly the two miles between Godbold Park and Battery Lake. There are some real gems on the route, like the nearly 3-miles of boardwalk over wetlands that starts from the Wake Freeway underpass to the junction with the American Tobacco Trail. If you’re not ready to commit to a 70-mile day, we’ve included a full list of alternate starting points in the attached table. Some good choices include:
- Old Reedy Creek Trailhead (65.6 miles) – Bypasses the neighborhood riding from the Umstead Hotel.
- Bond Park (51.8 miles) – White Oak Greenway plus the best of the ATT.
- White Oak Park (46.6 miles) – White Oak Wetlands plus the best of the ATT.
- New Hill Parking (44.8 miles) – All of the ATT and only the ATT.
- New Hope Church Rd (29.6 miles) – Only the paved sections of the ATT.
|Access Point||Out-and-Back (miles)|
|Old Reedy Creek Trailhead||65.6|
|White Oak Park||46.6|
|Wimberly Rd (ATT)||37.4|
|White Oak Church||33.8|
|New Hope Church Rd||29.6|
|Pittard Sears Parking||27|
|Scott King Rd||21|
|Elmira Ave Park||4.8|
|ATT from New Hill Parking Area||44.8|
Lake Johnson Loop Trail to Transfer Company Ride
Our first bike ride in Raleigh proper was a 17.7-mile out-and-back from Lake Johnson to the Transfer Company (or vice versa). We selected this ride because it highlights Raleigh’s incredible food scene plus the forward-looking urban planning that makes this city spectacular. This ride connects the urban greenspace of Lake Johnson with the great food and live music of the Transfer Company Food Hall. Transfer Company Food Hall is just far enough outside of downtown Raleigh that you can probably find parking if you want to reverse directions and start your ride from here so you can enjoy the ambiance with your bikes locked to your car. Either way, you have choices, but we’ll assume the ride starts from Lake Johnson for the sake of directions.
This ride starts from the Lake John Loop, which is a 3.5-mile loop trail around the lake. North of the lake, the trail is almost flat to the Junction with Walnut Creek Trail. However, traveling the 2.5 miles south of the lake goes through about 200′ of rolling hills. Once you reach Walnut Creek, you ride six miles to the junction with the Little Rock Trail. This section has some fascinating old train trusses and underpasses. It also has a slightly confusing road segment at Eliza Pool Park, where you take Water Works St and Fayetteville St to rejoin the trail at Wilmington St. Once you reach Little Rock Trail, it’s 1.4 miles to Transfer Company Food Hall.
Raleigh Metro Loop Trail
Looking at the Capital Greenway Map, there’s an obvious 33.5-mile loop around urban Raleigh formed by the Crabtree Creek, Neuse River, Walnut Creek, Rocky Branch, Reedy Creek, and House Creek trails. I haven’t seen an official designation for this route, so we’re calling it the Raleigh Metro Loop, although it does utilize the Art to Heart Corridor routing. Feel free to drop us a line if there’s a better name for the route, and we’ll make the adjustments on our site.
What we love about this ride is that it’s a loop, and you can easily combine it with the Lake Johnson / Transfer Company ride to create a 50-mile day. What we don’t like about this ride is the signage on the surface street connectors on the trails and the pejorative 10-mph speed limit on the Capital Greenway. Draconian enforcement of a carte blanche ten mph speed limit is an excellent way to keep commuters and recreational cyclists from ever using the greenway system, but I digress…
Neuse River Trail
With its length and beauty, and because it’s 100% paved, the Neuse River Trail is the premier bike trail in Raleigh. It follows the river nearly 30 miles from Falls Lake Dam to the Wake/Johnston County line. You’ll encounter several river crossings along the way, including two suspension bridges and the popular ‘River Beach’ recreation area. An additional 4.3 miles of trail on the Clayton River Walk and Sam’s Branch Greenway let you ride a 70-mile out-and back if you want. With this kind of mileage, we recommend traveling up river, south-to-north, so you’ll be returning slightly downhill to get back to your car. Also, there’s easy to reach grab-and-go snacks available at The Bike Guy shop at the north end of the trail.
If you’re not ready for a 70-mile day, we’ve again provided a full list of options to shorten the ride. Here are some of our favorite choices:
- Auburn Knightdale Rd (44.2 miles) – The longest continual section of riverside trail.
- Anderson Point Parking Area (34.4 miles) – The most scenic portion of the trail with great freeway access.
- River Bend Park (20 miles) – Great freeway access and an “ideal” 20-mile ride.’
- Thornton Road (10 miles) – If you don’t quite feel up to double-digit mileage.
|Access Point||Out-and-Back (miles)|
|Clayton River Park||61.8|
|Auburn Knightdale Rd||44.2|
|Barrignton Village Park||40.2|
|Anderson Point Dr||34.4|
|Falls Lake Tailrace||3.4|
How to Turn These Bike Trails Into a Raleigh Cycling Weekend
We’ve taken over 300 miles of Cary and Raleigh bike trails and created about 200 miles of bike rides. The next step is to turn these rides into a Raleigh cycling weekend. You might have guessed that we’d recommend home basing out of the Umstead Hotel because of its location and amenities.
Friday – Arrive in the afternoon / early evening and ride your pick of the Lake Johnson / Transfer Company Food Hall and the Raleigh Metro Loop (or both). After your ride, enjoy dinner and maybe live music at the Transfer Company Food Hall or your favorite downtown Raleigh eatery.
Saturday – Wake up early and tackle the American Tobacco Trail. Enjoy Brunch at the American Tobacco Campus, but be sure to check on the hours of your favorite restaurants and plan accordingly. Make sure you’re back and showered for your reservation at the Umstead afternoon tea (2:00 – 3:30). Then relax on the Umstead campus, maybe take a swim or book a treatment at their award-winning Spa. If you are still raring to ride, explore either the Lake Crabtree Loop or the Umstead State Park Loop in the late evening before your reservation at Herons. The four-course pre-fixe menu at Herons is a culinary adventure. Do yourself a favor and find out why it’s one of only 64 Forbes Five-Star Restaurants in the world.
Sunday – Depart Umstead and ride the Neuse River Trail on your way home.
This Raleigh cycling weekend gives you up to 200 miles of world-class riding, five-star dining and accommodations, and a taste of the urban Raleigh nightlife. You can even combine your Raleigh weekend with a Greensboro bike getaway at the Proximity Hotel or an active escape to Greensville or Fayetteville.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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