It was one of those days I did not feel like waking up early and driving a few hours to hike. Sometimes it is too much effort to get up on the weekend and drive 3 hours each way. My days usually come to 12+ hours with the hike and drive. It is difficult to do it every week without backpacking or changing my schedule entirely. I slept in and spent the early afternoon watching soccer and writing but the day was too nice outside to ignore. Located just outside of Durham, Eno River State Park is arguably the top outdoor destination in the Triangle. It boasts 3 sections with 28 miles of hiking trails along Eno River in the rugged foothills of the Piedmont. I’ve been to Eno many times throughout the years but primarily for short strolls along the river to see the power of the water after a large rain event. It does offer a lot of trails and my favorite section has always been in the West district along the river on the Buckquarter Creek and Holden Mill loop trails. My plan in the waning afternoon light was to tackle these loops and add the short out-and-back to Holden Mill and also the Ridge-Shakori loop. This hike samples some of the best trails Eno River State Park has to offer and provides a good half-day excursion conveniently located within the Triangle.
The state park has three districts and far more parking/trail access areas. If you simply look up the state park on your GPS you may end up in the wrong area. The visitor’s center is located in the west district of the park near Few’s Ford. From exit 170 off I-85 go right on US-70 and take the first right at a stoplight for Pleasant Green Rd. Drive 2.2-mi north and take a left on Cole Mill Rd. After passing through residential areas the road soon enters the state park. In about 0.9-mi you will pass the visitor’s center on the right. The next parking area on the right is for the Piper-Cox House and Few’s Ford access. The trail head is located on the right side of the parking lot and trail maps should be available also.
Max elevation: 696 ft
Min elevation: 262 ft
Total Time: 02:42:14
This short trail from the parking lot has no official designation on the trail map, so I’m calling it the Few’s Ford access trail. From the parking lot it is a quick jaunt down some stairs to Few’s Ford at the Eno River. Few’s Ford is a very wide shallow spot in the river a few hundred feet below a long series of rapids. It looks inviting and easy to cross, and many people were wading in the river this day. I didn’t need to cross however, and started up the Buckquarter Creek Trail (red blaze) beside the river. The trail hugs the river and immediately splits past the ford. This split is unsigned but fairly obvious. I stayed left just beside the river and soon climbed up and over the large rock outcropping via stairs. There is some information here about how high the river level was during Hurricane Fran. It is unimaginable unless you’ve seen the river after a hurricane. I’ve gone to the state park a few times during a tropical storm and it is quite impressive. This rock juts into the Eno River creating what I think is a class III rapid – a rarity for this part of North Carolina.
Beyond the stairs the trail stays beside the river with many open vantage points and rocks jutting into the river. It is a popular section of trail, a lot of people are scrambling amongst the rocks in the river from both sides. It wasn’t as picturesque as it has been on previous visits, the water level seemed really low and it exposed some less sightly algae-filled pools. That is typical of early Fall around here. As soon as you pass through these rapids you leave them and travel on a flat path through lowland forest. The river is calm and deep through here. Soon the trail takes a sharp turn right as it reaches Buckquarter Creek. After mile there is a trail intersection at a quaint bridge across said creek. The Buckquarter Creek Trail loop continues to the right. I crossed the bridge to begin the Holden Mill Trail (yellow blaze) and went right climbing the hills away from the river.
There is a quick uphill jaunt on the Holden Mill Trail and then it levels out through a nice, mature forest with a surprisingly open understory. It was probably logged a long time ago, otherwise I could not explain why there were so few shrubs and weeds. The trail undulated up and down a couple of hills before descending through a power line clearing with a view across the river. Beyond this clearing the trail continued to descend to a small intermittent stream and turned left heading towards Eno River.
At mile 1.9 I came to my first new ground in the state park. Where the Holden Mill Trail loop turns left hugging the river, a short spur trail (0.6-mi total) goes right towards the ruins of Holden Mill. I’m not sure why I have always skipped this section so I was eager to check out this isolated corner. The spur trail follows the river then splits into a small loop. I went right climbing slightly above the river before coming to a huge bend in the river where the trail turns left. It was kind of eerie back here near this bend, it doesn’t seem like many people venture this far. As you walk back around the bend the Holden Mill remnants are beside the trail on the left, built into the hillside. The stone remnants are quite large, at least 2 stories remain. I did not walk directly through the mill worried there might be some snakes and spiders back there.
After the mill the trail quickly catches back up to Holden Mill Trail and follows Eno River for a fun, rocky 0.8-mi. Sometimes the trail climbs up and over rocks jutting into the river. This section is reminiscent of the Buckquarter Creek Trail along the river but offers more and has fewer people. It provided some of my favorite pictures, such as the featured photo at the top. I was in a hurry though since daylight was fading and did not spend time relaxing along the river. I did not have a park map so I was not sure how long the addition of the Ridge-Shakori loop would take since I normally only hike 3-4 miles in the state park.
The trail turns left from the river and crosses back over Buckquarter Creek. From here I went left on the Buckquarter Creek Trail. Shortly after the bridge crossing at mile 3.4 there is a large 19th century cabin on the left side of the trail. This surprisingly does not have any markers or maintained trails. In the summer it might be harder to spot since the logs blend in well with the surroundings. I left the trail walking towards the cabin and quickly regretted it. Being mid-September the bugs were still in full force. I walked through spiderweb after spiderweb and flies were buzzing all around me. After getting 2/3 of the way there, I gave up forcing myself through this insect hell and snapped a couple photos. Back on the trail the Ridge Trail splits left (blue U blaze) shortly after the cabin at mile 3.5. Time to discover another new section of the state park.
I can report the 2.8 miles of the Ridge-Shakori loop is not worth seeing unless you want to add extra miles for exercise. On the state park map it states there are 3 sites with remnants of 19th century homesteads. I found one at mile 3.7 tucked in the forest on the far right of a curve in the trail. Learning from my experience with the first cabin, I did not venture off trail searching for a better picture and continued on my way. Personally I would advise to turn around here and head back to Buckquarter Creek Trail. The next interesting site is a rock crossing over Buckquarter Creek. I was frankly surprised there was this much water in the creek, it looks pretty small downstream at the bridge crossing. On the other side of the creek the Shakori Trail meets on the right, the return route. On the left is an area of backcountry campsites with a pit toilet and picnic tables. Not the most enticing of places I’ve seen to backpack and camp.
Beyond the campsites the Ridge Trail follows the top of a long hill through forest with nothing of note to see. The trail ends at a gate at the state park boundary and the Shakori Trail (yellow U blaze) goes right completing the loop. Since they’re basically one long loop trail I’m not sure why 2 trail names was needed. The Shakori Trail is slightly lower elevation closer to some tributaries of Buckquarter Creek. After ending at the Ridge Trail and returning to the Buckquarter Creek Trail, go left to return to the parking lot. This in the past has been a great section as the trail undulates over bluffs 40-80 feet above Eno River. The views are reminiscent of a river hike in the mountains, but not this day. The leaves need to be off the trees to see these great winter vistas of the Eno River below. Disappointed, I quickly plowed through this section and hung out for a few minutes at Few’s Ford. With all the families gone the ford was tranquil and pretty with the sun setting. I almost felt like fording the river myself, key word almost.
Best Hike near the Triangle
Excluding the Ridge-Shakori loop this gets my designation as one of the Best Hikes near the Triangle. It is a short drive for many and provides lots of pretty forest and river scenery, plus 19th century cabins, all with little effort and lots of reward. Out of all the state parks in the area this is my favorite hike because of what it offers. Because it is so close you only need a few hours of your day to have a great hike. So if you are not feeling like that long drive or only have the afternoon on a weekend, check out Eno River State Park because you won’t be disappointed. I know I don’t get out to the Eno that often but I always enjoy every trip.