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Raven Rock State Park, NC

Raven Rock State Park is located in Lillington, NC, along the Cape Fear River. Only an hour from both Raleigh and Durham, it’s an often-overlooked place to get away from the city crowds.

To provide a point of reference, it’s just southwest of Fuquay-Varina, with Sanford to its west. It’s an easy drive from most Triangle locations.

The Visitor Center has a great exhibit where you can learn about the park, its geology, history, and ecology, and see artifacts founds nearby. I highly recommend stopping by after your day of exploring.

History of Raven Rock State Park

Raven Rock sits in the fall zone where the hard rock of the foothills meets the sandy sediment of the coastal plain. The underlying rocks formed from heat and pressure 400 million years ago. Over time, flowing water and wind eroded the land, creating Raven Rock, the park’s namesake.

Raven Rock is a 150-foot crystalline structure that runs almost a mile along the Cape Fear River and was used as a point of reference for boaters.

Section of Raven Rock from the ground below with a large tree next to it.

How Raven’s Rock Got Its Name

There are several stories about how Raven’s Rock got its name. Everyone agrees that it was once called Patterson’s Rock for an early European Settler whose canoe capsized nearby. Patterson made it to Raven Rock and survived, thanks to local Native Americans that found and assisted him.

It was officially named Raven’s Rock in 1854 because of the ravens roosting on its ledges.

But was it named Raven’s Rock in 1854, or renamed Raven’s Rock? There is a legend that a native American, Raven, son of Hancock, was banished to a shelf on the rock. He survived his ordeal because the daughter of the Chief who punished him snuck Raven food. When he was freed, they ran off together.

What to Know Before Visiting Raven Rock State Park

Before heading out to Raven Rock State Park, visit the park’s website to download a map. It’s best to plan your trip before you head out. Also be aware that the park can become crowded on weekends, especially in the summer.

Verify that the trails are open. After a lot of rain, the biking and equestrian trails may be closed.

You may also be interested in:
Discover North Carolina’s State Parks
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Assume the Mileage May Differ from the Park Map

The website and park map are missing a few details. There are actually three different entrances to the park. Equestrians will want to park at the equestrian parking area on the other side of the river from the main entrance. Cyclists will head to the cycling parking lot, which is a turn before your reach the main entrance.

With regards to the trails, the mileage on the map doesn’t match signs in the park, which may not match other signs in the park. I know the area has been affected by hurricanes which could explain this, but I also believe some of it is due to counting sections you have to walk down and back once versus twice.

You can hike on the equestrian and mountain bike trails, but use extreme caution when doing this, especially on the biking trails.

The Trails are More Difficult Than You Think

While most of the trails are designated “easy”, the park has more hills than you may expect for its location. Take your time when exploring but pay attention to the time.

Campbell Creek Trail is noted as moderate and there is a sign at the trailhead stating you should give yourself 3 to 4 hours to complete the 5-mile loop. This seemed slow to me, but after hiking it, I can see where 3 hours would be the average.

A section of Raven Rock Trail lined with bushes on either side as it rounds a turn.

Raven Rock is Not One Distinct Rock

This seems to drive people nuts. You’ll hear people ask, “which rock is Raven Rock,” and no one seems to have an answer. That’s because there is no specific one rock you can point to and say, “that’s it.”

Raven Rock is a shelf of rock that spans almost a mile along the Cape Fear River. If you’re looking at a large stone mountain-like cliff, it’s Raven Rock. All of it is Raven Rock.

The Overlook is to View the River, not Raven Rock

View of muddy Cape Fear River from Raven Rock Overlook.

The overlook on Raven Rock Trail does not provide a view of Raven Rock. Although it sits on top of a portion of the rock, the overlook is to view the Cape Fear River. This seems to disappoint a lot of people that hike 1.3 miles one-way to view what they thought was the rock.

The only way to see Raven Rock is to follow the stairwell that takes you down to the beach and walk along the rock, craning your neck to look up at it.

Of course, you could also get in a boat and enjoy the view from the river, experiencing how it serves as a landmark for anyone traversing the Cape Fear River.

Raven Rock State Park Does Not Have Waterfalls

Yep, I see Fish Traps and Lanier Falls on the park map too, however, these are not waterfalls. They’re rapids. Don’t expect a grand 30-foot or higher waterfall here.

When the water level is high after a good rain, the river will be brown and muddy, and the “falls” may be covered.

There is No Boat Launch in the Park, Including Canoes and Kayaks

Raven Rock State Park does not have a place to launch a boat, canoe, or kayak inside the park. There is a canoe campground off Little River Trail, and you can get out of a canoe or kayak from the river to camp here.

You should know that the area where kayakers would come into the campground is just a little section. There’s no official docking area. You’ll exit your boat in the water, then carry it up a short, but steep, section to access the campground.

Raven Rock State Park Entrances

While the website only lists the main entrance, there are three entrances you should note.

Main Entrance – Visitor Center, Hiking Trails

The main entrance off Raven Rock Road is home to the designated hiking trails. When you first enter through the gate, there is a parking lot on your right which is the best place to park if you plan to hike Raven Rock Trail.

There is a covered picnic area at the far end of the lot, restrooms down a short path, and open picnic tables further down the restroom path.

In front of the first row of parking spots is a small shack that houses a soda machine.

If you continue down the main road, it ends at the Visitor Center. This is the best place to park for access to the Campbell Creek Trail.

Moccasin Branch Road Access – Bike Trails, Family Campground

On Raven Rock Road, just before you reach the main gate, there is a red dirt road to your right, Moccasin Branch Road. There is a sign noting this is the turn for Moccasin Branch Campground and the bike trails. You cannot access the main area of the park via your vehicle from Moccasin Branch Campground. There is a small, half-mile hiking trail that connects the campground to the Raven Rock Trailhead.

You will see the entrance to the campground on your left with a sign indicating bike trail parking is further down Moccasin Branch Road. If you continue, you will see a parking lot just off the road.

Equestrian Parking

Access to the equestrian trails is in Fuquay Varina. Do not set your GPS to Raven Rock State Park. This will take you to the main entrance, 20 minutes away from where you want to be.

According to AllTrails, the best way to locate the parking lot is to put coordinates 35.48440, -78.90363 or use the address 1550 River Rd, Fuquay-Varina.

Things to do at Raven Rock State Park

Raven Rock State Park offers horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking. Kayakers and canoers can use local areas in Lillington to access the river. There is no boat put in at Raven Rock State Park.

Hiking

Small wooden bridge over creek at Raven Rock Trail.

Raven Rock State Park has 11 miles of trails dedicated to hikers, and you can also hike on the equestrian and mountain biking trails. There is a downloadable map on the park’s website, and paper maps are available at the trailheads and Visitor Center.

While the trails are marked easy and moderate, they can be taxing. Most people assume the land is flat, but there are several hills, and the terrain can be uneven in places. Make sure you have plenty of water and snacks before setting out and double the time you think it will take.

Horseback Riding

There are two equestrian trails at Raven Rock State Park, East Loop Bridle Trail, and West Loop Bridle Trail.

Both trails are 4 miles long and rated easy. West Loop Bridle Trail crosses River Road twice, and Avents Creek once. East Bridle Trail crosses a small creek twice.

Mountain Biking

There are three mountain biking trails at Raven Rock State Park, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. All are loops. All trails are accessed from the parking lot via the beginner trail, marked by a white blaze.

The beginner trail is 6.6 miles, beginner and intermediate together are 8.3 miles, beginner and advanced together are 8.5 miles, or you can loop all three for 10.2 miles.

Note that you can only access the intermediate and advanced trails from the beginner trail. It’s the only trail that connects to the parking lot. The beginner trail also goes through the Moccasin Branch campground.

Camping

One of the primitive sites at the Canoe Camp in Raven Rock State Park with picnic table and fire ring.

Raven Rock State Park has three campgrounds, Family camping at Moccasin Branch campground, primitive camping for backpackers and boaters off Little Creek Loop Trail, and primitive camping for backpackers/families at the Family Wilderness Camp off Campbell Creek Loop Trail.

Trails at Raven Rock State Park

Raven Rock has 8 trails set aside for just hikers. There are a few things to note about some of the trails. Find your new favorite below.

The Cottonwood Trail that used to spring off Little Creek Loop Trail is closed and has been for some time.

Raven Rock Loop Trail

Mileage: 2.6 miles
Blaze: Orange Circle
Rated: Easy
Location: Main entrance, parking by the covered picnic pavilion

I put this trail first because, let’s face it, this is why most people are here. In my opinion, this is the easiest trail in the park. It’s well-maintained, has good terrain, and the climbs are minimal.

The Overlook where you can see the Cape Fear River is halfway around, so it doesn’t matter which way you go.

For me, the hardest part about this trail was finding the trailhead. If you want to go clockwise, with the covered pavilion on your right, look to your left, towards the road. You will see a dirt and gravel road. Follow that and you will see a sign indicating to continue straight. From here it’s easy to follow.

To go counterclockwise, face the covered pavilion and walk towards it. On the right side of the pavilion is a dirt road with a sign. This is the start of the trail.

You can also head to the restrooms, then continue towards the open picnic tables. Keep going and once you pass all of the tables, the “picnic table trail” intersects with Raven Rock Loop. Just make a left.

The trail is well-kept and an easy hike for most people. It can be hiked in sneakers, even after rain, but watch for a few muddy areas.

Just past the overlook, if you’re going clockwise, is a set of stairs heading down to the beach. There’s a sign that says “Overlook” and “Raven Rock” with arrows. You can take the steps down for a close-up of Raven Rock and great views of the river.

While the trail is pretty, it serves more as a road to the overlook and beach area to view Raven Rock. It’s perfect for beginner hikers. There are benches where you can stop and rest, or eat, and trash cans are everywhere.

Little Creek Loop Trail

Trail sign for Little Cree Trail with arrow.

Mileage: 1.5 miles
Blaze: Blue Octagon
Rated: Easy
Location: Accessed from Raven Rock Loop Trail

Little Creek Loop Trail is a pretty trail that juts off Raven Rock Loop Trail, then intersects with it again. It traverses along a small creek for a while, offering opportunities to relax and take great photos.

The terrain can be muddy and there are roots and rocks in a few places. While you can hike this in sneakers, you’ll be more comfortable in shoes or boots made for hiking.

If you’re doing Raven Rock Loop and would like to increase your mileage, I would recommend adding this loop to your day. It’s a nice excursion.

American Beech Trail/K.I.P Track Trail

Mileage: 0.5 miles
Blaze: White Circle
Rated: Easy
Location: Main entrance, parking by the covered picnic pavilion

The American Beech Trail is a Kids in Parks Track Trail. It has activities where kids can track their progress if they’re taking part in the Track program.

The trailhead is near the covered picnic pavilion. As you are facing the pavilion, head to its right where there is a gravel road with a sign. The trail is well-marked from here. It ends at an intersection with Raven Rock Loop Trail, not far from the restrooms.

It’s a cute trail but does have a steep area in one section near the Raven Rock intersection. It’s not as well-maintained as I would like for a kid’s trail. Sneakers are fine but take your time.

Fish Traps Trail

View of river from end of Fish Traps Trail.

Mileage: 0.6 miles one-way
Blaze: Blue Triangle
Rated: Moderate
Location: Accessed from Raven Rock Loop Trail

Fish Traps Trail is a down and back to see the Fish Traps rapids. It’s a dirt and gravel road that’s not in great shape and heads downward. The trail has a lot of erosion and they added wooden blocks to help stem the issue.

This is a fairly technical trail, and I would recommend boots or shoes made for hiking with good tread.

At the end of the trail is a little bench with a small fence where you can stand and enjoy the water. To be honest, it’s a nice getaway from the crowds, but otherwise, not worth it.

You’ll have to walk 0.6 miles uphill to get back to Raven Rock Trail.

Northington Ferry Trail

Wooden bridge over small creek on Northington Ferry Trail.

Mileage: 0.9 miles one-way
Blaze: Orange Triangle
Rated: Easy
Location: Accessed from Raven Rock Loop Trail

Northington Ferry Trail is accessed from Raven Rock Loop Trail, just past where Raven Rock intersects with Fish Traps Trail.

The trail takes you down where you can view the remains of the old Northington Ferry and lock. There’s not much left. If the water level is high, like when I was last there, you can’t see anything. Then you have to hike 0.9 miles uphill to get back.

Similar to Fish Traps Trail, it’s a nice getaway from the crowds, but overall, it’s not really worth it.

Campbell Creek Loop Trail

Mileage: 4.5 miles
Blaze: Blue Circle
Rated: Moderate
Location: Visitor Center Parking Lot

Campbell Creek Loop Trail is what we often call a lollipop. You hike down a stem, then intersect with the loop. When you return from the loop, you will hike the stem again back to your car.

This trail has multiple signs with mileage that just don’t add up. I believe it’s a 5-mile trail, rather than 4.5 miles.

The sign at the trailhead notes you should give yourself 3 to 4 hours to complete the trail. When I visited, I was training with 30 pounds of backpack weight, taking photos, and headed down Lanier Falls, and it took me 3.5 hours. I think 2.5 to 3 hours is reasonable for most people, so the sign is pretty accurate.

I enjoyed the loop but found it more crowded than Raven Rock Loop Trail. It seems more locals prefer Campbell Creek, and you’ll find a lot of people walking dogs on this trail.

The trail is taxing with two decent climbs and uneven terrain. I would call it a real hiking trail. Hiking boots or shoes are highly recommended on this trail. Also, bring twice the amount of water you think you’ll need and pack a snack.

Campbell Creek Loop is a nice trail that walks along its namesake creek for a while which is peaceful. I recommend hiking it clockwise so you’re alongside the creek on the last part of your hike.

The stem of the lollipop is steep and can be tiring to climb back to your car after a day of hiking. Before heading up, stop at the beautiful wooden bridge traversing the creek for a rest and some great views of the water.

Lanier Falls Trail

Mileage: 0.2 miles one-way
Blaze: Orange Triangle
Rated: Easy
Location: Accessed from Campbell Creek Loop Trail

Okay, first up, I didn’t goof. Lanier Falls and Northington Ferry Trail have the same orange triangle blaze.

Second, this intersection isn’t marked. It’s obvious though. As you’re hiking on Campbell Creek, you’ll pass an obvious intersection with a park bench. If you look, you’ll see the orange triangle blaze on a tree at the intersection.

This is a basic trail that goes downhill toward the water. The view of the Lanier rapids is hidden by trees, so you won’t see much, but it’s a nice getaway. There’s a bench on a small ledge where you can stop for a bit.

Heading back to Campbell Creek is all uphill. While it’s not a difficult hike, I don’t know if the payoff is worth it.

Longleaf Loop Trail

Mileage: 0.2 miles
Blaze: Red Octagon
Rated: Easy
Location: Visitor Center parking lot

This is a flat, easy trail that has information on the longleaf pines and their history at Raven Rock State Park. It’s a nice way to cool down after a long hike or add additional outdoor adventure time for children who have just completed the American Beech Trail

Camping at Raven Rock State Park

There are three campgrounds at Raven Rock State Park. Each campground was clean and had great options. The primitive sites have large, clean pit toilets, and bear-proof receptacles for trash and recycling. The Family campground has a bathhouse with full amenities.

Moccasin Branch Campground

Moccasin Branch Campground is the family campground. It wins the NC State Park award for the cleanest, best-kept campground. Each spot has a perfect gravel driveway, large enough for any size RV. There is also a tent pad, lantern pole, picnic table, and fire ring at each site.

You should be aware that the campground is down a red dirt road just before you enter the main gate of the park. It does not connect to the park via any interior roads. You can access the park through a 0.5-mile connector trail or drive down the dirt road to Raven Rock Road and then into the park.

There are nine sites with full hookups for RVs, including sewer, and 15 sites for tent campers, all of which appear to be level. There’s no worry you’ll have a bad site. The sites, with one exception, are on the inside of the traffic circle.  

If roughing it isn’t your thing, there are 6 rustic cabins. The cabins are cute. They’re white with 2 Adirondack chairs out front. Inside is a small bedroom with a queen bed and a second room with 4 bunks. The cabins have electricity, heating, and air, but no bathroom or running water. You’ll have to use the bathhouse for showers and bathroom runs. Out front, each cabin has a fire ring and picnic table.

Canoe Campground

Primitive campsite at canoe campsite in Raven Rock State Park. A dirt area with picnic table, fire ring, and small bench.

Raven Rock’s Canoe Camp was designed for adventurers paddling down the Cape Fear River Canoe Trail. There are 6 sites, and all have a picnic table, lantern stand, and fire ring. Most also have a small bench next to the fire ring. They’re well-maintained sites.

Getting a canoe or kayak out of the water is not going to be easy. There’s no official dock or ramp, just a section dug out of the bank near the campground. Each campground is also down a long path. While this is nice for privacy, if you’re lugging a boat, it’s a longer distance.

The campground has a large pit toilet and trash receptacles.

If you’re staying here, I would recommend sites 1, 3, or 5. Sites 2, 4, and 6 seem prone to flooding after rain. The odd-numbered sites are slightly uphill and were less wet. All the sites are large with plenty of room for a tent.

They’re off Little Creek Loop Trail, about 1.3 miles from the parking lot with the covered pavilion.

Family Wilderness Camp Campground

Fire ring and two wooden benches at Family Wilderness Campground site two.

Don’t let the name turn you off. I’m not sure why it’s called Family Wilderness Camp, possibly this is a historical name.

The sites are about 2.5 miles from the Visitor Center parking lot, off the Campbell Creek Loop Trail. There are 5 campsites with fire rings and small benches. There is also a very clean pit toilet and trash receptacles.

Sites 4 and 5 are slanted, I would avoid these. Site 3 has room for 2 two-person tents, but anything larger will run into issues with large roots underneath. However, the trade-off for all 3 of these sites is that they’re the most private.

Site 2 would be excellent for a large family. You could easily pitch a 4-person tent (or larger) in this large, flat spot. It’s also closest to the toilet.

For solo backpackers or couples, I highly recommend site 1. It’s close to site 2, but you’ll have some privacy, the space is flat with minimal roots or other obstacles for tents, and you could easily fit 2 two-person tents.

Tips for Visiting Raven Rock State Park

Campbell creek surrounded by green shrubs and leafy trees.

The park is exceptionally clean. I give this park the “Cleanest Park” award, which is a huge feat considering how busy it can get. There are trash cans throughout the trails, including near benches set aside for resting, and at many trail intersections.

I don’t recommend wading into the river or allowing children to do it. The current is fast.  

If you’re lucky, sometimes the local military base runs training exercises along the river and you may see a helicopter skim the water as it follows the Cape Fear River.

Definitely grab a map and take more water than you think you’ll need. The trails are harder than most people think and the park does have to rescue hikers on a regular basis. I would also double the time you think your hike will take.

Dress Accordingly

Raven Rock can be tricky when it comes to layering.  It can be chilly when you’re in the forested areas but then warm up considerably in the sunny areas.

Of course, always wear sunscreen and, in the summer, you’ll want bug protection.

The trails are well-maintained, and sneakers will be fine on most trails. There are a few areas with rock hops, or where the footing is tricky, but they’re small areas and can be managed. Hiking boots or shoes will be more comfortable but sneakers are doable.

Ask for Help

Staff seemed to be around if you needed help, but honestly, most people here are locals who know the park well and are happy to help. It’s also easy to navigate the park. The larger trails are all loops, so find the blaze and follow it.

Raven Rock State Park- Wrap Up

Raven Rock State Park is a cute little park in Lillington, NC with a lot to offer. Mountain bikers and Equestrians will love that they have trails specifically suited to their needs. The equestrian trails, in particular, receive high reviews online.

Just an hour from most places in the Triangle, it’s a great getaway and offers views you don’t get in the local parks. Just get there early and be prepared and you’ll have a great time.

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