Company Mill has long been the most loved trail at Umstead State Park, and for good reason. In part, because it begins from the park’s popular main entrance off Harrison Avenue at I-40.

Mainly, though, it’s popular because it accommodates both casual and serious hiker, seekers of solitude and those who don’t mind mixing it up with the masses. In fact, those who find it somewhat comforting to not be alone in the woods.
How does one trail achieve such seemingly diametric goals?

This lollipop loop trail begins with a mile march over three mild ridgelines down to Crabtree Creek. For many, the breached dam on Crabtree, with its ample spots for sunning and picnicking, is the destination. On a warm fall or spring weekend, don’t let the traffic jam on the way down discourage you. Once the trail crosses Crabtree Creek, the crowds diminish significantly.

Past the bridge is where the loop begins. Go right to walk along the creek for a spell, taking in the old mill wheel and the flood plain forest. Shortly, the trail heads upland into a typical Piedmont hardwood forest. There’s a sturdy climb followed by a brief descent to the bike and bridle trail. Here, you have the option of going left and cutting 1.3 miles from this 5.8-mile hike (the return portion of Company Mill is about a half mile up the road). Otherwise, cross the road and continue on what becomes one of the more remote and least trod trails in this, the fifth most popular park in the N.C. State Parks system with nearly 880,000 visitors in 2011.

Company Mill continues on its undulating way, touching Sycamore Creek before looping back, crossing the bike and bridle trail and gently descending on an old roadbed to Crabtree Creek. Walk along the creek downstream for a quarter mile before reaching the bridge and your 1-mile return to the trailhead.

The short option down to the creek is ideal for families with small children: Not too taxing (but taxing enough that they’ll sleep well that night) and the prospect of water always makes for a nice carrot. The longer option appeals to those seeking a good workout and an escape into the woods, a rather remarkable escape considering you’re in the heart of the nation’s 48th largest metropolitan area.

More info: Umstead State Park

Maps: Downloadable map available here, map available at trailhead.

Getting there from downtown Raleigh
Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 20 minutes
Time to complete: 2 – 3 hours
Address: 8801 Glenwood Ave.
City: Raleigh
State: North Carolina
Zip: 27617
Latitude: 35.8905,
Longitude: -78.7502