There’s something very preserv-y about this preserve. There’s the Stevens Nature Center that greets you, complete with educational facilities and a gift shop. There’s the tastefully cultivated gathering area near the trailhead, there’s a lovely open-air classroom and the trails are the most well-groomed, fully wood-chipped around. You get pampered a bit, frankly, at Hemlock Bluffs. And that’s great, because the welcoming feel here lures people to the outdoors who might not otherwise make the trip.

Actually, it’s two trips in one.

The first trip, on the 0.9-mile Beech Tree Cove Loop, which you get to after warming up on the 1.2-mile Beech Tree Cove Loop, takes you to bluff that places you square in the Appalachians amid hearty hemlocks. This relic community, leftover from the last ice age, survives here on the preserve’s cooler, north-facing slopes. A pair of platforms hangs out over the bluff, giving you a better sense of the geology that makes possible a grove of cool-weather hemlocks in the Piedmont.

Your second trip is to the swampy coast on the 0.8-mile Swift Creek Loop Trail. This trail drops down from the aforementioned bluff to Swift Creek, passing from mountain to coastal plain on the way. This wetland area is dominated by the types of ferns and other greenery common to warmer, wetter climes. So swamplike is this stretch that a boardwalk is required to navigate the majority.

A hiking vacation to the mountains? A hiking trip to the coast? Hemlock Bluffs has you covered both ways.

More info: Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.

Maps: Downloadable map availablehere, map available at trailhead.

Getting there from downtown Raleigh
Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 25 minutes
Time to complete: 2 – 2.5 hours
Address: 2616 Kildaire Farm Road
City: Cary
State: NC
Zip: 27518
Latitude: 35.4353
Longitude: 78.4723