Join a Hiking Club in Serene Clemmons Educational State Forest

Hiking trail in Clemmons State Education Forest in Clayton, NC

Ever since moving to Knightdale, NC, I have wanted to go hiking in Raleigh on the beautiful trails this area has to offer.  When we were deciding where to live, one of the most important factors was ensuring that we had plenty of access to outdoor amenities and activities.

As a nurse, I feel that being outdoors is essential to our holistic well-being.  It’s also my happy place.  But after we moved here, I found that even though I was willing and occasionally able to go hiking (and I’ve found some great trails), I didn’t want to go alone.  I was new to the area and knew that hiking in Raleigh and eastern Wake County was one of my goals, but I didn’t know how to do so safely.  Then, I found the Women of the Triangle Hiking Club.

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Searching “Hiking in Raleigh” on Social Media

I stumbled upon this club from one of the groups I occasionally browse on Facebook.  Someone else had asked about the best hiking near Raleigh, and the Women of the Triangle Hiking Club (WOTTHC) was mentioned.  I decided to scroll over and check out the WOTTHC Facebook page to learn more.

So, Tell Me About This Group!

After scrolling through their page, these were the highlights I came away with:

  • Only women are allowed to join this group.  These are all-woman hikes only.
  • You must be 18 years or older.  Children can’t accompany you on hikes.
  • Membership to this group is FREE.  Sign-up is via Facebook only.
  • WOTTHC is entirely volunteer-based and is a non-profit organization.  Donations are appreciated.
  • There are all sorts of different hikes scheduled frequently.  Hikes are located throughout the Triangle with different lengths and difficulty levels.  
  • Dogs are allowed on hikes if the park/trail allows it and if the dog remains leashed for the entirety of the hike.
  • Once you join this group, you must attend at least two hikes per year.  
  • You must sign a liability waiver before your first hike.
  • Only group admins are allowed to post hiking events for the organization. 
  • If you RSVP to a hike but can’t go, you must change your RSVP to the event.  You will be removed from the group if you no-show more than twice.
  • Their website contains all the additional info on group rules and FAQs you might need.  
  • If you’re a novice hiker (like me), their Facebook page also has some great info on supplies, hiking etiquette, etc., so you can go to your first hike feeling more prepared.  
  • Social events are available if you like to get out and socialize other than on the trails.  An event is a great option on these 95-degree days!!  Please note- they also have a no soliciting rule!

WOTTHC: Hiking in Raleigh And Beyond

After reviewing the rules and applying to join, I got approved relatively quickly.  I was surprised to see how many hiking events were available throughout different areas of the Triangle.  They also provide a detailed list of information on each hike, such as how many members can attend, length, difficulty, time, location, parking details, trail info, if public restrooms are available, etc. 

Some hikes also have themes, including but not limited to pride hikes, Spanish-speaking, age 50+, and hike plus yoga or swimming hole visits.  There are plenty of opportunities to go hiking in Raleigh. But, there are also intermittent hiking trips planned outside of the Triangle area.  I loved the variety available for so many different types of women!

Should I Go Hiking In Raleigh?  Or Stay Local?

As with so many other things, I wanted to keep my first hike with the group as local to Eastern Wake County as possible.  I just missed a hike through Turnipseed Nature Preserve in Wendell, NC, but I noticed one scheduled in Clayton, NC.  I glanced at the information.  The event was described as an intermediate (gulp) 3.8-mile hike at Clemmons Educational State Forest.  I decided to give it a go and sign up, even though 1- I am NOT that in shape right now and 2- I’ve never been to this place before.

If you’re like me and are looking for nature walks or gentle hiking in Raleigh but don’t want to push yourself too hard at first, consider checking out the trails at these locations:

I also would say that having good hiking shoes is SO important for a hiking novice! On my first hike, I wore these casual sneakers with very little ankle support. My feet were hurting by the end! But I then found these Merrell women’s hiking shoes* for sale, and these have made a world of difference!

I should also mention that I am an introverted person.  So, the thought of joining a hiking group made me hesitate.  I don’t want to sweat and huff and puff around strangers.  I don’t want to make small talk. Nature is my moment of Zen.  I want to listen to the birds,  the sounds of the branches creaking, and the leaves crunching.  However, I have a health condition that causes me to faint easily, so, for me, strenuously exercising alone isn’t the smartest.  From a safety perspective, I also don’t want to be in the woods alone.  So I pushed myself to try something new, although I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea.  

And I am SO glad that I did!

Locating Clemmons Educational State Forest

I headed out on a morning hike without my children in tow, thanks to the unwavering support of my mother-in-law (Thank You, Renee!).  The drive was about 20 minutes down slow, mostly country roads from Knightdale into Clayton.  I found the entrance to Clemmons Educational State Forest at 2256 Old U.S. Hwy 70, Clayton, NC 27520. 

Once I drove through the entrance, I went down a tree-lined gravel path.  It felt like the path kept going and going.  The deeper I went into the park, the more I was surrounded by forest and nature.  I passed a State Forest Ranger’s office, and two rangers were out and about.  It was comforting to know that I wasn’t totally isolated.

Forest Ranger tower at Clemmons Educational State Forest.  Great for hiking near Raleigh, NC

Finding the Group

I parked, chugged the rest of my coffee, and joined the group.  There were about six other women there.  Our group leader, Amy, was friendly and very informative.  She was also well prepared with a pack filled with essentials and safety gear.  I was welcomed to the group as a first-timer.  Amy offered me a Women of the Triangle Hiking Club sticker (hooray for free swag!).  

As the rest of the women joined us, Amy discussed how the hike would be structured and asked the group if they had a preferred pace.  She also had walkie-talkies and asked if someone wanted to be the “caboose” to help ensure the group stayed together and that no member fell behind.  I was so impressed with the level of planning and safety that went into these hikes.

Women of the Triangle Hiking Club logo Raleigh, NC

Wait, Where Am I, Exactly?

Before the hike, I had to research what exactly an “educational forest” was.  According to the North Carolina Forest Service website for Clemmons, “The first of North Carolina’s Educational State Forests, Clemmons opened in 1976 in Johnston County. Featuring self-guided trails and exhibits, as well as Ranger-conducted classes, the forest offers a wealth of experiences for the senses and the mind.”  All I could think of was how this place would have been heaven for Mr. Dubay, my high school field biology teacher.

Clemmons Educational State Forest trail map

Picking the Perfect Trail

The Watershed Extension Loop Trail we planned to walk was closed for maintenance.  So, Amy chose the Forest Demonstration Trail for us, which, according to the trail map, is 2.2 miles long.  Right before we went off on our hike, we stopped to use the restroom facilities, and then off we went.

Hiking trail near the front of Clemmons Educational State Forest

Balancing Conversation with Serenity

Our pace was moderate but not too fast, to the point where I missed the beauty around me.  I had a conversation with one of the members who volunteered to be the caboose, and we found out that we were both nurses.  Once we discovered that, the conversation came easily for me.  I also overheard other women intermittently chatting.  But one thing I noticed and appreciated the most was the long pauses of silence among the group.  It almost felt like this unspoken understanding that some of us just wanted time, space, and peace to enjoy the beauty around us, and everyone understood that.  

Trees in Clemmons Educational State Forest in Clayton, NC

Enjoying the Natural Beauty of Clemmons State Educational Forest

We passed by some beautiful areas.  We saw creeks with water running over rock formations, ferns growing along the ground, a covered shelter for classes or gatherings, and an outdoor educational amphitheater with a podium.  There were a few other people in the forest hiking along the trails.  Quite a few of the other hikers (not in our group) had leashed dogs with them.  It was populated enough not to feel alone.  However, it didn’t feel crowded at all.

small waterfall in creek at Clemmons Education State Forest in Clayton, NC

Shelter at Clemmons Educational State Forest

Trail to amphitheater over creek in Clemmons Educational State Forest. Found while hiking near Raleigh, NC

amphitheater at Clemmons Educational State Forest

We passed so many interesting educational exhibits.  Some were about water quality, some about tree species and forestry.  I knew that I wanted to bring my kids and husband back one day so they could enjoy some of the exhibits and shorter trails.

Tree wood grain exhibit at Clemmons Educational State Forest

Southern Red Oak Exhibit at Clemmons Educational State Forest in Clayton, NC

Local State Toaast- North Carolina longleaf pine in Clemmons Educational State Forest

A Pleasant Day For a Hike

I also appreciated and even mentioned to the group my surprise at the lack of mosquitos or flies in the forest that morning.  Coming from coastal Virginia, I thought I would be swarmed with mosquitos out there, but it was pleasantly cool from all of the tall trees and not very buggy.  After about an hour of hiking and feeling a bit tired and sweaty, I was glad I didn’t have to battle bugs, too.

Winding Down and Reflecting

As our hike came to an end, Amy offered to keep going on alternate trails.  The majority of us declined the extension.  But we did take her up on her offer to take us to the pond to feed the turtles.  We visited an overlook with all of North Carolina’s watersheds engraved on it.  By the way, if the water is your happy place, WOTTHC does waterfall hikes near Raleigh, NC, too!

Overlook desk with NC watershed map in Clemmons Educational State Forest

watershed map on deck in Clemmons Educational State Forest Clayton, NC

Lake with trees in Clayton, NC while hiking in the Raleigh area

Amy pulled out some turtle food*, and we fed some turtles who were eager for the snack.  You could tell this wasn’t their first rodeo, lol.

Turtles in water in Clayton, NC

As we all stood there watching the turtles bobbing along, we discussed our health and how the pandemic has shaped our perspective of what’s important in life, including prioritizing physical and mental health.  It was a very open, real, and refreshing conversation.  

As we said our goodbyes, I plopped back into my car.  I was sweaty and tired.  But I was so fulfilled. I knew that I couldn’t wait to find the best hikes within an hour of Raleigh.  And I knew I had just found something in Clemmons and the Women of the Triangle Hiking Club that I would enjoy for many years.  

* Affiliate links are used in this article to support the creation of high-quality content at no additional cost to you. For more information, please read our disclosure statement here.*

Author: Taylor

Taylor, the founder of Eastern Wake Love and resident of Knightdale, NC, created the platform to celebrate Eastern Wake County’s community and lifestyle. Driven by the lack of substantial information about the Eastern Wake communities during her move to Knightdale, she wanted to create a resource for this beautiful area's potential and current residents and visitors. In her spare time, she’s chasing after her two young kiddos, getting involved in her community, and laughing with her husband about the chaos of parenthood.


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