If you love art and don’t mind the sun, the NC Museum of Art (NCMA) Park is the one for you. With a connection to the Reedy Creek Trail, this is the perfect option for getting in a long run or bike ride after work when the sun goes down.
For a bit of background info, the NCMA connects with Pullen Park and the Reedy Creek Trail for a variety of routes to take when exploring the area. As far as the NCMA of Art itself goes, the attraction takes the cake as the nation’s largest outdoor museum park with 162 acres of land. My favorite part of this park/trail system is the monumental outdoor works of art that are spread throughout.
Park off of Blue Ridge Road, and you won’t have a problem finding a spot. The parking lot goes on for days. There are also blue light towers in the parking lot if you’re walking alone at night and feel unsafe or need to use it in the case of an emergency.
At the start of the trail near the parking lot, you can find an amphitheater with several chairs and umbrellas to hang out at. I often see kids playing in the open area every time I go running at the NCMA.
Looking at the trails, you can either stick exclusively to the Museum Park’s trail system or venture out past Meredith College and beyond. The Blue Loop trail is a one-mile loop that is the centerpiece of the museum’s most recent expansion.
Some of the trails are paved, while others are not. Off of the Blue Loop Trail are several gravel and mulch trails that are reserved for foot traffic only. Aside from that, you’ll see a lot of bikers at the NCMA.
According to the website, you can take advantage of the following trails within the Museum Park. For a visual element with labeled works of art along the way, the museum website has provided that.
- House Creek Greenway Trail- A paved trail that winds through the woods and across House Creek and then crosses the beltline via a pedestrian bridge. You’ll wind up at Meredith College and head into to the Hillsborough Street–NCSU area if you go east. To the west, you’ll hit Blue Ridge Road which extends to Umstead State Park.
- Blue Loop Museum Trail: This paved path connects the parking lot with Greenway. You’ll even get the lovely view of a retention pond along the way! It’s used for student studies in connection with environmental research.
- Woodland Trail: The Woodland Trail is a part of the NCMA’s nature preserve. Unpaved, the path starts at the Martha Jackson-Jarvis sculpture called Crossroads and loops back around to the same point.
- Prairie Trail: Once a pasture, now the Prairie trail. This gravel trail cuts into the prairie, crosses House Creek and returns to the Greenway through a section of the woods.
Speaking of art, my favorite part of running here is observing all of the sculptures. The best way to describe it would be a constant payoff. Some works of art are permanent and some are temporary, but all of them are fascinating. My favorite at the moment is the weird butt/legs/person lying down made out of rocks. I stare at it every time I pass it.
If you’ve got a dog, bring it along with you to this park. You’ll find waste disposal and bags at your convenience along the way.
As far as difficulty goes, this trail isn’t for beginners. Certain loops are family-friendly, but there are lots of hilly sections throughout. For reference, my heart rate (according to my FitBit) has peaked at 192 during a normal run at the NCMA. Aside from that, the trails are clearly marked and obstacle free.
Another aspect that I love about this trail is the random creeks and nature throughout. Even though it runs parallel to Hillsborough St with cars nearby, it’s secluded enough so that you’ll still see plenty of squirrels and critters along the path.
I would have never thought of the NCMA as a place to go when I wanted a challenging run, but it has turned out to be one of my favorites. If you’re ever looking to switch things up from your normal trail, head here.