Outdoor Attractions in Harnett County, NC

The Dunn-Erwin Trail in Dunn, NC.
The Dunn-Erwin Trail in Dunn, NC.

From stunning parks and scenic biking trails to the rapids of the Cape Fear River, Harnett County is a pristine package for outdoor enthusiasts. And residents like Megan Smirnov certainly take advantage of it.

“Harnett County is so beautiful,” says Smirnov, who bought Cape Fear River Adventures, a canoe and kayak rental outfitter in Lillington, with her husband in the spring of 2012. “My husband and I are both very outdoorsy. We love the river. We love to hike. We camp a lot. There’s just so much cool stuff Harnett County has to offer.”

Get Close to Nature

One of Harnett County's most popular outdoor attractions is Raven Rock State Park. Named after the natural, 150-foot-tall crystalline structure that stretches for a mile along the banks of the Cape Fear River, the park offers 12 miles of hiking trails, seven miles of horseback riding trails and quiet spots to picnic, camp and fish for largemouth bass and catfish.

David Brown has been a park ranger at Raven Rock State Park for more than 20 years. He leads many of the 150-plus free environmental education programs the park offers both students and the general public.

“Probably the most popular one is our guided hike down to Raven Rock,” Brown says. “Everybody who comes here wants to see it. It’s pretty awe-inspiring. It’s always nice to hear the oohs and aahs. Opening kids’ eyes to the environment is a real thrill.”

Wildlife Trails

The Cape Fear River is the perfect playground for canoers, kayakers and nature-lovers alike. A 56-mile stretch of the river, known as the Cape Fear Canoe Trail, is designated specifically for recreational water travel.

“The river is quite stunning,” Smirnov says. “It’s a lot less developed than people expect. It’s so isolated in places. So there’s still a lot of wildlife to be found along the way.”

Float along the water and watch bald eagles swoop above the towering oak trees, or catch a family of deer grazing along the banks. On sunny days, you can always find a few turtles warming themselves in the afternoon rays. And adventure-seekers will get a thrill riding the rapids at Lanier Falls.

Canoers and kayakers can access the river at the Cape Fear River Trail Park in Erwin, among other spots. This peaceful green space offers 16 acres of pet-friendly walking trails, four scenic overlooks and a covered shelter area for picnics.

Erwin is also home to the Dunn-Erwin Rail Trail, a former train track converted into a 5.3-mile gravel path that connects the downtowns of Dunn and Erwin. The trail is popular with bicyclists, joggers and casual strollers thanks to its gentle inclines and pastoral views of soybean and cotton fields, historic houses and wetlands filled with cypress trees and waterfowl.

“People here are just really into getting out into nature,” Smirnov says.

Check out more outdoor activities in Dunn, NC.

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