296 acres in Orange County
Location: 2713 Mt. Sinai Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
GPS Coordinates: 35.99555,-79.05416
Location: 6001 Turkey Farm Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
GPS Coordinates: 35.99166,-79.04694
About Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
“With Rain the night before, it was extremely lush and humid. Very dark forest. I enjoyed the creek crossings. Some magnificent Tulip poplar and Sycamore trees. Incredibly diverse plant life. I would recommend this hike for anyone. There are multiple trails, something for everyone!” -Stephen Buczynski, volunteer and Hiking Challenge participant
At TLC’s 296-acre Johnston Mill Nature Preserve you’ll find many of the same natural attributes as you will at its bigger, better-known neighbors Eno River State Park and Duke Forest, minus the crowds.
Take New Hope Creek, a two-mile stretch of which meanders through the northeast portion of the preserve. Like the larger Eno, it has rocky sections reminiscent of a mountain creek as well as placid, reflective stretches. You can enjoy nearly the entire run of New Hope Creek on Robin’s Trail, the waterway’s constant companion.
Duke Forest, with its emphasis on research, results in a range of forest experiences. You’ll find the same at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. Portions of the Old Field Bluff Trail pass through an early successional forest only beginning to recover from their recent farmland past. Meanwhile, the Beech Loop Trail begins in a maturing forest of red cedar, black walnut, tulip poplar and sweetgum, then climbs a steep bluff where stout beech trees more than 150 years old stand tall.
And just as you will along the Eno, once a center of commerce thanks to its numerous mills, you’ll find traces of the land’s human past at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. Man’s mark here dates back thousands of years, to hunter-gatherer days when the New Hope Valley was the local grocery store. More recently, beginning in the first half of the 1700s, the Johnston family farmed the tract. You can still see evidence of their 200-year inhabitance in the faint ruins of two old gristmills along New Hope Creek and in scattered, crumbling stone chimneys and hearths. Winter, devoid of vegetation, is an especially good season for going back in time at the preserve.
Johnston Mill Nature Preserve’s roughly three and a half miles of trails may be a fraction of what you’ll find elsewhere, but you can see a lot of scenery in that short distance. And, you can enjoy it in relative peace and quiet.
Share your hikes and photos of Johnston Mill Nature Preserve using the interactive Hiking Project app: