23 acres in Wake County
Location: 7800 Holly Springs Rd., Raleigh, NC 27606
GPS Coordinates: 35.717528, -78.753297
About Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve
At Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve, massive beech trees dating back to the days of James Madison cling to the 100-foot bluffs rising abruptly from Swift Creek. The beech trees are all the more impressive squeezed as they are onto a three-quarter-mile-long preserve bound by Lochmere Golf Course to the west, a housing development to the south, and the busy Holly Springs Road to the east. Standing at the base of the Stairway to Heaven, a series of steps leading you up the ridge, you can take in the beech bowl rising before you. There, you are transported from the heart of Cary to the primitive forests of western North Carolina.
The north-facing bluff’s shaded slopes support flora more at home in the cooler Appalachians: hydrangea, bigleaf snowbell, witch-hazel and alternate-leaf dogwood. Two miles upstream, in a similar alpine-like setting, you’ll find montane hemlocks thriving at the Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve. Benches allow visitors to rest and enjoy the cool of the bluffs, even in the heat of summer.
There may only be a mile or so of trail, but don’t expect to blow through the preserve. In addition to the neck-craning beech, a narrow floodplain offers multiple reasons to take your time. Bloodroot and trout lily kick off a festive wildlife season that begins mid-February. The preserve respectfully earns its place in The North Carolina Birding Trail: Piedmont Trail Guide, especially during migration and the early breeding season. Swift Creek itself is a playground for beaver, muskrat and an assortment of aquatic life. In the transition from winter to spring, vernal pools collect at the base of the bluffs, offering ideal breeding grounds for spring peepers and upland chorus frogs, noted, respectively, for their high-pitched call and resemblance to a thumb being run over the tines of a comb.
Hike to the top of the bluff and take advantage of the numerous benches that turn their back on civilization (literally: the Lochmere development is less than 100 feet away). Take in the passage of Swift Creek below and a lush hardwood canopy concealing the surrounding hustle and bustle of Cary just beyond. At 23 acres, urban escape comes in a small, but powerful package at Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve.
Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve has been named as a WakeWonder by the WakeNature Preserves Partnership. WakeWonders are the most outstanding natural features in Wake County – features sure to inspire awe and amazement in all who visit. Additional WakeWonders include TLC’s Temple Flat Rock Preserve, Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park, Harris Lake County Park, Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and Robertson Millpond Preserve.
Citizen Science – Check out the bird species that citizen scientists have spotted at Swift Creek Bluffs using the eBird database. Interested in adding your own observations? You can help TLC document bird abundance and distribution by creating your own account on eBird and adding your bird sightings! For details, tutorials, and more, check out the Getting Started section of the eBird website.
Share your hikes and photos of Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve using the interactive Hiking Project app: