The Beauty of a Winter Hike on the Cabe Lands Trail

by Mark Miles

Winter isn’t typically considered the ideal time to go for a hike. Most people dislike the cold, snow, and limited hours of daylight–which can be daunting. But there are also perks to hiking in winter: 1) there’s greater visibility in a deciduous forest due to the absence of leaves, 2) there’s added photographic appeal because snow will provide accentuation to the contours of the land, and 3) there are fewer difficulties with parking due to the general preoccupation with indoor activities at this time of year. So, in short, there are good reasons to look for a park in your area even when the thermometer is dipping below freezing.

The perks of winter hiking were recently made clear to me when I took the Cabe Lands Trail at Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know this park is one of my favorite hiking destinations, with so much acreage and so many trails that I still haven’t covered all of them in the year and a half I’ve been hiking there on a monthly basis. The Cabe Lands Trail was one of those unexplored areas–though I covered some of it in June of last year on another hike (full story here)–and so on the third weekend of December I decided to remedy the situation by hiking the remainder of it for the first time.

I arrived at the Cabe Lands Access in late afternoon on Sunday, and there were only two cars in the parking lot. This is amazing because in summertime parking space for the Cabe Lands is virtually nonexistent, as I discovered when I hiked part of it last year. In winter you’d be forgiven for thinking this isn’t even the same trail simply on the basis of the lack of crowds, which so thoroughly characterize the area near the Eno River Rock Quarry in summertime, when the appeal of cool water on a hot day is tantalizing.

Getting out of my car, I was greeted by the cold but fresh air, which immediately invigorated me. Starting on the Cabe Lands Trail, I took the western fork when I reached the junction with Eno Quarry Trail, and from there I headed toward the quarry itself. My plan was to circle the quarry, return to the junction, then resume the Cabe Lands Trail for the remainder of its length, going in a clockwise direction. After traipsing through a forest of pine, oak and beech–which allowed greater visibility due to the lack of leaves, providing a gorgeous view that extended for miles into the distance at some points–I reached a beautiful creek that marks the edge of the land bordering the quarry. The water in the creek was so pure and clear, I was almost tempted to take a sip. Instead I took several photos, including the following.

Crossing the little creek, I reached the Eno River Rock Quarry itself. The difference between summer and winter was absolutely striking. Whereas the entire area surrounding the quarry had been full of splashes, laughter, conversation, and flirtation when I visited in June, there was now stillness, peace, calm, and tranquility of an almost preternatural depth. In the absence of human activity, the quarry was something out of a dream, reclining lazily in the embrace of the forest and waiting patiently for someone to come and appreciate its beauty.

Of the three other people I saw during my hike on this day, two of those people were at the quarry, some distance ahead of me on the trail that snakes around the body of water. They appeared to be father and daughter, and the pensive silence between them reflected the silence of the water around them. Something about the way they walked, with heads bowed and voices hushed, conveyed a sense of reverence that was entirely appropriate at this site where at least two people have drowned over the past fifteen years. Though I didn’t ask them, I did wonder if they were family members of one of the two young men who never returned from the murky waters of the Eno River Rock Quarry.

Passing around the western edge of the quarry, I came to the spot where divers congregate to make flying leaps into the sixty-foot waters in summertime. The place was utterly transformed, so calm and quiet that the call of a house wren would’ve reverberated across the waters with the audacity of a freight train. Despite the ideal acoustics, I was too enamored with the reverential silence of the area to do anything but proceed with hushed footsteps.

After finishing my circuit of the Eno River Rock Quarry, I returned by the way I came, arriving soon thereafter at the junction where I had originally diverged from Cabe Lands Trail. Taking a left at the junction, I noticed that the trail started to descend rapidly, taking me from the height of Laurel Ridge to the south bank of the Eno River in about five minutes. The trail was exceptionally rocky and strewn with river pebbles, highlighting the fact that this portion of the Eno was once adjacent to a working mill, which had extensive earthworks and employed stone from the banks of the river in its construction.

Before reaching the ruins of Cabe Mill, however, I noticed a ford in the Eno where rocks provided an ideal vantage point to take a photo of the river on its eastward course. Balancing tenuously on stones as the frigid water gurgled under my feet, I marveled at the sight in front of me. It was easily one of the best views of the Eno that I’ve seen in a long time, ranking among my top three views of an exceptionally photogenic river in an exceptionally photogenic park.

After satisfying my photographic impulse, I returned to the bank in time to notice the third and final person who crossed my path on this hike. He had a small dog running ahead of him and quickly stooped to leash her before getting close–which was probably a good thing judging from her apparent lack of socialization. Passing the man and his dog, I finally started to notice definite features of an abandoned mill, including deep rivets in the ground and partial stone embankments, which formed millraces long ago. I had to go some way off the trail to get a better view, but it didn’t take long before the ruins of Cabe Mill came into view.

As always, I was fascinated by the stonework, so intricate and well-made that a significant portion of it continues to stand after two centuries. In my research regarding the history of the site, I wasn’t able to find out the exact date of the mill’s construction. But if Cabe Mill is contemporaneous with Holden Mill, another historic site at Eno River State Park, then it was built in the early nineteenth century. The Cabe family–who owned the mill and lived nearby–settled in this area in 1758, when Barnaby Cabe immigrated to North Carolina from Britain. He was Presbyterian and as a result had a high estimation of the value of education, which prompted him to fund the construction of a schoolhouse nearby. The real handiwork of the Cabe Family, however, was the mill which bore their name, the ruins of which were standing in front of me in the middle of the woods by the Eno River.

Realizing the light was waning and the day fast approaching an end, I left the ruins of Cabe Mill and started my ascent from the south bank of the Eno through Cabe’s Gorge on my way toward the parking lot. I tried to envision what the area must have looked like two centuries ago, when so much of the land surrounding the Eno River was heavily industrialized and much more densely populated. It would’ve been virtually unrecognizable, in addition to being much more dirty and polluted than it is now. Though it’s easy to take for granted a place like Eno River State Park–which receives very little public funding from the state of North Carolina and stands in a position of increasing economic precarity due to budgetary shortfalls–it’s worth remembering that without this park the area surrounding it would very quickly be turned into a wasteland, where the beauty of a winter hike in the woods would be nothing more than the memory of a bygone era.


Anderson, Jean Bradley, “The History of Fews Ford,” Eno Journal, Vol. 8:1 via Eno River Association, accessed January 2nd, 2018.

Cabe Lands Trail,” North Carolina State Parks, accessed January 2nd, 2018.

Cabe Lands Trail,” Hiking Project, accessed January 2nd, 2018.

52 thoughts on “The Beauty of a Winter Hike on the Cabe Lands Trail

  1. Some stunning photos of a beautiful area. Thanks for sharing 🙂 I agree that winter can be a great time to visit tourist spots.
    ‘It would’ve been virtually unrecognizable, in addition to being much more dirty and polluted than it is now…’
    ‘…it’s worth remembering that without this park the area surrounding it would very quickly be turned into a wasteland.’
    I’m fascinated by those two statements. The first seeds the possibility of rebirth and hence brings hope. As such, it is the perfect counterpoint to the second, which warns of our ongoing potential for destruction.

    1. Thank you, Ros. There is so much good in the world, but sadly almost all of it is threatened by an economic system that knows nothing of good or evil. It only knows how to make money, no matter who suffers and dies as a result.

      Hope you’re doing well, and may the new year bring you many good things, my friend.

  2. As always, you really convey they beauty of the area you are exploring. I very much enjoyed your description of your hike and the pictures, makes me feel as if I had been actually there. Thanks!

      1. Thank you! Yes this year has started out much better than last and I have high hopes it’ll continue to be awesome! I wish you the best year ever!

  3. Very cool. I almost felt as if I was walking the trails with you. This was a beautifully descriptive post. Being a bit older and not in shape anymore, my hiking days are almost gone. I’ve hiked in Upstate N.Y., Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California over the years. I was close to North Carolina when I hiked the Smoky Mountains, but I entered in Tennessee and didn’t cover a lot of the park.
    Thank you for an enjoyable “virtual” hike. 🙂 Oh, the photography is beautiful, as well. It’s far too cold in NY right now to do much outside. The temperature has been in the low teens and dipping into single digits. The low for today is supposed to be 2 degrees. And there’s been considerable wind, it actually hurts. 😮 😆

    1. I know what you mean. There is certainly a point where cold can be prohibitive, unless you want to wear more layers than a layer cake.

      And thank you, it’s always good to hear people say they felt as if they were walking with me. Hope you’re doing well and keeping warm, my friend.

    1. It’s definitely deserving of a full day of hiking, though it is somewhat geographically dispersed and may require you to jump in your car to make it from one access point to another.

      1. Dear Mark, yes, I’m doing well thank you. I’m lucky enough to live near some beautiful (easy!) walks, and to have the time to enjoy them.
        I hope life is treating you better now.

  4. I often like to go hiking in abandoned quarries, where you can see the impact humanity has had on mother nature and mother natures ability to reclaim even the most damaged of landscapes.
    I really enjoyed this post. I’ve been trying to get out and go hiking a few times a month this winter. Here most of the hiking trails are along the bluff-sides and the freeze/thaw/refreeze we’ve had has made many trails pretty dangerous. Thankfully they aren’t as bad as last year when they were closed for what seemed like months.
    I look forward to reading about your next hike!

  5. We used to hike in this park years ago when we lived in NC. This post brings back memories for me, as we used to go there during the “off-season”. It’s not so easy to do where we live now in New England, unless you have snow shoes!

  6. Mark,
    What a fantastic hike, and amazingly beautiful area!
    I too adore the stone walls, so much history… but the trees, the wilderness, the streams, they are the stars here; beautiful!

    1. Thank you so much. I agree with your assessment as well. Nature is where my heart lies, even though I do also appreciate works of culture that respect the land and enrich our lives.

      Keep enjoying the wilderness.

  7. I love your post about that walk. What a pity that I won’t make it to the US, but if you have a chance to ever come to Ireland, you will find a wonderful landscape here as well. However, the walks here are a bit limited to loads of private premises that aren’t open to the public.

  8. Your pictures are exceptional. Are you a professional photographer? I like these small, out of the way places that many people ignore. They are peaceful. I bet it is a good place to find wildflowers in Spring.

  9. Your eloquent writing had me there with you every step of the way. I love the solitude of winter hiking. The crowds have hibernated to warmer surroundings leaving one to enjoy the trail without distractions. Love the pics. It reminds me of one of my favorite places that I write about: Silver Mines Recreation Area. Thanks for sharing.

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