Trails in Orange County Lead to Better Mental Health


By Laurie Paolicelli

If being in nature is shown to relieve depression and anxiety, why don’t we do it more often? Should we make it a law to get out more often? That’s silly, of course — making it a law to get outside. But, in a way, we’ve done just that. According to a new statute enacted by the state of North Carolina, 2023 is, legally, the Year of the Trail.

It’s more of a suggestion than a law, but just in case, be lawful. Learn more about trails in your own backyard:

This is good news for the millions of people who’ve experienced an increase in pandemic-related depression and anxiety. Why? Medical researchers have established that there’s a strong correlation between being outdoors and feeling better about life in general.

How much time do you spend staring at a screen each day? Be honest. For most Americans, according to a 2016 Nielsen Total Audience Report, that number clocks in at more than 10 hours a day. Our increasing reliance on technology, combined with a global trend toward urban living, means many of us are spending even less time outdoors — even as scientists compile evidence of the value of getting out into it.

The Cole Mill Loop Trail at Eno River Stake Park.

From a short stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and even upticks in empathy and cooperation. Most research so far has focused on green spaces such as parks and forests, and researchers are now also beginning to study the benefits of blue spaces, places with river and ocean views. Nature comes in all shapes and sizes, and psychological research is still fine-tuning our understanding of its potential benefits. In the process, scientists are charting a course for policymakers and the public to better tap into the healing powers of Mother Nature.

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 North Carolina Trails System Act. The NC Trails System Act created North Carolina’s Trails Program. The Program is housed in the Division of Parks and Recreation and is assisted by the North Carolina Trails Committee, a group of citizens representing users of different types of trails, including hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, and off road vehicles. The 1973 Act also envisioned a State Trail System of long-distance State Trails that would be units of the North Carolina Park System.

The outdoor world surrounds us. Here are a few suggestions on how to discover it.

A Selection of Trails in Orange County

State Parks

  • Eno River State Park
  • Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Chapel Hill and Orange County

AllTrails has 39 scenic trails in the Chapel Hill area. Explore one of the easy hiking trails or discover kid-friendly routes for your next family trip. Check out some trails with historic sites or adventure through the nature areas surrounding Chapel Hill that are perfect for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts at any skill level.

Duke Forest Korstain Division

  • Rhodo Trail to New Hope Creek Trail Loop
  • New Hope Creek South Trail,
  • Rhododendron Bluff Circuit, and more

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve.

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

  • Old Field Bluff Trail
  • Robin’s, Bluebird, Old Field Bluff and Beech Trail Loop

Pumpkin Loop Trail, Chapel Hill, Photo courtesy: Liz, The Restless Wild.

Carolina North Forest

  • Crow Branch Overlook Loop
  • Pumpkin Loop
  • Wormhole & Pumpkin Loop Trails
  • Neverland’s Inner Loop
  • Neverland’s Outer Loop, and many more.

Bolin Creek Trail.

Chapel Hill Community Center

  • Bolin Creek Trail
  • Bolin Creek Extension
  • Tanyard Branch Trail

NC Botanical Garden Trails

Cedar Falls Park

  • Cedar Falls Park Loop
  • Dry Creek Trail

Battle Park – Battle Park Trail

Southern Community Park

  • Mason Farm Trail
  • Fan Branch Trail
  • Merritt’s Pasture Trail
  • Culbreth Park Trail

Meadowmont Trail

  • Little Creek Trail

Chapel Hill Public Library

  • Pritchard Trail

Lower Booker Creek Trail

Upper Booker Creek Trail

Horace Williams Trail (by Airport)

Umstead Park Trails (Chapel Hill)

Duke Forest Blackwood Division (Orange County)

  • Twin Creeks Park Trail

Duke Forest Edeburn Division

  • Edeburn East Gate to Stoney Creek
  • Edeburn Division Loop via Flat Rock Fire Trail


Riverwalk – Mountains to the Sea Trail

Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail

Seven Mile Creek Natural Area

Poet’s Walk at Ayr Mount

King’s Highway Park Trails

Cate’s Creek Park Trails

Gold Park Trails

Blackwood Farm Park

  • Mary’s Trail
  • Alice’s Loop via Mary’s Trail

The Healing Labyrinth at Brumley Forest.

Brumley Nature Preserve

Confluence Natural Area


Anderson Park Trails

Wilson Park Trails

Frances Shetley Trail/Bikeway

Robertson Bike Path

Libba (Elizabeth) Cotten Trails/Bikeway

Lowlands Loop

Jone’s Creek Greenway Loop

Lake Hogan Farm Trails

Carolina Forest Road Trail

And the list goes on.

Morgan Creek Trail.

March 20 marks the first day of spring. That means revival and new beginnings. Let’s commit to helping ourselves be happier. Find a trail, any trail. Put one foot in front of the other. Smile.

June 3 has been declared National Trails Day. Check-out the Town of Chapel Hill’s website, which includes more information on Orange County happenings.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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1 Comment on "Trails in Orange County Lead to Better Mental Health"

  1. Darrell G Kohr | March 17, 2023 at 11:57 am | Reply

    Thank you for this article. I have been hiking local trails, I shoot for once a week, since I retired four years ago. I would like to do week-ling hikes on the Appalachian Trail and the Mountain-To-Sea Trail, but wife wife is very sick and I do not dare leave the local area for very long. These trails have been a life-line to my sanity. I have “short-cutted” your article in my web browser and will use it when I plan upcoming trips.

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