De Hart Botanical Gardens
April 26, 2019
De Hart Botanical Gardens. A hidden piece of ‘WOW’ on a day trip from Raleigh, North Carolina.
This 92-acre botanical garden holds a wide-variety of nature – from Paleolithic rocks to fauna and trees not normally found in central North Carolina. Located in Franklin County 25 miles north of Raleigh and 6 miles south of the town of Louisburg, it is an easy day trip from Raleigh and the surrounding area.
The botanical gardens were originally the home of Allen De Hart and his wife. The property has since been deeded to Louisburg College for preservation and to educate the public about the botanical gardens.
What to do
Dr. Robert Bruck of Louisburg College narrates a self-paced video guided walking tour. If you have good cell service, listen to the video segments at each numbered site to explain what you are seeing. Otherwise, watch the video ahead of time to help guide your visit.
If you don’t use the video guide and you aren’t a botanist by nature, you will miss out on a lot of the ‘wow’ factor of the gardens. But it will still be a pleasant walk through the woods. Make sure you pick up a paper map at the gazebo to help explain the view at each site number.
Take your time wandering through either or both of the two main trails. The total mileage of all the trails is about 3.5 miles. The trails are not paved.
The botanical garden contains two sections:
- Old Growth Section (Waterfall trail)
- Contains old-growth trees (trees that are generally 100+ years old)
- Expect to see more hardwood trees than evergreens in this section
- Has a small waterfall with a bench nearby for a picnic or enjoying the sounds of nature
- Lake Section (Lake Trail)
- Contains the secondary-growth forest (younger trees growing since lumbering ceased 50-75 years ago)
- Some plants along this trail are signed
- The lake sighting includes turtles. Watch for the pile of turtles on the rock in the middle of the lake.
- Don’t miss the Children’s Bamboo Trail located off the Lake Trail. The vibe is mysterious and secret as you tuck up under a thick bamboo forest
Flora and Fauna
Pause frequently to observe the flora and fauna around you. Many plants are native to North Carolina although not necessarily native to central North Carolina. Other plants, such as the bamboo stand, are non-native plants.
You might see plants such as:
- Lady Slipper orchid – a rare flower in North Carolina
- Two types of azaleas bursting with blooms
- Perennial (has flowers and green leaves at the same time)
- Deciduous (flowers first, then green leaves appear)
- Mountain Laurel – usually grows at the 5000-6000’ elevation in the Southern Appalachian mountains
- American beech stand – unusual to find in central North Carolina
The rock outcrop, located on the Lake Trail, are rocks that existed either during the Paleolithic (per the map) or Paleozoic (per the sign) time period. Either era indicates that the rock is at least 500 million years ago. This means you can sit on a rock that a mastodon or mammoth stepped on. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Feel the smooth curves of the rock outcrop along the Waterfall trail. The land was once entirely under water. The hidey-holes in the rock are the result of water erosion from that time.
Walk quietly and you might see animals such as:
- A black racer snake
- An eastern fence lizard
- Turtles basking along the lakeshore or piled on a rock in the middle of the lake.
- Tadpoles in the water near the shore edge
Along the Lake Trail, there is a bird observation stand.
Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at a bench along the lake or beside the waterfall in the old growth section.
Check out the remains of the old home-site. Over 100-years ago, the area was mostly farms. Abandoned a while ago, these lands are returning to forest.
There is a museum located next to the Lake Area trail. It’s not clear if it has hours that are open to the public.
- Location: 3585 US 401 Louisburg, North Carolina
- Cost: Free. Register by signing the notebook at the Gazebo off the main parking lot
- Time: as little or as much time as you want but 2-3 hours is recommended to enjoy all the trails
- Kid friendly: Yes but it is not stroller friendly. And don’t expect a playground — nature is the playground here
- Restrooms: port-a-let located near the parking lot
- Best time to visit: All season park. March through May for the potential to see blooming azaleas, mountain laurel or the rare Lady Slipper orchid
Given the rapid growth of the Raleigh area, the De Hart Botanical Garden is a priceless preserve. With its beauty and its location, it deserves its spot on the list of day trips from Raleigh.