Mason Farm Biological Reserve
Plan Your Visit
A two-mile loop trail circles this 367-acre wildlife preserve and natural area in Chapel Hill, home to over 800 species of plants, 216 species of birds, 29 species of mammals, 28 species of fish, 28 species of reptiles, 23 species of amphibians, and 67 species of butterflies. Mason Farm is a place for research, education, and appreciation of the natural world.
Mason Farm Biological Reserve is open dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. As this is a site for wildlife conservation and research, you must fill out a permit form before visiting. Fill out your permit.
Directions & Parking
There are two ways to reach Mason Farm Biological Reserve.
1. Old Mason Farm Road and Finley Golf Club. Click for Google Maps directions.
This route passes through the Finley Golf Club parking lot and continues on a gravel road. When you reach Morgan Creek, you cross the stream on a low-overflow bridge. When the gage reads less than 5 feet, it is usually safe to cross. Check the gage height here. Once you cross the creek, you can park in the Mason Farm visitor parking lot.
2. Mount Carmel Church Road and Parker Preserve. Click for Google Maps directions.
The newly-opened Parker Preserve, off of Mount Carmel Church Road in Chapel Hill, offers an alternative entrance to Mason Farm Biological Reserve. You can park in the designated roadside lot on Parker Road and then hike down around 0.75 miles to Mason Farm.
The loop trail at Mason Farm is a wide, gravel road that covers mostly flat terrain. The boardwalk at Mason Farm suffered damage in the hurricanes of fall 2018. We hope to replace it. In the meantime, the low areas the boardwalk used to cover may be hard to get across after heavy rains.
What will I see?
In the ancient woodlands and restored prairies of Mason Farm, you’ll see rare animals and plants. You might also see researchers and conservation staff out working to keep the land free of invasive species and restore native plants.
Help us maintain Mason Farm as a sanctuary for plants and wildlife. This means:
- No pets
- No bikes or motorized vehicles beyond the parking lot
- No traps, firearms, or weapons of any kind are permitted.
- No hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, or fires.
- Do not harm, kill, or remove plants or wildlife (this includes snakes and turtles).
- Leave nature as you found it: stay on designated paths, and carry out any materials you bring in.
- Call 911 for emergencies
Support the Reserve
Apply for Visitor Permit
The Mason Farm land was received by the University in 1894 by bequest of Mary Elizabeth Morgan Mason, one of the last descendants of the Morgan family, who had settled in this southeast corner of Orange County in the 1740s. Largely undisturbed since that time, much of the area has now reverted back to woodlands. Some of its forests are now at least 150 years old, with some trees exceeding 300 years in age.
During the 1960s and 1970s, several portions of this tract were set aside specifically for biological uses by the UNC Board of Trustees, and Mason Farm Biological Reserve was officially established in 1984. Today the area is administered by the North Carolina Botanical Garden as both a natural area and biological field station.
“It is in these small, wild places, refuges kept wild by their isolation and the protection of the animals in them, that the naturalist finds the Last Frontier. And in this much-civilized land he is that unusual paradox: both a cultured and a primitive man. With love for the wildlife that he studies, and with songs and poems in his heart, he has returned, hundreds or even thousands of years, to his hunter-trapper ancestors to learn the language of the sign —the trail in the dust, the lone feather, the traces of wild fur on the tree — that tells him what animal has passed there, what it fed upon, and where it has gone. But when he crushes the grass under his feet, it springs up again, and there is no blood under the tracks.”
Also see A Guide to the Old Farm Trail – A Garden publication telling the history of the fields and forests of Mason Farm Biological Reserve.
Check The Gage Before You Go
Please note: Visiting Mason Farm Biological Reserve requires fording a low water crossing in your vehicle. The low water crossing may be inaccessible following heavy rain events or periodic water release from upstream. If the Gage height is less than 5 feet, it is generally safe to cross in your vehicle.