Plan Your Visit
This 127-acre preserve in southern Chapel Hill runs from the upland forests off of Parker Road down into the bottomlands of Mason Farm Biological Reserve. Two trails, the Mason Farm Trail and Woodland Trail, wind through upland oak hickory forests, mesic mixed hardwood forests, and old field pine forests. They form a roughly two-mile loop in the Preserve, and the Mason Farm Trail continues downhill to Mason Farm.
On the trails, you’ll experience roughly 230 feet of elevation change over uneven and sometimes challenging terrain. You may spot signs of the site’s agricultural history, like remnant crop terraces, as well as 19th century home sites. In the Parker Meadow, where the Woodland Trail begins, you’ll see the ruins of an 1830s-era cabin. The brickwork pattern of the cabin’s chimney reportedly indicated that it was a “safe house” on the Underground Railroad.
Parker Preserve is open dawn to dusk, 365 days a year.
Directions & Parking
The main access to Parker Preserve is at the end of Parker Road, off of Mount Carmel Church Road in Chapel Hill.
Parking is available in a small, roadside gravel lot at the intersection of Parker Road and Rhododendron Drive. Get Google Maps directions or enter 261 Parker Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517 into your map or GPS app.
The Mason Farm Trail begins at the kiosk; the Woodland Trail begins in the Parker Meadow, about 0.2 miles from the kiosk.
You can also reach Parker Preserve on foot by parking at Mason Farm Biological Reserve and hiking in. It’s around half a mile from the Mason Farm parking lot to the intersection where the Old Farm Trail meets the Mason Farm Trail coming in from Parker Preserve.
Mason Farm Trail
This 1.25-mile Mason Farm Trail connects Parker Preserve to Mason Farm Biological Reserve. The elevation change along this trail is substantial, starting at approximately out at 512’ at the Parker trailhead and ending at 250’ where it meets the Old Farm Trail at Mason Farm. This hike is moderate to strenuous when hiking it from east to west (Mason Farm to Parker Preserve), but it is relatively easy when walking downhill from Parker toward Mason Farm. Note the fallowed agricultural terraces near the top of the hill toward the Parker Meadow.
Note that dogs are not allowed within Mason Farm Biological Reserve: you can take them on the Mason Farm trail up to the boundary where Mason Farm begins.
This 0.8-mile trail weaves through mature forest as it descends from the uplands of Parker Preserve to the intersection with the Mason Farm Trail. It ranges from easy to strenuous, with some sections that are steep and rocky. The footing can be slick when wet. The Woodland Trail begins at Parker Meadow, the former site of a 19th century log cabin, destroyed by fire in 1995.
Old Farm Trail
A flat, nearly two-mile trail through Mason Farm Biological Reserve, a 367-acre natural area made up of wetlands, former agricultural fields, and ancient woodlands. Note that the boardwalk at Mason Farm was damaged in a recent hurricane, disrupting the loop. Plans for replacing the boardwalk are underway.
Use of trails is at your own risk. Common hazards include uneven footing, stinging insects, poison ivy, and the occasional snake. In case of emergency, please call 911.
- No bikes allowed except on the gravel roadway leading from the parking lot to Parker Meadow
- Keep pets on leash
- Please pick up after your pets
- Stay on the trails
- Do not disturb plants, animals, or fungi
The 127-acre Parker property was a gift to the University from William and Athena Parker in 1976 (but who held a life estate on 5 acres). The Parkers, as well as generations of previous owners, resided in a circa 1830s cabin, also located on this highest spot, that was destroyed by fire in 1995 (after which the Parkers lived in a mobile home). The cabin’s foundation and other features remain intact and retain much archaeological value, and the chimney brickwork pattern reportedly indicated that it was a “safe house” for the Underground Railroad.
Old roads lead down to Mason Farm where you may see remains of historic home sites. The archaeological significance of the former Parker cabin and the nearby home sites was documented in Archaeological and Botanical Survey of Mason Farm Biological Reserve and other lands of the North Carolina Botanical Garden (White, Peter S. and Charlotte A. Jones-Roe 2005). Mrs. Parker liked to tell the story of a regular visitor who lived “half-a-mile down to Morgan Creek,” who perhaps found inspiration to write “Carolina in my Mind” while admiring the view from the Parker cabin front porch.
Sadly, Bill Parker passed away in 1997, followed by Athena Parker in 2002, but their land conservation wishes were ultimately realized. Athena, in Bill’s 1997 obituary, wrote: “We are trying to impress on people that this is an important piece of land. We want to help the university further its conservation effort. The natural beauty is something that should continue to be appreciated.” She continued to speak passionately about the conservation of her land up until her death in October 2002, and in 2012 the North Carolina Botanical Garden was given administration of the property, and christened it the Parker Preserve.
In 2019, thanks to support from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, UNC-Chapel Hill, New Hope Audubon Society, Orange County, Town of Chapel Hill, and many private donors, the North Carolina Botanical Garden Foundation was able to purchase an adjoining 13-acre parcel on Parker Road that enabled us to create a parking area and open Parker Preserve to the public.