Trails: Thoreau Lake Trail at San-Lee Park (Sanford, NC)

Our area has been experiencing cooler weather this week. Although the temperature will surely climb back up again in the coming weeks, these 80-degree days have been a welcome reprieve from the scorching temperatures North Carolina experienced in July.

Queso and I decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and went for a walk at San-Lee Park this afternoon. This park is the go-to nature park in the Sanford-Lee County area (get the name now?).

Schools take students to its Nature Center for field trips, families have birthday parties at the picnic tables, and plenty of people come to fish or canoe on the large pond.

Queso and I only wanted to spend an hour or so there today, so we chose to walk the Thoreau Lake Trail, which is just under a mile in length. We went around 5:15 PM.

The late afternoon proved to be a great time to visit, as there were just enough people there to make me feel comfortable (I’m not a huge fan of being alone in parks) but not so many people to make it feel crowded. The bugs were, surprisingly, not an issue at all, despite all the standing water. (I should mention that the body of water here is called a “pond,” but it’s large enough for many people to fish from and travel by canoe or kayak.)

The Thoreau Lake Trail is marked by a red blaze and is quite easy to follow. I didn’t have to second-guess where I was walking at all. Most of the trail hugs the Upper Pond’s shore, making it an ideal hiking choice to take in some views of the pond.

The path is fairly flat in the first half, but there are definitely some short climbs. You’ll also want to watch out for the many, many roots that cross over the path, as well many rocks (large and small) accompanied by slick pine straw. In short, if you’re a runner, you may want to think twice before sprinting this one.

As I mentioned in a previous nature post, I’ve been using the Picture This app to identify plants. I snapped several pictures along the way on the Thoreau Lake Trail and was surprised to learn that a vine called “hog-peanut” (really, is there any better plant name than that?) and poison ivy look incredibly similar.

(Side note: I Googled the hog-peanut plant to see if I was the only one who thought they looked alike. Apparently, this preciously named plant is known as a poison-ivy lookalike species, according to (and with that site name, I trust them). According to these poison ivy experts, hog-peanut has fewer veins on its leaves, but perhaps none of us should be getting close enough to find out?)

It’s important to point out that I found many more instances of poison ivy growing on the trail compared to hog-peanut. So if you’re allergic to poison ivy, I’d suggest wearing long pants and taking a shower immediately when you get home from your hike.

Poison ivy:


I also encountered this little beauty on a sign, giving an uncharacteristically ominous association to the name “Thoreau.” Despite the poison ivy and spiders, the trail really is a lovely walk in the park.


  • Loop: (The trail forms a rough horseshoe shape, ending a few hundred feet from its beginning, but across the pond)
  • Dog-Friendly: (Pet-waste bags are available in the parking lot)
  • Restroom: (Portable toilets are located in the parking lot; flushing toilets are available in the Nature Center)
  • Water Available: (While water fountains are available in the Nature Center, don’t rely solely on the Center being open)
  • Total Distance: 0.8 miles + a few hundred feet
  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes (At a leisurely pace)
  • Address: 760 Pumping Station Rd, Sanford, NC 27330

Do you have recommendations for hikes in North Carolina or anywhere else in the world? Drop a line in the comments section and spread the word!

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