History tells us that this beautiful area of the lower Eno earned its name from the scenic 60 foot tall bluff where Reverend Willie Duke would practice his preaching speaking to the trees in the mid-1800s. Today, people still journey to this spot, but probably won’t hear a sermon. Hikers travel along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) past the bluff. This section of the MST was completed in the final months of 2010, connecting 60 miles of trail east along Falls Lake and 15 miles west along the Eno River. The opportunity for such long, uninterrupted hikes draws people who want to take extended journeys.
Willie Duke’s Bluff is also known for the abundance of spring wildflowers that can be seen. Each spring, Eno River Association hikes bring nature and wildlife enthusiasts to this area near Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve. Dutchman’s breeches droop their blooms while photographers click away. Exploring off-trail down toward the river finds the best blooms.
Taking the MST east (downriver) from Old Oxford Highway it is a 7/10 mile walk to the top of the bluffs, figure on 20 minutes one way. At 428 yards you will cross an abandoned train track. For an interesting side hike turn left, follow the track 150 yards to abandoned trestle crossing the river. Return to the MST to continue to the bluffs. At 6/10 mile you will cross an obvious old single land dirt road bed. For a scenic overlook over the river turn left and follow the road 164 yards to the foundation of an old house on a smaller bluff. Return to the MST to go on to Willie Duke’s Bluff which are another 125 yards ahead. The trail passes the top of the bluff and there is a very short, worn out path to the best viewing spot. If you see a large open field off to the right, you passed the bluff.
Hiking September 15 – January 1 wear bright colors as this is US Army Corps of Engineers land (delineated by the orange stripes painted on the boundary trees) and is game lands. There are no trails to the bottom of the bluffs but at each end you can find gentle slopes to pick your way down. You may also hike along the river to get there but there are significant obstacles, particularly if there has been a lot of rain. In the spring there will be a lot of fishermen along here while the white bass are running.
Photo by Bruce Chinery
How to Get There
Park in the Penny’s Bend lot on Snowhill Road at the corner of Old Oxford Hwy. Walking from there, take a right on Old Oxford, cross the Eno River on the bridge, and at the end of the guard rail turn left on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (white circle blazes).
LAT 36° 4′ 5.94” N 36.068317 N
LONG 78° 51′ 9.63” W 78.852675 W