A Guide to Free Gardens in the Triangle

One of my goals in 2022 was to take advantage of all the free stuff in my area- from parks to botanical gardens and museums- there are so many options! I found a list of free botanical gardens and made it my goal to see them all last year, and it was such a highlight to visit so many beautiful places. They're all unique, so I think there's something for everyone. I'll share some thoughts on each park and give some (hopefully) helpful info on each. Happy visiting!

Sarah P Duke Gardens

This is the only garden that I visited before making this a goal, and with good reason! This garden is amazing, and changes every time I visit. It's definitely an all-season park! It's located on Duke's campus, so I like to pair a visit to the park with a walk around campus, or a stop in one of the amazing restaurants or breweries in Durham.

Parking - There is a paid lot at the entrance ($2/hour). I would recommend downloading the parking app so that you don't have to wait in line to pay (which can get very long on a nice day) and also can add more time without going back to your car!
Favorite Part - Historic Terrace and fish pond. This is a wide open area with so many beautiful flowers in tiered boxes, so you can walk between the rows. These flowers always change too!
Size of Park - 55 acres
Good to know - Dogs are allowed at certain hours (before 10 and after 5)
Would I go back? - Yes! I've already been a bunch of times and want to go again!

JC Raulston Arboretum

I wasn't expecting much from this park, because it's on NC State's campus and I'm usually a little disappointed by Arboretums. This one definitely shocked me with how great it was! There were so many different garden areas to explore, and tons of paths to wander around. When I went there was an event going on and part was blocked off,  but even so I spent over an hour exploring. It's a gorgeous park with so much to see!

Parking - There is a small lot at the entrance, as well as lots of free street parking right outside of the gates. It was packed when I went and I was still able to find a spot with no issue.
Favorite Part - Either the Japanese Gardens/Lathe House or the White Garden! It was so unique to see all white plants surrounded by the deep green foliage. Really beautiful.
Size of Park - 10 acres
Good to know - Free guided tours are available from March–October on Sundays at 2:00 PM.
Would I go back? - Yes! I really liked how relaxing this park was.

Raleigh Rose Garden

Just like the name implies, this garden is all about the rose! It's the smallest park on the list, but still a beautiful place to stop by and see these amazing flowers in a variety of colors. There are a few other bushes and flowers as well, so there's something for everyone. The Raleigh Little Theatre is also located here, so it would be a perfect stop before watching a play or show on stage.

Parking - Very limited spots in a lot by the theatre, but lots of street parking.
Favorite Part - There aren't really sections of the garden since it's so small, but I liked the light pink roses the best.
Size of Park - 60 garden beds (very tiny)
Good to know -  The roses are typically in bloom between Mother’s Day and the first hard freeze of the season, normally around mid-November.
Would I go back? - Not specifically for the garden unless I was in the area, but I do want to see a show on the stage!

WRAL Azalea Garden

This is another park I had low expectations for. A garden at a TV station- there's no way it can be good! But MAN is it a beautiful place! There are tons of flowers everywhere- mostly azaleas as the name implies. I saw a ton of photographers out for photo shoots, and it's easy to see why since this park would be a perfect backdrop. I could have walked around for hours because there was so much to see and explore.

Parking - Decent sized free lot right at the entrance.
Favorite Part - I liked the part where the flowers get really tall and you're enveloped in them.
Size of Park - 5 acres
Good to know - The garden is right outside of the TV station WRAL's building, which is also really cool to walk around.
Would I go back? - Definitely! It's such a little gem in the city. 

North Carolina Botanical Garden

This park is a tale of two visits for me. The first time I went was in early March when I was nearby for a race packet pickup. I wanted to check it off my list so I stopped by, and wasn't really impressed. Nothing was in bloom, and it was kind of a depressing sight! Fast forward to this winter, when I went back for their annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibit. There still wasn't a lot in bloom, but I loved seeing all of the sculptures, and also explored the many miles of the Piedmont walking trails that pass through the gardens! I fell in love, and now I want to go back again in the spring and see the garden in all its glory.

Parking - Lots of free parking in a lot
Favorite Part - The size of the park and all the trails! You can spend hours here (and refuel on UNC's campus)
Size of Park - 1,100 acres
Good to know - Dogs are not allowed in the garden, but can use the walking trails. Definitely visit the Sculptures in the Garden as well!
Would I go back? - Yes- I want to visit in the spring to actually see everything in bloom, and also hike on more of the trails.

Coker Arboretum

Located right on UNC's campus, this was the only park that was kind of a letdown for me. All of the pictures of this arboretum looked beautiful, but it was a lot smaller that I expected. It's the kind of place that I would like visiting if I was a student, but wouldn't go out of my way to see.

Parking - Street parking and some paid lots around. It's a college campus so plan accordingly (lots of warnings about parking on game days)
Favorite Part - There was a little waterfall with a bench that was really peaceful, but the most-photographed feature is probably the arbor (pictured above)
Size of Park - 5 acres
Good to know - There were some signs of construction, so I think a renovation is in progress
Would I go back? - Most likely not, unless I'm on campus for some reason and can walk through in the spring.

Juniper Level Botanic Garden

Out of all of the parks, this one was the biggest mystery to me. I read that this garden is only open 8 weekends of the year and couldn't find out much information about it. I love a mystery though, so on one of those weekends we stopped by and I was FLOORED by this amazing place! As you walk through the different gardens, you're immediately transported to another place, with waterfalls as your soundtrack and mythical looking plants as your landscape. It was so beautiful that I couldn't believe my eyes, and somehow it kept getting better and better the more I saw. To top things off, we were given free cactus cuttings to plant in our own garden as we left! 

- Huge lot, completely free
Favorite Part - There was one waterfall that was surrounded by lush trees and a gazebo. I could have sat there for hours.
Size of Park - 28 acres (but feels SO much bigger)
Good to know - This is only open 8 weekends a year, so plan your time accordingly.
Would I go back? - Yes!!!

Have you been to any of these parks before?
What's your favorite kind of garden to visit?
Favorite flower?


  1. I'm sorry if this is a duplicate -- I think my first comment got eaten. :-) I think this is such a wonderful goal to set, and it's awesome that visiting all these gardens turned out so well. So much beauty around you! My favorite flower is the iris, followed closely by the tulip.

    1. I'm definitely lucky to live in a place with so many gardens (and them being free helps a lot too!)

  2. Oh, I wish I lived in an area with so many free gardens! You're so lucky and you were so smart to prioritize going to those beautiful places! Fortunately, there are a lot of free parks near me, but none quite as manicured and well thought out.

    1. It's SUCH a treat! I feel so lucky to have access to them :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Relationship Rules I Broke (and WEDDING PHOTOS!)

Thinking Out Loud #2

Review- Group Power