Southeast Excursions: Take a spin in Raleigh’s Pullen Park

The 100-year old Dentzel carousel at Raleigh’s Pullen Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 100-year old Dentzel carousel at Raleigh’s Pullen Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gary McCullough

It’s not Carowinds or Disneyland, but Raleigh’s Pullen Park has a special charm all its own. The carousel and miniature train are the park’s two biggest attractions, but this recreational oasis has plenty of other activities.


From Charlotte, Raleigh is about 132 miles, or 21/2 hours.

To see and do

Raleigh residents enjoy beautifully-landscaped Pullen Park, and you’ll likewise find it a rewarding place to visit. Among its current amenities are picnic facilities, ball fields and tennis courts, a community center, an arts center, an indoor aquatic center, and a well-equipped playground area. The Pullen Park Cafe is a concession stand that prides itself on offering fresh, local, and seasonal food.

For most visitors, Pullen Park’s main attractions are the old-time amusement rides. Pedal boats are available to ply the calm waters of the pond. For the very young, kiddie boat rides are available.

The miniature locomotive is a hit with young and old alike. The brightly-painted, scaled-down version of the steam engines commonly used in late 1800s provides the power to take passengers on a short trip around the park’s outer boundaries.

Pullen’s grand attraction is the dazzling, Gustave A. Dentzel Carousel, which dates to around 1911. The merry-go-round, built in Germantown, Pa., is one of only 23 remaining Dentzel carousels in the world, and one of only 14 Dentzel menagerie carousels operating in North America. It’s 50 feet in diameter and features two chariots, 16 stationary and 36 galloping animals. This hand-carved, garishly-ornate stampede includes a lion, tiger and giraffe; flying pigs and cats; and nearly two dozen charging ponies. The inside rim of the carousel has 18 gilded mirrors and 18 pastoral canvas paintings; the outside rim is decorated with 18 large panels with animal portraits alternating with landscape scenes on smaller panels. While riders whirl, a Wurlitzer military band organ dating to the early 1900s provides appropriate musical accompaniment. Since 1976, the carousel has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you’re going

Pullen Park is open every day, year round. April-September, hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at other times of the year. Tickets are required for all amusement rides and are $1 per person regardless of age. Fridays at 6 p.m. through August, the Summer in the Park Series presents a variety of free music shows. Directions and details: (type “Pullen Park” in the search window).