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Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina

A self-supported trip created by guest-paddler

Trip Overview

Trip Distance: 8 Miles

Trip Time: 3.5 hours


  1. Go to the bathroom before you get in your boat. There is no where to get out.
  2. Bring bug spray! The bugs are killer in the summer.
  3. Try to go in mid afternoon to avoid the dozens of tours that go through in the morning

We started around 1:00 pm on a Thursday. The parking lot was loaded with tours (20-30 paddlers), but they all came in just before we were about to launch. We entered the National Wildlife Refuge via Buffalo City Road. The ramp is at the end of this road.

There are clearly marked paddle trails in this area and the provided maps will help you. Some paddles are 2 miles and others are 12 round-trip. We chose the yellow route which starts at the launch (all trails start here), paddles through Milltail Pond, and down through Milltail Creek to the Alligator River. The trip was 8 miles (or can be longer if you go into the Alligator River).

Our trip began in Milltail Pond where we were surprised to spot an 8 foot alligator less than five minutes into our paddle. They are tough to spot, but this guy had his head and most of his body out of the water. We paddle within about 10 feet of him. He didn't seem agitated and seemed accustom to paddlers. One of the tour groups of paddlers spotted an 11 ft. alligator only a few hours before (the largest the tour guide had ever seen). It actually swam through the pond with them!

Once through the pond, the creek began to narrow and remained a consistent 20 feet wide. The water is coffee colored and takes a while to get used to. The reflections were amazing though. The creek meanders through lots of trees and overgrown grass. Surprisingly, though, the wildlife was sparse. We saw maybe 10 birds, 1 turtle, and our lone alligator. The scenery more than makes up for it though.

About 3 miles into the paddle, we ran across an old hunting cabin that is one bird dropping away from falling into the creek. It was a nice change in scenery and gave a glimpse of life before this became federally owned land.

At mile 4, you begin to feel the slight waves of the Alligator River. The river is over 5 miles wide so it comes as a shock when you first see it. There was a one foot chop in the river and we decided to play for a little while.

After about 20 minutes, we re-entered the creek and began our paddle back. There was very little noticeable current so the paddle back was easy. We took our time in hopes of spotting another alligator, but we had no such luck.

Our paddle ended around 3:30 pm. We only saw one other canoe on the creek during our entire paddle. There was one tour going out as we reached the launch site, but we were able to take-out before they put in.

Overall, this was a gorgeous paddle. Once again, some wildlife would have been nice, but the black water and plant-life made up for it.


Port-o-John at the launch site.


Boats: 2 Perception Carolina (14.5)




From Route 12 in Naggs Head, NC, take Route 64 toward Roanoke Island / Columbia, NC. Stay on Rt. 64 and cross two large bridges (on and off of Roanoke Island) to the mainland. Buffalo City Road is approximately 8 miles from the second bridge. Make a left on Buffalo City road and follow it for two miles. Park along the road by the launch site. You can't miss it.


Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Maps (available at put-in).

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Trip Location