During a trip to eastern North Carolina, my wife and I decided to paddle a section of the Neuse between Goldsboro, NC and Kinston, NC that went through the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. We put in about 100 yards east of the Highway 111 bridge and paddled to the next bridge in Seven Springs, North Carolina. This section of the river is relatively flat with minimal human encroachment.
You can get a map showing the location of the put-in from the visitors center at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. The location of the put-in is not obvious from the road. The put-in was at the end of a narrow dirt track that went into the woods off of a side road about 100 yards east of the Highway 111 bridge. My F250 pick-up barely fit between the trees.
At the end of the track there was short trail that led down a steep bank to the Neuse River. There was a rope tied to a stake that made it easier to ascend and descend the slippery bank. We unloaded the kayaks and gear and I got back into my truck to drive it down to the take-out, which I thought would be a safer place to park the truck while we paddled. Although I had been unable to find an outfitter who would shuttle me between to take-out and put-in, we were mid-way between Goldston and Kinston, and there were some taxi companies in both of those towns. Unfortunately, each of the five taxi companies seemed to have only one cab, which was taking a customer to the opposite side of the county. None of them were able to give me a ride within the next hour. I tried the Uber and Lyft apps, but they reported that no cars were available. Just when I was about to try to hitchhike, I got a response to my Uber request. The driver was about a 30 minute drive away, but he was willing to pick me up. After waiting 30 minutes, and a very pleasant driver picked me up on his way home from his job on the night shift. The ride cost me $30 but it was better than hitchhiking.
Kayaking on the Neuse
I had been unable to find any good description of section 14 of the Neuse River, but I was hoping that it would be interesting and scenic because it passed through the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. I was a little bit apprehensive because the state park website listed the difficulty of the section as "advanced." The satellite photos of the river on Google maps made it appear as if there might be some rapids. Furthermore, the park staff had warned us to be careful about the large number of trees down which created strainers. The staff indicated that some areas were so shallow that we might have to pull our boats through the mud.
As we started out down the river, I expected to encounter rapids around every bend. Instead, we experienced a slowly moving river with lots of wildlife and very few human structures visible from the river. For our entire trip we encountered a strong headwind and if I stopped paddling the boat generally drifted slightly upstream. In part this was because the main current of the river was often passing under trees where we could not pass so we often found ourselves in eddies passing over sand bars in less than a foot of water. In hindsight, we could have paddled upstream as easily as we paddled downstream, but that would not be true if the river was higher or the wind was blowing from a different direction.
For the most part, the banks of the river were covered with willows and cypress trees with root networks extending out into the river. Due to high water levels a few weeks earlier there were a large number of trees that appeared to have recently fallen into the river, but they were easy to avoid. The river tended to be very shallow (and sometime impassable) in the middle of the river, and the water was deepest on the outside of the curves where the trees were down. We saw several groups of deer along the river, as well as snakes, turtles, muskrats, heron, hawks, turkey vultures, owls, perhaps an eagle, and many other birds.
Even though we knew that we were passing through The Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, it was still surprising to come around a bend and see a large rock cliff extending up 90 feet from the sandy river banks. The cliffs extend for about 600 yards before retreating back into the sand. Although we passed through the park, and were within shouting distance of a scenic overlook at the top of the cliffs, there was no obvious way to get from the river to any of the facilities in the park.
After we passed the cliffs, it was a relatively short time before my wife called out that she could see a bridge (and a jet ski) ahead on the river. The Wildlife Resources Commission boat access was designed with a steep concrete ramp to unload power boats from a trailer so it was easy to use the ramp to exit the river and load our vehicle. The town of Seven Springs, where the ramp is located is very small, but it has one restaurant (which is open until 2 pm) that is about 50 yards south of the boat ramp.
This was a very pleasant, easy paddle with lots of wildlife and very few human intrusions. There was 4 feet of water at the river gage in Goldston, North Carolina on the day that we paddled. At much higher water levels the downed trees could be dangerous and at lower water levels it would be difficult to paddle over some parts of the river. We had been warned that the level of the river could increase quickly if there were thunderstorms in the Raleigh area, and that it took several hours for the floodwaters to make their way from Raleigh to Kinston, but we did not encounter any dramatic changes in water levels.
Kayaking, Canoeing, Stand Up Paddling, Kayak Fishing, Fishing
River/Creek (Up to Class II)
Beware of downed trees.