Neuse River

/ routes / north america / North Carolina

route overview


215Mi / 346Km

solitude rating:




loop or 1-way:






rapids class rating:



Contributed by
John D'Amelio

Looking for an easy kayakpacking escape from the city sometimes takes no more than looking for a treasure that may be in your own backyard. About 750k people live within an hours drive of our put in at Raleigh's Anderson Point but you're not likely to see even a fraction of them after your first day out.


Surprisingly remote considering its population base the rocky upper part of the Neuse River gradually gives way to its sandhills alter ego as it winds its way 215 miles through the isolated farming communities that dot the route east of I-95 to its southern terminus at Croatan Forest on the banks of the Pamlico Sound.

With abundant camping and bail-out options between the current State Capitol and first in New Bern to make the paddle your own and nothing more than a dozen Class 1 and 1+ rapids this is an ideal beginner to novice multi-nighter adventure. If you are new to kayakpacking and have the time paddle the entire length its well worth the effort and the experience alone will hook you. We rank the difficulty level at 6/10 only due to the 6-day length. Any single segment we'd give only a 2 or 3.

The route has three different personalities.  The upper part of the Neuse River between Raleigh and Smithfield is shallow and unfortunately at times a little messy due to the environmental impact of the population that surrounds it. We beached 8-9 times the first day a few of which required a full on extract and drag. Stay closer to the banks when possible for the deepest water.

The middle from around Golsboro to Cowpens Landing is incredibly remote as the river meanders through farming communities. Days 3-4 you are not likely to see more than a few humans if any.  Abundant wildlife – Bald Eagles, Osprey, Kingfishers, Hawks, turtles and frogs – are at every turn and distances are measured by frequent twists to the north and west.

Once you pass under Hwy 55 in the middle of day 5 prepare yourself for deeper water, wider navigational lanes and more coastal flora and fauna.  Bald Cypress forests, Spanish moss and sandpipers gradually take over the landscape as the water becomes brackish and the banks become swampy.  If you are fortunate enough (or plan well) to tackle this part of the escape during a full moon then take advantage of the easier navigation and paddle a few magical hours after the sun goes down.  You won't regret it.

Stop in New Bern for a power lunch and push hard across the Pamlico Sound to make the beach at Croatan Forest on the last day and you'll be treated to a soft sandy bed on which to pitch your tent and beautiful coastal sunrise that'll make you forget some of the harder parts of the trip.

Route + Camping notes

While we did this trip in 6 full days there are so many put in and take out opportunities you can really make this expedition as long or short as your time and energy permits. At the time of our paddle the Milburnie Dam was still in existence (it was since removed in November of 2017) so we put in at Anderson Point just a click south. Now that the Neuse flows freely from the dam at Falls Lake you can easily tack on an additions 14 miles (22km) by putting in at the Falls of Neuse Canoe Launch, however plan your first overnight campsite carefully as much first 30 miles on the upper Neuse is privately held. Our first night was on an island just south and east of Hwy 42.

  • So much wildlife.  Bring a decent camera and lens.
  • So few people.  Considering its location you'll be hard pressed to see anyone during the middle part of the adventure.
  • The HF Lee water treatment plant cut-off east of Goldboro is a thrill if you can get through it.
  • Low level flyovers: If you are lucky enough to be around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro during maneuvers.
  • Pizza and Beer in Kinston at Sugar Hill Pizzaria.  Features Mother Earth beer which is across the street.
  • Water levels can vary.  If they are low stay to the outside of the channels. Strainers.  The upper two-thirds are ripe with strainers, especially in the meandering sections. Crabwalks:  Most of the low-water beachings can be crabwalked but be prepared to do some exit and drags.
  • Mosquitoes won't bother you on the water but we experienced a good number after nightfall at camp. Come prepared if you plan this trip in the summer months. They will present less of a problem In the fall and winter.
  • Abundant camping opportunities are available on the entire route after Clayton on the upper Neuse.
  • Watch for private property and 'no trespassing' signs. Sandbars are a viable option but watch overnight water levels.
  • Once you hit New Bern sites may be difficult to find till your take out at Croatan Forest.
  • Mud and more mud. Most of the banks are very muddy. Ankle to knee depths are not unusual.
  • Water, water everywhere... You'll have to bring water or refill. Consumer filters won't remove the ag chemicals that drain into the Neuse.
  • Knightdale at HWY 42, Smithfield, Goldsboro, Kinston and New Bern are all good resupply stops.
  • Seven Springs looked like it would be but nothing available at or near the NC Wildlife Ramp. Had a great breakfast at Mae's Restaurant (cash only).
  • While not technically demanding we give this route an 6/10 due to its 215 mile length.  It becomes more of a mental challenge once the river opens up just East of Goldsboro when you start measuring the trip milestones in hours rather than minutes.
John D'Amelio

JOHN D'AMELIO calls central North Carolina home and is the Executive Editor of  Until he can figure out how to paddle full time he works as a freelance designer + writer.

He and his wife of 28 years have 7 children that keep them busy and outdoors.


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