Raleigh is often called a city within a park. But did you know there’s a navigable river within the city within the park?
From the tailrace of the Falls Lake Dam, the Neuse River flows east and south to the Atlantic Ocean. Along those first 17 miles through Raleigh the city has installed 5 boat launches, divvying up the relatively peaceful Neuse into easily paddlable stretches. A favorite is the 10-or-so miles from the Falls Dam Access downstream to Buffaloe Road.
If you have a good arm, you are rarely beyond a stone’s throw of civilization along the Neuse. Yet the dense foliage along the river’s banks shields you from much of that outdoors offense. About the only sense you have of being in a city is the occasional and faint beep beep beep of a dump truck backing. “Progress” lurks beyond the sycamore and oaks that cling to the river’s banks. (Though some of that progress is in the form of the 28-mile Neuse River Trail, a work-in-progress greenway that runs from the dam downstream to the Johnston County line. Some of this paved greenway is completed, the entire 28 miles is expected to be done in 2013.)
A mellow current takes some of the struggle out of this paddle, especially welcome on the 10.5-mile Falls Dam to Buffaloe Road paddle. Less time digging in leaves more time for checking out the kingfishers and great blue herons that flee from your approach, the river otters who occasionally appear near the bank, or the fat northern water snakes that laze on exposed strainers reaching out from the banks. And yes, those are northern water snakes, not water moccasins, which haven’t been documented this far upstream.
The Neuse is dam controlled; thus, it’s nearly always got enough water to paddle. But just in case, check the USGS gauge here before heading out. Paul Ferguson’s “Paddling Eastern North Carolina” recommends a minimum flow of 100 cubic feet per second to paddle this portion of the Neuse.
Getting there from downtown Raleigh
Distance: 35 minutes from downtown Raleigh to Falls Dam Access on the Neuse River
Time to complete: 4 hours
Address: 12098 Falls of the Neuse Road
City: Wake Forest