Canoeing the New River in NC

New RiverLast month good friends invited our family to their mountain cabin along the South Fork of the New River near West Jefferson, NC.  Though this was my first time on this river in NC, being back on the New River reminded me of past trips whitewater rafting through West Virginia or lazily tubing the New River Junction near Blacksburg, VA.  We made those trips before we had kids so it was fun to share this trip with our kids and new friends we’ve met since having kids.

The New River is unique in that it flows south to north and is believed to be one of the oldest rivers in North America, and maybe the world.  This ancient river begins in the mountains near the TN-NC border, flows north through NC, VA and WV where it joins with the Gauley River (I’ve always wanted to raft during the fall release dates) to become the Kanawha River and eventually flows to the Gulf of Mexico via the Ohio & Mississippi Rivers. Portions of the New River in NC flow through different access points to the New River State Park where you can camp, hike, canoe, kayak, fish, or any combination of those.  While we spent a lot of our weekend exploring the private area around the cabin, wading in the family-friendly river, or teaching the kids to kayak, my friend Annie and I got out for a few hours on Saturday afternoon for a relaxing canoe trip.

IMG_5566After an exhilarating drive down one-lane gravel roads in an old Chevy truck with a canoe in tow we arrived at a small put-in near the intersection of Dog Creek Rd and Joe Little Rd.  The bank is steep and the pathway to the water is narrow and overgrown on the sides, but it made for a quick water entrance.  Joe Little Rd is a narrow one-wayish road, so use caution when driving.  It was a beautiful day to be on the river so we passed quite a few tubers, kayakers, and fishermen.  The water was pretty brisk, so it felt good to be dry in the canoe.  Along our way we passed Wootens Mill on Dog Creek Rd, which is no longer in service but dates back to the 1770s.  We also passed the Wagoner Access portion of the New River State Park on the south side of the river.  We saw lots of tents set up for weekend camping and canoe put-in areas.

We made a quick pit stop back at the house to refill our cooler before heading further upstream (remember, the river flows south to north).  We made our way over a few mini rapids and shortly passed the River Bend campsite area of the New River State Park that features primitive canoe-in only camping.  With the exception of the flowing water and birds (and our girl talk), the river is void of any other sounds as it snakes through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  After awhile we pulled the canoe out near a shallow rocky area to take a break.  The river rocks feature those smooth, round shapes so we easily laid down in the water to chill.  After a few more minutes of deciding we needed to start a yoga retreat on the river we paddled some more to a popular swimming hole.  We pulled the canoe out near a small island and swam to the large rock to jump into the deep water below.  It was heavenly!

After paddling a bit more we called our ride home as we reached the take-out spot near Absher Rd/Gentry Rd Bridge.  It was late afternoon when we got out, so we had to wait a few minutes before we could pull out the canoe.  With stops, it took us about 3 hours to go about 6 miles on the river. With its gentle, shallow waters and tranquil rapids the South Fork of the New River offers so many family-friendly or beginner adventures.  The river’s beauty is something to experience first-hand and I can’t wait to get back here again!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: lots of shallow wading spots for little ones, camping/canoe options at New River State Park, beautiful scenery along river, river’s beauty and tranquility, gentle and mild rapids are great for families and beginners

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Robertson Millpond Preserve

Robertson Millpond PreserveOne Sunday at the end of April we headed out to Wake County’s newest park, Robertson Millpond Preserve for some fishing.  Not knowing what to expect from this new park, we quickly discovered that Robertson Millpond Preserve is a local natural refuge for recreation and relaxation.   Its main attraction is the blackwater cypress-gum swamp, making you feel transported to the lowcountry!

Robertson Millpond Preserve is an 85-acre park located 25 minutes outside of Raleigh at 6333 Robertson Pond Road in Wendell, NC.  The millpond dam was created in the 1820s when the Avera family owned and operated a 600-acre farm and gristmill on the property.  They lived in a federal-style home, which they re-located to a new site on Robertson Pond Rd that still exists today.  The Robertson family, for which the pond and road are named for, bought the land in the late 1800s/early 1900s and probably operated the mill until the 1940s.  After the mill stopped operating in the 1950s, recreational fishing and boating became the focal point.  Decades later, the mill was removed, and in 2013 the land was purchased through the Wake County Open Space Program and the park opened in late October 2015.

IMG_4859This particular Sunday we enjoyed the park all to ourselves for several hours.  We explored the boat ramp (only non-motorized boats are allowed) down to the pond where we heard and saw a variety of birds and insects.  Sitting on the boat dock, we gawked over the large cypress trees that envelope the pond.  The park staff have installed numbered buoys in the water to created a 1/2 mile paddling trail through the pond.  Since our visit, Paddle Creek has started offering hourly kayak rentals on Saturdays only at the pond.

Then we walked over to the small shore area to set up for fishing.  Before heading out that morning, the girls and I collected live worms from our backyard for bait, but our bait didn’t stand a chance.  Bill and the girls had a few nibbles and saw some tadpoles, but this morning was more about just having fun, which everyone did!  After fishing we walked closer to the dam, which is about 20 yards wide and sits in front of Robertson Pond Road.  You can’t get very close to the dam, but the sounds are amazing and future projects include adding a short boardwalk and an interpretive display near the mill’s old foundation.

In addition to the pond’s recreational activities, the park also features a picnic shelter, open space area and nonpotable water station for cleaning your boat.  After this past weekend’s canoeing and kayaking adventures down the New River in West Jefferson, NC, I can’t wait to return on a Saturday and take the girls kayaking!

Additional Resources

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, boating options, preservation of pond and history of area, on-site station for cleaning your boat

Thumbs down: lack of weekday hours

Pilot Mountain State Park: Ivy Bluffs Trail

Ivy Bluffs trail in Pilot Mountain State ParkOn day 2 of our Pilot Mountain State Park adventures, we headed to the Ivy Bluffs section of the park to check out the sites along the Yadkin River.  The Ivy Bluffs access point is located along the southern part of the Yadkin River in Yadkin County (northern side of river is in Surry County) off Shoals Rd at coordinates 36.25315, -80.50842.  This section is about 20 miles from the main mountain but offers some gorgeous views of the Yadkin River.

We arrived early on a cold Saturday morning and had the trail to ourselves.  There is a looped parking lot with a helpful map of the river/trail near the trailhead.  We started on the 1.3 mile moderate Ivy Bluffs trail, which began on a steady 1/4 mile decline down to the river level.  Along the way we saw gorgeous views of the wide, but fast-flowing Yadkin River through the barren trees from the bluffs.  The cliffs were high but nowhere as dramatic as the ones around Jomeokee Trail. When the trail flattened out near the river we passed a canoe put-in and large camping area complete with picnic tables and designated camping spots.  We continued on the trail, which parallels the river for 1/2 mile and circles back around near the large camping area.  Before looping around we stopped near a sandy spot by the water for a short picnic break.  After we got going again, we spotted several animal footprints and checked out the rocks and moss along the backside of the looped trail.

IMG_4189This trail is about 1.3 miles in total length and is marked as being moderate.  The only moderate part of the hike was heading up the bluffs on the way back.  The parts along the river were flat and quiet, the only sounds coming from the river and wee ones.  In the future when the kids are much bigger I’d love to explore this area further by canoe and camping!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views of river, great trail for hiking with kids, future canoeing/camping opportunities

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Biking the Neuse River Trail – MP 2.75 to 8

IMG_1430On the heels of family visiting at the end of May, my aunt offered to watch the girls while Bill and I headed out for a date night.  Instead of gorging ourselves at a new restaurant, we decided to dust off our bikes and chomp away at another segment of the Neuse River Trail between the Bedford neighborhood and US-401 (followed by beers at a new brewery, Compass Rose Brewery).

For our bike ride we parked in the trail parking lot at 10888 Bedfordtown Dr in the Bedford neighborhood in North Raleigh.  We followed the access road to the trail, turned right to head south, went over a small bridge and then bared to the left to stay on the main trail.  This part of the Neuse River Trail is mostly flat and shaded with several bridges (including covered ones) to pass over and under.  We passed several folks biking and running on the trail and even more folks canoeing and tubing down the river.  Here are a few highlights along our route:

  • IMG_1394milepost 3.5 – look over the river to spot old gas or electricity lines running across an old steel bridge
  • milepost 4.5 – access to oxbow in the river due to years of erosion and sand deposition creating a really sweet swimming hole with sandy beach.  The water flows very slowly in this spot and we saw a few younger kids fishing.  I’d love to bike with the girls down here and bring a picnic and bathing suits.
  • milepost 5 – large bridge access to (presumably future) Wake Forest trails
  • milepost 6.5 – access to WRAL soccer park
  • milepost 7.5 – access to Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve (still under construction, set to open August 2015)
  • milepost 8 – suspension bridge near US-401

For two people who hadn’t ridden bikes in at least 4 years, this was the perfect ride to ease back into things.  Overall the ride was a little over 11 miles total (out and back) and provided a lot of great scenery and ideas of future outings for swimming, biking and maybe even some tubing!

Thumbs up: access to swimming hole and several parks along the way, relatively flat and shaded trail, variety of water activities available

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Eno River State Park – Cox Mountain Trail

IMG_5361This summer we explored Eno River State Park in Durham over Memorial Day weekend.  Despite a 40 minute drive and a lot of preschooler crying when we first arrived because there was no playground in sight, we enjoyed the short hike across the swaying footbridge and to the river.

Eno River State Park has several different access areas and we chose the Few Fords access area at 6101 Cole Mill Rd so we could be close to the river and explore an old cabin.  After a short drive through the park the road dead ended into a circular parking lot with nearby restrooms and several picnic areas.  We ate a quick lunch in the shaded picnic area, admired the large pavilion (great for group picnics), and set off on the Cox Mountain Trail towards the river.  The first 1/4 mile of the hike was a rather steep descent, but it was mostly graded with steps for an easier hike.  With two little ones in tow, I held Ashley’s hand most of the way to prevent her from tripping over roots or steps while Claire enjoyed the scenery from sitting high in the backpack.

IMG_5355After we reached the bank of the river, we followed the trail over a narrow suspension footbridge that seemed like a much, much less dramatic version of the foot bridge Indiana Jones crossed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It’s less than a 15ft drop to the river, but with large openings in the sides of the bridge I walked Ashley slowly across the bridge, trying to reiterate the importance of no jumping on the bridge.

After we crossed the bridge we turned left and continued along the trail and passed shallow swimming holes and small sandy “beach” areas where several families and dogs were enjoying the bank of the river.  We continued on until we came to the wilderness cabin.  There was a strange bikini photo shoot going on the deck of the cabin so we explored the inside rooms where the girls ran around and examined the window openings and log walls.  After leaving the log cabin, we walked to the nearby gazebo and made it a short while longer on Cox Mountain Trail before turning around.  Even though the whole loop is 3.75 miles and connects to more trails, we only made it about 3/4mile in before turning around.

IMG_5383On our hike back we stopped in one of the several swimming holes to splash around a bit, promising to bring the girls back again soon with bathing suits in tow.  Other than over 25 miles of hiking, Eno River State Park offers fishing, camping, canoeing, educational programs, the annual Eno River Festival and more.

Thumbs up: river access with kid-friendly swimming holes and shallow flowing water, fun swinging bridge, shady picnic areas

Thumbs down: nothing to report

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Lake Wheeler Park

I had never been out to Lake Wheeler Park until this summer and I can’t wait to return.  For the most part, Lake Wheeler is similar to Lake Johnson except that it doesn’t have a paved trail surrounding it, but does have much more extensive boating, picnicking and playground areas.

Lake Wheeler Park is located at 6404 Lake Wheeler Rd in southwest Raleigh.  Upon entering the park, you’ll notice the 650 acre lake to the south.  As you meander through the park on the main road, there are several spots along the way to stop and fish or shelters for picnicking.  Continuing on you’ll pass large open fields with larger shelter areas and finally arrive at the large parking lot near the boat house.

We parked in the main parking lot and headed down to explore the boats and docks at the lake.  This particular day was extremely windy so the water was pretty void of any boaters.  We still managed to walk on the docks and talk about the different boats we saw (presumably for rent) – paddle boats, sunfish sailboats, kayaks, jon boats, etc.  For a complete list of boats for rent or launch visit the Lake Wheeler rental website.  You can also learn more about the depths of the lake (which get to 25ft in some spots) by visiting the information boards near the boat house.  Follow these guidelines for fishing in and on the bank of the lake.  Across from the boat ramps is the park’s very impressive boat storage area.  In addition to renting various boats and fishing, you can also take several boating classes offered at Lake Wheeler, which start back up in the spring.

Next we explored the boat house area, which consists of a large veranda (covered and uncovered) overlooking the water complete with picnic tables and rocking chairs, indoor rooms for classes and rental, a concession area, restrooms, and beautiful landscaping leading up to the playground area.  The veranda, indoor room and deck are all available for rent for special events.  Ashley especially loved sitting in the rocking chairs while we talked about the different things we saw near the water (ducks, boats, people, etc).

After visiting the boat house, we explored the nearby t-shaped dock, which offered some great photo ops.  It has several fish cleaning spots and is completely fenced in, making it a fun place to explore for toddlers (provided no one else is around trying to fish).

Next we headed back to the playground, where we spent most of our morning.  This is a great place for playing and then having a picnic, as there are several picnic tables and even a small shelter and charcoal grill in the vicinity.  The playground offers a few areas for early walkers to play on, but is mostly geared towards the more steady walkers.  There aren’t too many openings in the playground, making it easier for nervous moms to let toddlers run free in the playground.  The playground has big-kid swings and low swings for toddlers who can hold onto the chains, but no bucket tot swings.  It has a wood chip base and has several slides, tunnels, and ladders at different levels making it a fun and interesting place to play.

Finally, we made our way over to the large open field to “throw” our frisbee.  Being that we visited the park on the hottest day of the summer we didn’t last too much longer, but enjoyed a fun morning with lots to look at, talk about and explore!  I can’t wait to visit again and do some boating.

For more info about this park including boating, fishing and rental opportunities visit the City of Raleigh website.

Thumbs up: variety of boating activities, playground area, vicinity of picnic tables near playground, views from the boat house

Thumbs down: signage throughout the park

Lake Raleigh

This post originally appeared on southwestraleigh.com, where you can learn more about what a great place South West Raleigh is to live, work, and play.

The last time I was at Lake Raleigh (unknowingly) was during last year’s Polar Plunge 5k race with the Raleigh Jaycees.  The race started near the lake, meandered through Centennial Campus, and then ended back at the lake where several people plunged into Lake Raleigh…in February!  All for a good cause nonetheless.

Visiting Lake Raleigh on a cool-summer-almost-Fall-time day is a much more practical way to explore the lake.

Open to the public, Lake Raleigh is located on NC State’s Centennial Campus, nestled between college buildings, corporate/government/non-profit partners, and residential space.  Like any place you visit on a college campus, parking will always be a nuisance.  There is a small parking lot at Lake Raleigh, but it requires an NC State parking permit Mon-Fri from 7am-5pm.  You can pick up a $2 visitor day pass from the visitor center or plan to go during other times.  There is also parking along Main Campus Dr, but those too have parking restrictions.

Fishing is permitted in marked areas and non-motorized car-top boats such as kayaks or canoes are also allowed in the lake.  There are two fishing piers near the entrance with long benches, perfect for enjoying the views or waiting for a bite.  The paved trail is part of the Centennial Greenway, which is a work-in-progress.

The trail extends in both directions past the main entrance, but does not loop around the lake.  If you walk to the right, you’ll pass other popular fishing spots, wetlands, The Shores residential area, and a bridge perfect for taking photos.  If you walk to the left, you’ll pass gorgeous views of the lake, the SOUL community garden, the 9-hole par 3 frisbee golf course, and an exercise station before coming to the tunnel under Main Campus Dr.

As noted above, the trail is part of the Centennial Greenway, which is a fitness trail and educational tool for the campus community.  Little mowing is done around Lake Raleigh to allow the natural plants to thrive.  Future development of the greenway will connect Centennial Greenway to the Capital Area Greenway at Lake Wheeler Rd and Lake Johnson.

Thumbs up:  beautiful views, fishing, boating, frisbee golf course

Thumbs down:  parking, lack of area map near main entrance