Outdoor Life: Six places to paddle in the summer

bbrueckner@newsobserver.comMay 26, 2014 

The Triangle offers plenty of options when it comes to paddling. There are large lakes, slow meandering rivers and whitewater. I’ve run quite a few local rivers since taking up kayaking in 1987.

Paul Ferguson’s guidebook “Paddling Eastern North Carolina” is essential if you want to interpret river gauges and learn where the major rapids are.

For those new to the sport, it’s probably best to paddle with an outfitter first to see if you like canoeing or kayaking. If paddling does appeal to you, buy some gear, join a paddling club and pray for rain.

Here’s a sample of six nearby waters worth your time.

1. Haw River near Bynum: Earlier this year, I wandered through the islands upstream of the Bynum Dam one afternoon for a practice run in my decked canoe. I was surprised to see two otters and maybe a third. On a later trip, I found otter footprints on a small beach in the same location. The dam forms a 2.5-mile long stretch of flatwater that extends to the last rapid on the Upper Haw section. Some of the islands support thick stands of horsetails. The area is home to great blue herons and kingfishers. Ospreys and bald eagles sometimes fly into the area from Jordan Lake.

2. Haw River from Glencoe to Red Slide: The river was icy cold the last time I paddled this section in January. We topped off the run with hot chocolate and snacks. This will not be necessary during the summer months, but paddlers should still find this section interesting. You’ll pass the remains of dams that once powered Alamance County’s textile industry. The county has also built an excellent series of river access areas along the banks. For more information, go to www. thehaw.org.

3. Deep River Park Access to U.S. 15-501 bridge: At first glance, the Endor Iron Furnace in Lee County looks like an ancient temple abandoned in the woods. It’s possible to see the Civil War smelter from the river in winter, but the structure is shrouded by leaves during the summer. The furnace is three-tenths of a mile after passing through a rapid formed by an old navigation lock. The rest of the river is flat.

4. Neuse River from Milburnie Dam to Poole Road. During the 1990s, I used this section of the river to teach kayaking to beginners. It’s calm, nonthreatening and only 3.5 miles long. Generally, beginning paddlers are tired by the three-mile mark, so it was just the right length. A Class II rapid near the end also adds a little spice to conclude the trip. This section is dam-controlled and is usually runnable during the summer.

5. Cape Fear River from Lillington to Erwin: The first 4 miles of this 7.9-mile run are exceedingly flat, which drives whitewater paddlers crazy. But they run this section anyway when other rivers dry up in the summer, and they don’t want to drive 300 miles to the mountains. After suffering through the doldrums, paddlers are rewarded with a steady series of Class I and Class II rapids, some of which were formed by the remains of navigation locks and dams that were built during the 19th century.

6. Eno River from Pleasant Green to Cole Mill: Parts of the Eno on this section remind you of rivers in the mountains, as it curls past soaring bluffs covered with rhododendron and mountain laurel. The first hint of whitewater appears 1.5 miles from the put-in when you reach a fun little rock garden that I’ve used for practice on many occasions in my slalom canoe. Some Class II rapids emerge over the next quarter-mile. You’ll find a challenging surfing wave next to a large rock that splits the channel. There’s another Class II at the entrance to the Bobbitt Hole. Several rapids dot the river between this old swimming hole and the take-out at Cole Mill access.


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