The shorelines of the Chowan river and Holladay Island are heavily forested with tupelo-gum and cypress trees, layered in spanish moss. Blues and greens are the spring through fall colors. An occasional house dots the landscape, interrupting the otherwise wild feel of the Chowan.
In the middle of the Chowan river sits Holladay island, so low sits the island the river flows through the trees; there is no dry land. Five camping platforms (two singles and one cluster of three) let you hang out among the Spanish moss, wildflowers, and serenity of a quiet and wild island.
The Paddle Trail – 4 mile loop
The Holladay Island paddle trail and its camping platforms are for you if you:
- want a relaxing paddle with scenery and several places to hang out.
- seek a relaxing trip with easy planning and is easy to reach.
- want to try kayak camping. This is a perfect trip for that. Just far enough away for an adventure but not difficult.
Holladay Island has two suitable access points, which are just minutes apart by car. The North Carolina Wildlife Commission Boat Ramp (Cannon’s Ferry) is a formal developed (25 parking spots) boat ramp and is well maintained by the Commission. Just north of the boat ramp is Cannon’s Ferry River Walk and kayak/canoe launch with a gravel unimproved lot. The trail from the kayak/canoe launch is .25 miles shorter than the route from the boat ramp. The launch is sandy while the ramp is concrete.
If the winds are forecasted to blow above 12-15 mph pick another location or have good paddle skills. Not till you reach Holladay Island is there protection from the wind.
To have favorable winds, go early in the morning when the wind is calmer. Afternoons winds tend to blow stronger and from the west, heading east.
To camp, you must make reservations through Roanoke River Partner’s website.
When to Go
Mid September through early December and late March through early June is ideal – the bugs are not common and migratory animals are around. Temperatures are perfect during the day. Summer on the island, while hot, can be bug free depending upon the year and breeze. December, January, and February are cool (30’s through 50’s) and brown – focus on the animals, the lighting and shadows and the place becomes interesting and beautiful.
If you use the public boat ramp, paddle .25 miles out a narrow canal to reach the open waters. Notice the old pylons and single buoy that mark the canal path – this is your best landmark for your return. Once you reach the open water, head to your right (north) aiming for the only island you see.
From the riverwalk you can see Holladay Island in the distance. Head towards the far looker’s left part, which is the south tip.
To find any platform, start at the south tip, which is the section you arrive at first. (see map) To find the south platforms, paddle directly into the island’s watery tip, weaving in and out of the cypress trees. If you don’t use a GPS device, you will need to search around for a bit but you’ll find it. There is a sign, but not obvious.
To reach the Holladay West Platform from the island’s south tip. Paddle to your left to follow the west/left side north .9 miles or 20-25 minutes of paddling (at ~3 mph). The Western Platform is the second easiest to find – the signage for the platform is mostly obvious but the platform itself is tucked back.
To reach the Holladay East Platform from the island’s south tip. Paddle to your right to follow the east/right side north for .6 miles or 15-20 minutes (at ~3 mph). The East Platform is the easiest to find as it is not tucked back into the trees as much and has obvious signage.
As time allows, paddle around the entire island (~2.8 to 3 mile loop), weaving in between the cypress trees.
To get back, your retrace your steps.
What You’ll See
Calling Holladay Island an island gives a false sense of what an island is. The dark water of the Chowan weaves between the trees, “swamp” grass, and decaying branches – there is no dry land.
It is common to hear raucous owls and see deer even though the island is 1.5 miles from shore.
The three south platforms are connected via curving two foot wide walkways spaced far enough apart for privacy. They do share a single privy stall.
The Chowan is remote, another world to explore. No motor boat traffic, little development. Turtles plop into the water as you paddle by, white blooming hollyhock dot the shoreline.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
Each platform has a small counter on which to cook a lunch, or make hot drinks – no need to sit next to your campstove.
There is no dry land on the island to explore.
The Chowan is not tidal and has little to no current. Strong breezes over several days can affect the water height around each platform and the platform landing dock but only by several inches.
Plan a night paddle (bring your headlamp and tie a keeper strap from your headlamp to your lifejacket to avoid dropping it into the water) as the Milky Way is clear and vivid.
For lunch, spot on either the west and east platforms. Both offer views over the water.
Holladay Island West has stellar sunsets and a more open view into the island’s forest. Holladay East has pretty sunrises but with a more enclosed feeling due to the plant growth. The south platforms offer no river views; you are hidden away on your secret fort.
To hangout, bring a hammock or camp chair. There are plenty of solid trees next to the platform for a hammock. Designed to hang a tarp, drying line, or lantern the size wooden 8ft tall posts are not sturdy enough for a hammock.
Roanoke River Partners – Platform reservations
Cannon’s Ferry River Walk Launch
- Cannon’s Ferry Road
- (Google does not plot the correct location – drive two tenths of a mile west of the public boat ramp. The river walk park is a noticeable and very open park )
- Tyner, NC 27980
- 36.27034, -76.67263
Cannon’s Ferry NC Wildlife Commission Boat Ramp
- 247 Cannon’s Ferry RD
- Tyner, NC 27980
- 36.26806, -76.67096
Free to visit for the day. A nightly per person cost. Both access points are free.
Where to Stay
The small cute Town of Edenton is 30 minutes south with several highly ranked B&Bs on Tripadvisor. Edenton is close to other paddle trails and worth visiting.
Merchants Millpond State Park, 20 minutes north, offers a traditional campground, an interesting visitor’s center, and the site of two beautiful paddles trails, each offering paddle-in campsites. The park has several alligators, hiking trails, and camping platforms.