For over its 200 mile course, the Tar River’s banks remain undeveloped. The 4 mile section in Greenville is no exception. You’ll find numerous birds, fish, picturesque trees, and escape the city’s noise for the chirps, squawks, and splashes of the wild. This section is also only moments from the heart of Greenville’s Uptown.
From late spring through fall, the Tar River through Greenville welcomes paddlers and tubers looking to cool off during the hot summer months. In the winter, it is the perfect place to embrace the occasional warm day and escape the indoors. Throughout the year a variety of wildlife thrives on the river. When heavy rains fall, (winter rains and during hurricane season) the Tar swells to a raging torrent, unsuitable but for the most expert paddler. Winter paddling is on cold water through a world of brown of leafless coastal trees.
On a late spring evening, we slide into the Tar to padde. Even though Kathryn is from Greenville, this late afternoon paddle marked her first time on the river. We didn’t paddle far, just to the dog park a half mile away, stopping when came across two beavers who whacked their tails and dove under the water. Though she’s paddled around the Atlantic Beach area and even Thailand, she was impressed that the Tar held her attention.
Now she’s a summertime regular, owns a standup paddleboard (SUP) and introduces her friends to the Tar. Her experience is common. Professor friends and their kids love floating and playing in the warm water, watching for numerous blue herons and king fishers. Fisherman get better fish since their spots are only available by kayak. And couples find the solitude romantic.
4 miles one way | 2-3 hour paddle
Who Should Paddle This Trail
- This trail is for you if:
- you want a casual paddle with friends
- are a new paddler looking for a scenic and easy paddle
- are short on time and don’t want to drive far
- Shorter options exist, as well as options that don’t require two cars. Check out the additional launch points and optional routes on the map.
The Trail Details
You’ll start at Town Commons Park on 1st St. Greenville, a public park and kayak/canoe access point, owned and maintained by City of Greenville Recreation & Parks. Parking is easy, with numerous spots that are rarely taken. At most water levels, you can launch from semi-sandy-muddy/grassy flat banks, depending on water level.
With the parking lot facing to your back, paddle downstream (your right, aka east). If the water level is low, you’ll be hard pressed to tell which way the water is flowing.
As you head downstream, the first landmark you’ll notice (on your left on the north bank, about a half mile from the put-in) is a canal cut, with an old beat up sign on a metal post saying, “River Camping”. This canal cut leads to River Park North’s boat landing and tent camping sites. Across from the canal cut is the off leash dog park on North Elm St.
As you continue to paddle, you’ll see people on the South Tar River Greenway, which runs from your put-in to the Greenmill Run Creek, before heading off the river. Greenmill Run Creek is the first and only creek on your right, appearing about 2.2 miles from your putin.
You’ll reach the halfway point when the river widens noticeably but then narrows again right at the Hwy 264 bridge.
Past the Hwy 264 Bridge are no unique landmarks, just wildland and water. When you see buoys saying “Slow – No Wake Zone” you reached your take-out. At the buoys, take a right (head south) up the small bay of historic Port Terminal. This ramp sees a lot of motorboat traffic since it can launch larger boats but paddling up and getting on to land is not a problem. The boaters are friendly and make room – please do the same.
You can paddle this section at any water level; see the Local Knowledge section for details, as some high water levels require expert skills.
What You’ll See
Overall, you’ll only see forest, wetlands, and the animals that live in them. At the start, there are some houses hiding beyond loblolly pine and cypress trees on your right but but soon all development disappears.
To see the most wildlife, paddle within 2 hours of sunrise or set. The type of birds depends on the time of year; as the seasons change, so will the birds. A short list of birds you might see are bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, turkey vultures, wood ducks, pileated & redheaded woodpeckers.
For those lucky enough, you might get to see a nutria or a beaver.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
There are several options if you don’t want to paddle from Town Commons Park to Port Terminal, but these options require paddling upstream against the current at some point in your paddle. See the map for other options.
To paddle upstream for any route, you’ll want the water level on the online Tar River Greenville Gauge at 5ft or less. This means the river level is below the pier at Town Commons park. Paddling against the current is generally easy at this level, you won’t know there is current. Above 5ft but below 8ft, the water starts to cover the pier (@ 5ft) or has completely covered it (@ 8ft); it is possible paddle against the current but challenging.
Above 8ft, I don’t recommend going out unless you are trained in swiftwater – the current is fast, over the bank and in the trees. A 13ft, the Tar at Greenville is officially at flood stage.
There are no facilities at the put-in or take-out (bathroom or water).
This is nice paddle year-round but mid spring through mid fall are the most scenic, otherwise everything is brown.
If you have time, paddle up the canal cut to River Park North, store your boat(s) on their boat storage rack and enjoy the short trail system there.
Check out the twisted helix cypress tree on the north bank. To find it: do a U-Turn to your left 2 miles downstream from the putin. You’re looking for where the Tar widens noticeably (it narrows down again at the Hwy 264 bridge). Paddle up the small creek (the only creek on the north bank so far) and paddle up the creek (west) 500 ft. This spot is spooky and amazing. Several large cypress trees covered in spanish moss make their home here, including the twisted helix, which has grown so you can see right through it.
Just past the Hwy 264 bridge about 125 yards on your left, is a large sand bar. This is the only spot to get on land. A nice spot, if you ignore the noise of the bridge.
There is a canal right next this sandbar. It leads to an old large sand mine pit filled with water. The fishing is good here.
Starting in late April, the water is comfortably cool while by August through October it is warm. The Tar is perfect for swimming as well as wading the sandy bottom.
People fish from small jon boats on this section but rarely do larger boats venture here since the water is typically too shallow.
If you need water, there is a water fountain next to of the off-leash dog park. Land your boat opposite the canal at River Park North. This area is fairly open, so look for the dog park and you’ll find the fountain.
Town Commons kayak access point: 1 St. & North Side Street, Greenville
NC Wildlife Commission Port Terminal boat ramp: Port Terminal Rd., Greenville
Where to Rent a Kayak/Canoe/SUP
Knee Deep Adventures, located in Greenville rents various styles of kayaks, canoes, and SUPs and offer shuttles plus guided trips. kneedeepadventures.com/
No cost to paddle. All public boat ramp and kayak access points are free to use in North Carolina.
Where to Stay
Greenville has numerous hotels, motels and B&Bs.
A highly rated inn, close to Uptown Greenville and walking distance to the river is the 5th Street Manor. More information at http://www.the5thstreetmanor.com/
If you want to camp, River Park North, run by the City of Greenville, has a small campground. More information at: http://www.greenvillenc.gov/government/recreation-parks/river-park-north