Year around, the Scuppernong River, North Carolina, has 5 things holding your attention. 1) In the winter, hundreds of waterfowl winter over. Even if you aren’t a birder, you’ll love seeing the diversity of birds. 2) three small floating docks to rest on, relax and stretch your legs. 3) numerous bends on a narrow river making you wonder what is around the corner. 4) no human development, 5) perfect water for summer swimming.
A paddle during North Carolina’s winter is cold, about 40 degrees or so, but winter is the perfect time to visit the Scuppernong. With over 200 bird species, you’ll spy plenty of new ones and classic favorites (like the bald eagle or red tail hawk). With fewer leaves, spotting wildlife is easier as well. For those with a creative eye, trees on the bank offer fantastic shapes. I haven’t found a river with more wildlife.
The Main Paddle Trail
12.6 miles (one way) | 4.5 – 5.5 hours
Who Should Paddle This Trail
- This trail is for you if you:
- are heading to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and want to paddle on the way; the Scuppernong is a 3 minute drive from Hwy 64 and about 45 minutes west from Kitty Hawk.
- enjoy seeing waterfowl. During migratory season you’ll find plenty (well over 100 species) of birds in the wetlands created by the Scuppernong.
- want a shady, windy river with ox-bows to explore and floating docks to rest on.
To paddle the whole 12.6 miles or the shorter 4 mile (both one-way) version, you’ll need two vehicles. Hitchhiking isn’t feasible but biking is. Leave your bike in Columbia – there are several good locations at Columbia’s kayak ramp to secure your bike, and later your boat.
If you need to paddle an out and back, you’ll have no problem; there is little to no current.
For any paddle on the Scuppernong, I recommend starting at Town of Creswell’s NC Wildlife public boat ramp. The section from Creswell to Newlands Rd bridge (the 4 mile section) is the most scenic, narrow, and abundant with wildlife.
The nearest floating dock to Creswell is 2 miles (one way) downstream.
There are mile markers but many have disappeared over the years. The distinct landmarks (canals, 2 bridges, and docks) should make tracking distance easy.
From Creswell’s ramp, head east (left out of the ramp) paddling away from the car bridge over the river.
Numerous oxbows are on your right (south bank). You can paddle them if they are clear of alligator weed, a pretty but invasive aquatic plant. To avoid paddling the oxbows, paddle straight; each oxbow requires a distinct right turn.
Reach the first two canals about 2 miles in. The first small floating dock is 50 yards beyond the canals, on your right (south bank). The docks are sturdy as of this writing, built by the county but aren’t maintained.
Two miles past the canals (4 miles in), you’ll reach the Newlands road bridge with a primitive access point on river right (south bank) 100 feet before the bridge. Water levels determine how dry or muddy the access is. Park a car on the small road shoulder if this is your stopping point.
The river widens beyond Newlands road bridge. A sign for Simmons Landing / Pettigrew State Park is not quite a mile past the bridge (.8 miles from the bridge or ~5 miles in). The landing has some dry land (about 5’ x 5’ of dry land) but nothing worth stopping for.
The next landmark is 3.4 & 3.6 (~8.4 miles in) miles downstream from Simmons Landing. On your left (north bank) is a small clearing and choice break spot with easy river access and shade. However, it is private land. Just passed the private land one tenth of a mile, on the right (south bank) is the next (2nd) dock. From the 2nd dock Columbia’s kayak access point is 4.04 miles downstream.
The last (3rd) dock is about 2 miles downstream from the 2nd dock, but alligator weed grows over the dock (as of this writing). You’ll miss the dock unless you are looking for it’s two 4×4 wooden anchor pillars; however, it is so overgrown you can’t actually reach it or see the dock. Other than the 3rd dock, there is no rest area from the 2nd dock to Columbia.
As you reach the end of the paddle, human development starts to appear. A power lines crosses the river before the river bends hard right (east). Once you make it around this turn, you’ll see Columbia’s visitor center; the HQ for US Fish & Wildlife Pocosin Unit; Highway 64; and a short boardwalk along the river.
Your take out, the universal-design kayak ramp, is easy to spot.
What You’ll See
Over half the river has twists, oxbows, and meandering turns. Every turn exposes a new section and new features to watch for.
Many of the tupelo trees have fantastic shapes, one (see photo) is a dragon.
You won’t see much human development. Only 1 bridge and a power line cross the river.
This is a remote paddle, with little boat traffic and lots of solitude.
Plenty of wood ducks nest here; paddle quietly and slowly as they spook easily.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
For good wildlife viewing and paddling weather, go late fall or early spring, during migratory season. Many species of waterfowl and songbird winter along the Scuppernong. If you can paddle in 40 degree weather, the winter offers prime wildlife viewing.
Shorter out-n-back paddles are easy to do since there is no to little flow. Only after a storm or heavy rain does the current “kick up” but you shouldn’t have an issue paddling against it.
Creswell is a small town, with few amenities or businesses. Creswell Cafe, the only restaurant is a cute, clean, inexpensive diner with decent food.
Bring about 10 feet of rope to tie 2-4 boats to the docks’ cleat/anchor point. Watch your balance once on the platform – they float, shifting with movement.
Fall or spring are my favorite for best temperatures and wildlife viewing. Summer is lush but most birds have moved north. Winter is cold but if you have the clothing for 35-40 degrees, you’ll find paddling and bird watching worth it. As a non-birder, I enjoy seeing new, foreign looking waterfowl in such density.
After you finish, get good coffee, local wine, or food at Vineyards on the Scuppernong. An old firehouse converted into a winery and coffee shop.
Each agency has useful information (check lists with photos on plants, birds, etc) and upcoming events on their site.
Where to Stay
Pettigrew State Park has a nice, small campground 13 minutes (7.5) miles from Creswell’s put in.
The Brickhouse Inn B&B in Columbia ranks highly on Trip Advisor and is in the very cute town of Columbia.
Plymouth, 30 minutes west of Creswell, has several national hotels.