The Neuse River Greenway
Not every step you take in the outdoors has to be of the wild sort. Sometimes all you want to do is go for a walk in a peaceful place. Or go for a bike ride. Or jog to keep in condition for the bigger adventures to come. It’s always nice to have such a place close at hand.
For us that place is Wake Count’s Neuse River Greenway. It is an excellent place to go for a morning or afternoon’s getaway.
Fully completed in 2014, it runs all the way from the Falls Lake Dam to the Wake County Line – a full twenty-seven miles. That means a round trip bike ride of the whole trail from end to end is over fifty miles…more than most people could even do in a day. It would take days to see it all by foot.
We were pleasantly surprised when the first sections of it opened just a 15-minute walk from our (then new) house. Seldom does a week pass when were aren’t on it at least once, and we have since walked or biked every section of it.
We have tried out some of the other Greenway in the Raleigh area and found them less to our liking. Generally, these paths are not well designed, with steep, sudden grades and hairpin turns poorly suited for bikers. Most of them also pass through sketchy and un-scenic areas, industrial parks or close to noisy highways.
The Neuse River Greenway on the other hand is very well designed for hiking. There are only a few steep grades along the way and perhaps two sudden turns that might be termed even mildly risky. The rest is mostly flat, mostly well maintained and mostly very scenic.
For almost its entire length, the trail follows the route of the Neuse River. The Neuse begins in Durham county just before the present Falls Lake and meanders seaward, never very deep, to empty into Pamlico sound at New Bern, NC. At 273 miles it is the longest river contained entirely in North Carolinas.
Much of the drainage are of the Neuse is Swamp, but thanks to the Fall Lake Dam, the area south of it now have fairly well defined banks that seldom flood.
I don’t know if there’s any sort of rating system out there, but the NRG has to be one of the finest urban greenways in the nation. I lived in Dallas for five years and it has nothing comparable. Boston does have some fine greenways, but still the Neuse blows them away.
One issue I have with many urban greenways is that are not very green. Many run all or part of their way alongside busy roads, railroad tracks, golf courses, power lines etc.
At NO time does the NRG run adjacent to any major paved roads at all. (It crosses some, and there is one very short section where it is actually on a back road.) There is also surprisingly little development adjacent to the trail, especially along the sections near the beginning and end of the trail. There are some sections in the middle where the trail does seem almost to run through apartment complexes, especially around Anderson Park, but most of these sections are short.
We always see wildlife on this trail. Two or three times we have seen bald eagles. Ospreys and hawks are common, as are many other types of birds. Herds of deer frequently browse along the woods and fields at the margins of the trail. Once we had to take a detour around a copperhead that was crossing the trail, head lifted warily as it watched us.
Bikers and walkers share this trail. We are, at different times, both. We have often heard walkers complain about the bad behavior of discourteous bikers. But when speaking to bikers, we hear complaints about how rude walkers can be. 😊 The point is, share the trail.
Sometimes during VERY heavy rains sections of the trail have been flooded. This happened in April 2017 after nearly 5 inches of rain fell in a single day on the Triangle Area, and the river rose 25 feet…ten feet above flood stage. Sections of the Greenway returned briefly to the swamps and vernal ponds of bygone days and stayed that way for days until flood waters subsided.
The County also does a pretty good job keeping the Grewnway safe. Bicycle Patrols by the Raleigh Police are common. The vegetation at the trail margins is kept under control to give joggers a good line of site up and down the trail way…which helps in spotting fast moving approaching bikers as well as providing less cover for potential muggers and other potential bad actors to lie in wait. Even so, we would suggest that no-one bike or jog this alone.
The country has always built an impressive series of suspension bridges and wooden boardwalks for sections that criss cross swamp areas or the river itself (the trail swamps banks many times.)
Also, in late fall, one of the major attractions of the southern end of the trail is the City of Raleigh’s sprawling 50-acre sunflower farm. The city raises them to use the seeds to make biodiesel, but it’s become a major pop-up tourist phenomenon. This place is gorgeous in later summer and fall but attracts HUGE numbers of gawkers and selfie takers, so be aware if you are on the trail. People will be looking at the sunflowers and not necessarily at what’s coming at them on the trail.
Oh…I should mention that despite the huge throngs that visit the sunflower seeds are technically close to the public. 🙂 Observe them from the safety of the Greenway and do not enter the fields like the scofflaws pictured above.
Besides the Sunflowers, our favorite section is the one closest to home…from Falls Lake Dam to about Rte. 1. But there are many other great sections.
Our favorite single spot on the trail may be the Neuse River Bend Overlook about midway between Rte. 1 and the WRAL Soccer Complex.
The NRG is, by the way, yet another part of the Mountains to Sea Trail. But I do not believe it is blazed as such…if it is I have not seen the blazes. Anyone, you can’t miss the trail.
Note that while the NRG ends at the Wake County Line, the trail continues South into Clayton, NC for at least four miles as the Clayton River Walk. I believe there are plants to expand this. And north of the damn there is the wilder, unpaved Falls Lake Trail.
If you live in the Raleigh area you should not be missing out on this experience. The Neuse River Greenway is a great way to get outdoors at any time. And if you don’t live in the area, well, there may be a similar place near your own home.
Don’t have one? Demand action from your local officials. Every city and town should have a clearly defined path to green.