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Canoe-Kayak Camping North Carolina
By Paul Ferguson, author of Paddling Eastern North Carolina
Advice for those who are interested in paddling & camping in eastern North Carolina.

Camping is popular in the Tar-Pamlico River Basin. Medoc Mountain and Goose Creek State Park attract people arriving by car to drive-in campsites. A more adventurous camping trip, supported by paddling rather than driving, can take one closer to a wilderness experience and heighten appreciation of our streams. Although often called canoe camping, it is suitable for canoes or kayaks. Many kayaks have capacity to store plenty of gear, and equipment that seems to expand and consume available space. (see TopKayaker.net's Kayak Camping & Touring Articles Index for detailed how-to articles)

Join the Pamlico-Tar Paddlers and let the Adventures Begin!

Eight kayaks along with paddles and PFDs were purchased by PTRF last year, made possible through a grant from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation. The kayaks are being put to use in paddling classes that educate participants about paddling and the river in cooperative paddle outings with Inner Banks Outfitters, the Cypress Group of the Sierra Club and PTRF sponsored outings. The PTRF paddlers, a recreational paddling group, and PTRF members have access to the stable of "yaks" and equipment for a small fee.

The membership dues to join the Pamlico-Tar Paddlers are listed at this link on the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation website, along with a calendar of scheduled paddles. Anyone interested can subscribe to our google groups (requires a free google account) which allows members to chat among themselves as well as receive frequent updates on outings, etc from PTRF. You can also join our cause on Facebook.

Most streams in the NC do not have any public paddle-in campsites. It is sometimes possible to locate a landowner with suitable riparian property and request permission, but doing the research and getting permission can be difficult.

Many paddlers plan trips without knowing exactly where they will camp. To increase chances there will be good sites, evaluate the stream terrain by viewing aerial photography and topographical maps on the Internet.

Avoid low banks and swampy areas. The best information comes from paddling a stream as day trips before committing to a camping trip. When searching for a campsite, look for land that is not posted and is well away from signs of civilization. NC Statutes require properly posted land to have signs conspicuously posted and no more than two hundred yards apart. Camping on islands and high sandbars reduces the chances of problems from landowners. Even if land is not posted, there is a chance you could be asked to leave.

Camping on high sandbars avoids brush and allows breezes. As with all campsites, be aware of possible rising water. Thunderstorms and dam releases can cause water levels to rise quickly. Sandbars are formed as higher water deposits sand in slower currents on the inside of bends. At night make sure boats are on high ground and secured.

Finding a prospective campsite is often accompanied by the nagging thought that a better one is just downstream. This thinking can lure paddlers into a nightmare search. A helpful rule is to set a time range, such as 4:00-5:30 p.m., for when to start looking for a site and when to have settled on one.

Leave all land visited with no trace of your presence. Plants and tress should not be cut. A campfire can attract attention and cause concern of it spreading. If a campfire is built, make it small and contained in a fire-pan to keep from scarring the ground. A small fire on a sandbar near the water is little fire risk and easy to douse.

Equipment needs vary according to boat capacity and personal taste. The essentials are food, water, cooking equipment, sleeping bag, tent, light, first aid kit plus protection from the sun, rain, cold, and insects. Also include a small shovel or trowel for burying human waste. Think of what is needed for car camping and pare it down to acceptable weight and bulk.

Potable water can be carried but is heavy depending on amount needed. Other solutions are to sterilize stream water by boiling, adding disinfectants (bleach, iodine, etc), or using modern membrane filters or UV sterilizers. Outfitters carry a variety of solutions.

How far to plan on paddling depends on current, wind, type of boat, paddling experience, and total hours actually paddling. To be conservative, use two miles per hour as an average. A typical distance might be ten to fifteen miles in a day.

On streams less than about a hundred feet wide, downed trees can be a problem. Getting past them with an empty boat takes time, but much more time and effort is required with a laden boat. Get recent paddling information about the stream from others or choose a wider one.

Spring and fall are ideal canoe camping seasons because insects are minimal and nighttime temperatures comfortable for cooking and sleeping. Winter’s long cold nights can drive one to bed early, and hot summer nights make for difficult sleeping.

For an easy introduction to canoe camping, try a short paddle to a reserved campsite. Rocky Mount Parks & Recreation has a camping platform on an island in an arm of the Tar River Reservoir, a few miles southwest of Rocky Mount. A roof covers half the platform, and a fire-ring is provided. A permit is required along with a fee of $10 per night per person. A boat ramp is new Old Carriage Road (Nash Co. 1603) bridge. From the boat ramp, paddle to the left (away from the bridge) through a left bend. An island can be seen a quarter-mile ahead. Pass just to the right of the island and look to the left on the island’s backside for a small dock. The platform is just behind the dock but difficult to see through trees. For more information call 252-972-1151 or see the Rocky Mount City website and scroll to Camping Platforms. Some homes are near the lakeshore, and motorboats ply the reservoir, but the lake offers side trips and the island has shade. Avoid windy weather because it kicks up waves in the open water.

Happy canoe camping.

Paul is the author of the guidebook, Paddling Eastern North Carolina available through our Affiliate link in TopKayaker.net's TopKayaker Shop. We appreciate your support.

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