By Brad Beggs
Barred owls, red wolves, bald eagles, and hundreds of thousands of tundra swan call North Carolina’s coastal plain home, a place where the rivers flow through the largest tracts of bottomland (read marshland) forests in the Southeast.
Twelve years in the making, there are now 40 camping platforms in eastern North Carolina, providing paddlers a place to pitch a tent in an otherwise wet landscape. You can paddle everything from mega 200-mile trips through the remote-better-know-what-you-are-doing wilderness to scenic half-mile paddle-to-the-store-for-extra-ice-cream-if-the-kids-get-hungry scenic jaunts.
For your first visit, head to one of these six platforms for great paddling (and great camping). Visit for the day (free!) or spend the night camping next to quiet coastal waters. Costs range from $20 per night for the whole platform to $10 per person.
Three Sisters – Jamesville, NC | 15 miles to reach
It's so interesting, Google Trekker visited. Arrive at twilight to catch the light show as you emerge from a narrow creek into a wide open bay. The dark water shines a mirror blue, reflecting the sky, and barred owls call who-cooks-for-you. The Three Sisters platform (28' x 16') sits on the west side of the bay, tucked into a stand of cypress trees.
Tucsa Landing – Halifax, NC | 15.4 miles to reach
When nature calls, this platform makes life easy. Tusca (14' x 16') is one of two platforms (out of 40) with a traditional outhouse (bring your own TP) and a screened in platform. Nervous campers enjoy the ease of camping here. With no brush along the banks, the morning mist on the water is the first thing you'll see.
The Bluff – Hamilton, NC | 15 miles to reach
My favorite platform. A long winding boardwalk leads up the hill to your screened in (15' x 13') river home with an attached floating air porch (16' x 14'). Quality porch furniture awaits when you are ready to eat or just relax. Like Tusca Landing, it has a well maintained outhouse with a good river view.
Panola – Tarboro, NC | 10 miles to reach
Large sand beaches at almost every bend with gentle current moving downstream. Shuttle is easy – only 2 miles long, safely walkable or bikeable. The 16' x 32' platform (half is screened in) is perfectly situated halfway to the take out and offers views from a high bluff.
Cypress Hideaway – Little Washington, NC | 15- or 3-mile options
You'll need super keen eyes (or GPS) to find it hiding behind the brush, cypress and tupelo trees. Just twenty feet from the river's edge, this screened in platform makes for a nice day trip (bring a hammock) but an even better overnight. Calm warm water mirrors the sun’s rays at dawn and dusk.
Bourne – Rocky Mount, NC | 7 miles to reach
On the edge of a farm field, Bourne (16' x 32') provides the second best star viewing of these 6 platforms with a large clear southern sky. See seasonal crops such as soybean, corn, or wheat up close. The Tar here has a little flow, gentle meanders on a narrow river, and plenty of shade. Put in further upstream to paddle easy, Class I rapids.
–For additional information and overnight reservations, visit www.tarpamlicowatertrail.org for the Tar-Pamlico River or roanokeriverpartners.org for platforms on the Raonoke River and Albermarle Sound region.
–Brad Beggs helps paddlers find the best places to paddle in eastern NC and Outerbanks with interactive maps, photos, and guides at beautifulpaddles.com
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