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Guide to Boating on the Neuse River

The Neuse River is the longest river in North Carolina and is definitely one worth considering for an excellent boating experience. It’s contained entirely within North Carolina and originates from the confluence of the Flat and Eno rivers in Durham, North Carolina before they enter the Falls Lake reservoir in the Piedmont. From there, it flows all the way down to New Bern before emptying into Pamlico Sound.

It is one of the oldest rivers in the U.S., estimated at about 2 million years old, and is also one of the widest rivers in the country, measuring up to 6 nautical miles across at its widest point near New Bern. The river runs for 275 miles or 443 kilometers and connects Raleigh, the current capital of North Carolina, to New Bern, which served as the capital of the state from 1770 to 1792.

The river can be characterized by muddy water, wetlands, and bottomland swamps, with the unique exception of the Cliffs of the Neuse, where it runs through 90-foot bluffs of limestone and sandstone that were formed some million years ago.

Abundant with wildlife, fishing spots, and nature, the Neuse River is a wonderful place to go boating! Whether heading upstream from our New Bern marina or going down to the mouth, the Neuse River has something to offer every prospective boater.

A Brief History of the Neuse River

Remains of human settlements have been found along the Neuse River dating all the way back to some 14,000 years ago. It’s safe to say that the Neuse has been home to early prehistoric Native American indigenous civilizations for thousands of years and for most of its long life.

In fact, the river’s name Neuse (pronounced like ‘noose’) comes from the name of an early Native American tribe who inhabited the area around the river, the Neusiok, who first called the river the ‘Neuse’, according to accounts by British captains, Arthur Barlowe and Phillip Amadas, who were commissioned by sir Walter Raleigh to explore the New World in 1584.

The founding of cities like New Bern and Raleigh would bring economic and regional growth and development to the river. With the establishment of New Bern as a bustling port and capital, the Neuse River became an important center for trade and commerce, as well as a primary means of transportation for goods and travelers within the state until the late 1800s. Today, roughly 2.5 million people call the Neuse River basin home, and the river continues to be enjoyed as a premier fishing and boating destination.

In recent years, the Neuse has been the subject of environmental concern due to pollution caused by municipal and agricultural waste, storm runoff, and algal blooms, making it one of the most endangered rivers in America. Local organizations and initiatives, such as the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, have been taken to preserve the Neuse River and all who call it home, from wildlife to humans.

Navigating the Neuse River

We recommend starting your Neuse River journey at our very own New Bern marina, Northwest Creek Marina. New Bern is an excellent starting point for a boating trip along the Neuse and the marina has all the amenities you need before you get started.

The Neuse flows 275 miles southeast from its source near Raleigh. The river has a fast-moving current before becoming a slow-moving estuary around Craven County that continues for 40 miles till it reaches the Pamlico Sound. The average depth of the river around the New Bern area ranges from 9 feet to 19 feet at the mouth of the river. Depth can be affected by the wind, reducing depths to up to 4 feet around New Bern and 2 feet at the mouth, although they may also increase their depths depending on where the wind is blowing in from.

From New Bern, you can head in either direction along the Neuse. You can head further down towards Pamlico Sound, or towards the town of Oriental, called the “Sailing Capital of North Carolina”, or even towards the ICW. The mouth of the Neuse makes for a great daytime boating excursion and you’ll find a range of marinas, fuel docks, and anchorages to last you for as long as you need. The waters of the Neuse can change very quickly and can get choppy without much notice, so it’s best to be prepared for rough and choppy waters just in case.

Alternatively, you can start further up the river from New Bern, towards Raleigh, for a fuller experience. This route will take you past plenty of state parks, riverside towns and cities, and other attractions, including the Cliffs of the Neuse, and is a wonderful way to experience the Neuse. The river is significantly narrower upstream than it is at its mouth, so be aware of the size of your vessel. It branches off to numerous creeks and tributaries, like Swift Creek and Contentnea Creek. You can also expect to make a lot of turns and twists, as the river winds like a snake through North Carolina.

The mouth of the river or the estuary is ideal for bigger private vessels like yachts, while the narrower parts of the river heading upstream past New Bern would be best suited for smaller, non-motorized crafts like canoes and kayaks. Access points for canoes and kayaks along the river from Raleigh include Falls Dam, Thornton Road, River Bend Park, Buffaloe Road, Milburnie Dam, Anderson Point, and Poole Road.

You may experience high flow and fast-moving currents while you’re out on the river, which may make it difficult to reach shore or navigate away from obstructions, like fallen logs, boulders, and bridge footings. Make sure to check water levels and flow rate for specific waterways before setting off. The bottom of the river may also be uneven at certain parts, so some areas of the river may be deeper than they appear.

The river winds its way all the way to Raleigh which is an excellent place to end your trip, or you can follow the river further up to Falls Lake Dam and see the river’s source for yourself.

Be sure to check for the nearest marinas and fuel docks before setting off and stock up on anything you might need based on how long you’ll be out on the water no matter which direction on the Neuse you’re going. Our New Bern marina would be happy to help you plan your trip and navigate the Neuse!

Best Activities to do on the Neuse River

Fishing and Wildlife Spotting

The Neuse River is home to plenty of freshwater and even saltwater fish. The latter can be found most prominently in the estuary near the river’s mouth at New Bern. Fish species that you can find here include but are not limited to shad, herring, striped bass, catfish, flounder, blue crabs, American eel, and oysters.

You may also find some rare and endangered species in the Neuse River basin, such as the dwarf wedgemussel, Tar River spinymussel, Roanoke bass, Carolina darter, and the shortnose sturgeon. You may even spot a Neuse River waterdog or Carolina mudpuppy, a type of aquatic salamander that is found only within the Neuse River and Tar-Pamlico river basins, as well as a rare Carolina madtom, another fish species endemic to the Neuse.

Other wildlife species you may encounter along the river include the loggerhead turtle, leatherback sea turtle, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, West Indian manatee, dolphins, alligators, and the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Major Cities and Towns

Access all of these major cities and towns in North Carolina by just traveling along the Neuse! You can stop to restock on your supplies, or stay longer to check out all the great attractions each city has to offer.

New Bern

The city where you’ll most likely start your journey is at New Bern. Home to our very own Northwest Creek Marina, New Bern is a picturesque riverside city and the second-oldest colonial town in North Carolina. It also used to be capital of the state before the capital was moved to Raleigh.


Kinston is a charming city with a rich history and culture in the arts. Top points of interest include the CSS Neuse Civil War Museum, Mother Earth Brewing, and the CSS Neuse II, a full-sized replica of a Confederate ironclad ship.


Like plenty of towns and cities in North Carolina, Goldsboro is steeped in history and culture. Take a trip back in time at the Waynesborough Historical Village, a reconstructed village full of buildings from the city’s past, or visit the Oheb Shalom synagogue, the second oldest synagogue in the United States. Goldsboro is also right near the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, making it an ideal stop if you’re looking to see the Cliffs of the Neuse yourself.


The county seat of Johnston country, North Carolina, Smithfield is best known for the Ava Gardner museum and the Johnston County Heritage Center. Smithfield is also home to the Carolina Premium Outlets, featuring over 80 designer brand outlet stores at 25% to 65% less, and the Brightleaf Flea Market, making Smithfield an excellent destination for shopping.


Raleigh is a bustling city that’s just full to the brim with things to do and sights to see. There’s something for everyone in Raleigh, from museums, parks, shopping centers, theaters, event venues, restaurants, and more.

State Parks and Forests

These state parks around the Neuse are the best places to go camping, hiking, biking, fishing, and more, and also offer great places to go boating along the river and see all the sights.

Croatan National Forest

The Croatan National Forest, located near New Bern, is one of four national forests found in North Carolina. With up to 160,000 acres of land and bordered by three rivers, the Croatan National Forest is characterized by thick pine forests, inland lakes, saltwater estuaries, bogs and wetlands. It offers miles and miles of hiking and biking trails and is a wonderful place for camping, swimming, boating, fishing, canoeing, and wildlife viewing.

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

The Cliffs of the Neuse are a must-see when you’re thinking of taking a trip along the Neuse. This state park sits on the top of the colorful, 90-foot bluffs it gets its name from, overlooking the river. It offers campsites, cabins, and trailer and RV sites with electricity and water hookups, and activities like hiking, biking, fishing, paddling, and boat rentals.

The Neuse is a premier boating destination for anyone looking to take a trip to North Carolina. Stay with us here at Northwest Creek Marina and get ready for a one-of-a-kind boating experience along the Neuse!

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