Cliffs of the Neuse State Park (2-24-18)
At around 1,100-acres in size, Cliffs of the Neuse State Park is located smack dab in the middle of North Carolina's coastal plain just east of Goldsboro. This region of the state, more known for its swamplands and lazy streams, probably doesn't strike you as a likely location for any cliff-like landforms. Here though, rising almost one hundred feet from the western banks of the wide and muddy Neuse River, there is indeed just such a place. A geologic relic of a time when this part of the country was more tectonically active the Cliffs of the Neuse mark the location where, due to a shift in fault lines, the Neuse River was redirected to follow said fault and began chiseling its way down through the earth. The cliffs extend for about a third of a mile along the outside of a wide bend in the Neuse. From the overlook atop them one can look down and see the various layers of sedimentary rock the river has eaten through over the eons. The park extends back from the cliffs over a landscape that is also surprisingly hilly considering its location. This is due to many of the small tributaries feeding the Neuse eating back into the cliffs and creating a maze of steep hillsides and narrow valleys. Thankfully this fascinating landscape has been preserved since 1945 when the State of North Carolina acquired the property from a local group of conservation-minded individuals. Criss-crossing the interior of the park is a nice, adequate, network of trails which allow visitors to see the various natural highlights contained within it. I found Cliffs of the Neuse a surprising and fascinating place, as I hope you'll see.
I could have begun my loop hike from the visitor center but decided, instead, to start from a bit quieter corner of the park. A narrow, winding dirt road extends up to the northernmost extremity of the park where a couple of group campsites are located. From this starting point a short access trail heads south to the main network of trails. The first path I reached is called the Spanish Moss Trail which ascends the surprisingly steep bluffs just north of the main cliff area. A side path here also leads down to the muddy banks of the Neuse and, if you explore a bit as I did, a unique look at the cliffs from the bottom up. From there I backtracked up to the main trail and climbed the steps to the top of the cliffs. This is the scenic highlight of the hike as for the next quarter-mile the trail follows the highest of the cliffs with several views of the river below. As you might expect this was also, then, the busiest section of my walk. As you probably know if you’ve spent any time perusing my albums large crowds and I don’t go very well together so, even though this stretch of trail was incredibly scenic, I found the experience a bit less enjoyable than I might otherwise have. I can’t blame people for coming though, it’s undeniably a beautiful place. Passing the main cliffs the trail drops down to the narrow valley through which Mill Creek flows. Here three trails come together in a slightly confusing fashion so it was important to keep an eye on signs to point me the right direction. I next found myself on the Galax Trail which climbs to another stretch of cliffs with more nice views of the Neuse before turning inland for the remainder of the hike. The crowds thinned as I moved further from the cliffs as the trail meandered over and around the surprisingly steep hillsides extending inland from the Neuse. Turning south on the Lake Trail, I followed along and above the south shore of the park lake through a mixed forest of hardwoods and pines. At around the three-mile mark I emerged from the woods near the visitor center and crossed the main park road to begin my final path of the day, the Longleaf Trail. As its name implies this trail winds its way through stands of tall Longleaf pines as it heads back towards the north end of the park where I began. For the last half-mile or so the trail joins the dirt road to the group campground and the remainder of the hike becomes a road-walk. Not the most enjoyable way to end a hike but it was pleasant and quiet enough with the late day sun casting long shadows through the trees as I walked.
Overall my experience hiking at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park was an enjoyable one. The scenery was wonderful despite the (at times) intense visitor traffic. The hike, I feel, encompasses much of the best the park has to offer and is fairly challenging compared to other hikes I’ve done in the region. That said, this is another gem of the North Carolina State Park system and is certainly a destination I’d recommend visiting if you found yourself in the area. Without further adieu, then, I present to you a pleasant hilly hike in the flatlands…Cliffs of the Neuse State Park…as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.245533, -77.886344
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: EASY
Mileage Hiked: 4.5 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 50-100 people
Min. Elevation: 40' Max. Elevation: 180'
Total Vertical Gain: 240' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 53'
Trails Used (blaze color/shape): 350-Yard (white circles), Bird (red circles), Galax (blue circles), Lake (yellow diamonds), Longleaf (white diamonds), Spanish Moss (orange circles)