Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, North Carolina 

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park isn’t the largest park in North Carolina, but it has its perks. While known for the great kayaking on its 11-acre lake, there are also 7 hiking trails, 32 campsites, 3 cabins, and a swimming area with a sandy beach.

There’s also a large Visitor Center which houses exhibits exploring the history of the region.  

Visitor Center at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

Located in the town of Seven Springs, the park is usually not usually crowded, which makes it perfect for a quiet getaway.  

Where Cliffs of the Neuse Got Its Name 

Millions of years ago, a fault shifted and the Neuse River followed the new fault line. A natural bend helped the river deepen its erosion and create a series of cliffs in what is otherwise a flat location. The park is home to these cliffs, including its popular 90-foot high overlook.

View of Neuse River from the cliffs

Beyond the cliffs, the land has a rich history, including being used as a Native American ceremonial ground.

Later in its history, European settlers set up the trading town of Whitehall which is now Seven Springs. If you visit nearby Kinston, NC, you can learn about the CSS Neuse, a confederate Ironclad. The ship was built in Whitehall and moved down the river to Kinston. Becoming stuck in low water, it was eventually scuttled as a diversion when Union Soldiers came to Kinston.  

You can read more about Kinston, NC, and the CSS Neuse here.  

Eventually, Whitehall became known for its mineral water, thought to be a cure for any ailment you had. Those that know North Carolina won’t be surprised to learn the water also made for good whiskey.  

In 1944, the land was donated to the park system and Cliffs of the Neuse was established in 1945.  

Trails at Cliffs of the Neuse 

You can find a map of the trails here. I did find the map to be a little off in places, and the Galax and Bird trails could have used additional blazes in a few key areas. You won’t get lost, but it can be frustrating if you put trails together for a loop and are trying to stay on course. 

The park is small enough that you can easily navigate so it’s perfect for beginner hikers.  

Overall, the park is flat. The only real area with any elevation gain is the 350-Yard Trail from where it intersects Galax and Bird trails to the top of the cliffs. It’s short and not that steep of a climb. Anyone with mobility issues can also drive to the top for the overlook. There’s a generous parking lot and it’s paved.  

Lake Trail 

Mileage: 1.9 miles 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: Yellow diamond 

Hiking down Lake View Trail

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 2 miles on uneven surfaces can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes. 

The Lake Trail is the longest trail in the park at 1.9 miles. It starts at the Visitor Center and winds around the back of the lake. It goes to the swimming area and bathhouse, or you can pick up the Galax Trail.  

It’s a nice, single-file trail that weaves in through wooded areas. I found it peaceful and quiet.  Along the way, I passed two trail runners enjoying the morning.  

Galax Trail 

Mileage: 0.5 miles 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: Blue circle 

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 0.5 miles on uneven surfaces can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes. 

The Galax trail is a horseshoe-shaped trail that intersects at both ends with Bird Trail. It has a few areas with heavy roots where you need to watch your footing. While sneakers are fine, they could be uncomfortable in a few spots.  

The trail has a few areas where additional blazes would be helpful. Most of the confusing sections occur because people have created shortcuts. Regardless of which path you take, you’ll wind up at the same location, back on the trail.  

Bird Trail 

Mileage: 0.5 miles 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: Red circle 

Flat, well-manicured section of Bird Trail

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 0.5 miles on uneven surfaces can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes. 

The Bird Trail is a half-mile loop. You can reach it from the Galax Trail or the 350 Yard Trail. It’s easy to follow but does have a few areas with steps and roots.  

At the Galax and Bird Trails intersection near Mill Creek, there is a small area with running water that’s a nice place to stop. You could call it a small waterfall, but that’s stretching it a bit.  

350 Yard Trail 

Mileage: 350 Yards 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: White circle 

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 350 yards on a gravel surface can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes. 

At the Galax and Bird Trails intersection by Mill Creek, if you cross the small bridge over the creek, you’re on the 350 Yard Trail.  Follow it to the right (the turn isn’t marked) and you’ll wind along the Neuse River as you head to the top of the cliffs.  

Stairs leading from Galax Trail to 350 Yard Trail

Your payoff is the overlook from a 90-foot cliff.  

You can also reach the view by driving down Park Entrance Road. It dead-ends in a generous parking lot at the top of the cliffs, allowing accessible viewing for most anyone.  

Spanish Moss Trail 

Mileage: 0.5 miles 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: Orange circle 

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 0.5 miles on uneven surfaces can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes. 

The Spanish Moss Trail is accessed from either the campground or the parking lot at the overlook. It’s a small loop that takes you through a woodland area.  

Old Wagon Path 

Mileage: 0.4 miles 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: Red diamond 

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 0.4 miles on uneven surfaces can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes.  

Trailhead for Old Wagon Path Trail from Parking Lot

Old Wagon Path Trail follows the Park Entrance Road and takes you from the overlook parking lot to the Visitor’s Center.  It’s a nice way to return to your car if you’ve parked at the Visitor Center.  

The trail is flat and has few roots or rocks. It’s a pleasant trail and easy to follow.  

Longleaf Trail 

Mileage: 0.4 miles 

Difficulty: Easy 

Blaze: Red diamond 

Who can do it: Most anyone able to walk 0.4 miles on uneven surfaces can complete this trail. Sneakers would be suitable if you don’t have hiking shoes. 

Longleaf Trail is a means for hikers staying at the group primitive sites to access the front end of the park. It connects Park Entrance Road to Sandy Path. It’s a nice windy path through a wooded area, but it would be a down and back for most hikers.  

Are Any of the Trails Multi-Use? 

Bicycles are allowed on three of the trails, Lake Trail, Longleaf Trail, and Sandy Path Trail. These are easy trails, suitable for most novice mountain bikers.  

When I walked around, I saw a few campers on their bikes cycling on the roads, enjoying the park.  

There are no equestrian trails at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.  

Enjoying the Water at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park 

What Cliffs of the Neuse State Park is known for is its paddling. Kayakers and canoers love heading out this way for a day on the river.  

Two miles north of the Visitor Center at the intersection of River Road and Mine Hill Road is a paddling launch. From here, you can enjoy an 8-mile trip through the park to the Seven Springs public boat ramp.  

This is a moderate paddle and is recommended for experienced paddlers. It’s suggested you check with the park for updated river conditions and to give the Rangers a heads up on your plans.  

It’s not uncommon to see a bald eagle or river otter as you paddle down the Neuse River.  

For those not up to an 8-mile paddle, you can enjoy paddling on the 11-acre lake which offers a serene environment, perfect for novice paddlers.

Calm lake and boat house

Prefer to be in the water instead of on top of it? Enjoy swimming in the lake. There’s a bathhouse and sandy area for some summer fun. Anyone young at heart can enjoy the dive platform. What better way to cool off in the hot summer? 

Fishermen can set up along the Neuse River for scenic fishing. Largemouth bass and catfish are known to hide in the waters. You’ll need a North Carolina Fishing license, but those aren’t difficult to secure.  

Camping at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park 

Cliffs of the Neuse has 12 campsites with electrical hookups, 18 sites with no electricity, and 3 cabins that can be reserved.  

Campsite for tents at Cliffs of the Neuse

Campsite #6, which has electricity, is wheelchair accessible, as is the cabin in space #9.   

There’s a bathhouse in the middle, easily accessible to all sites. Inside are sinks, flush toilets, and showers.  

The showers are individual stalls. As you enter your stall, there’s a small staging area to place your clothes and toiletries, then a curtain covering the shower area.  

I was impressed at how well-stocked and clean the area is kept. This is one of the nicest, cleanest, bathhouses I’ve encountered at a NC State Park.

You can reserve your spot online at Reserve America here.  

Groups can reserve one of the four group primitive campsites. There is trash, recycling, drinking water, and pit toilets available. While they refer to it as primitive, the camping areas are close to a parking lot. There’s no need to pack anything in.  

Overall Impressions of Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

I was impressed by this little park. It’s relatively flat for a nice day of hiking and the campgrounds were relaxing.  

It’s a nice place to enjoy a weekend away, just 1.5 hours from Raleigh.  

While not challenging, it’s a good park to visit in the summer for hiking and kayaking, and getting away from the crowds.  

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4 Responses

  • More boating awaits on the Neuse River Paddle Trail, stretching 142 miles from end to end. Paddle as much or as little as you like, but be sure to check out Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, which makes a good starting or ending point with its campgrounds, cliff-side trails, and facilities where you can celebrate an awesome trip.

    • Great Tip! I have to admit that paddling isn’t always my first go-to, but here in the hot south, I should try to get out more, including on the Neuse River 🙂

  • There isn’t currently a dish wash sink at the family campground boathouse, but there are plans to install one in the future. Also the trail map is in the process of being updated as park staff know it is inaccurate and misleading. A new trail map will be published in 2023 after some trail closures and reroutes are performed.

    • Thanks for the update Bob. That’s great to hear about the map. I know resources at the parks are stretched thin and the map honestly isn’t too bad. You definitely won’t get lost – you just have to take a breath and look around for the right blaze. Part of what I loved about Cliffs of the Neuse was how easy it was to navigate. It’s perfect for beginner hikers.

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