Kayaking in and Around Raleigh: 10 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

By James @ Sea Kayak Explorer

North Carolina’s capital city is full of great paddling spots. Two of the state’s biggest rivers flow through the area, the Neuse and the Cape Fear. There are also dozens of lakes, ponds, and creeks totaling hundreds of miles of waterways to explore.

With mountains to the west and the Inner and Outer Banks to the east, Raleigh is in the heart of some of the best outdoor activities in the Piedmont. So, here are ten great spots to check out with your kayak near Raleigh, NC.

For more kayaking destinations nearby, check out our post on the best places to kayak in North Carolina here.

1. Neuse River Canoe Trail, NC

Neuse River, NC by bobistraveling (CC BY 2.0)

The city park’s department has connected a series of properties along the Neuse River into a trail for paddlers. This is excellent news because it means that you won’t be far from easy access to the river wherever you are in the city.

The Neuse is North Carolina’s biggest river that is entirely within the state’s borders. From its headwaters north of town, it flows southeast to Pamlico Sound and the Inner Banks. Paddling the Neuse can be a quick day trip or a multi-day adventure.

River miles are measured from the Falls Creek Dam. The river is wide and calm–the perfect place for connecting with nature while floating downstream.

From Raleigh to New Bern on the coast, the entire length of the river is a designated blue way. If you want to go on a more extended multi-day trip, some outfitters can arrange a pick-up service for any length you want to arrange.

The city parks that provide access to the river are listed below. You can find detailed directions to each site on the Raleigh website.

  • Falls Dam, mile 0.25
  • River Bend Park, mile 10
  • Buffaloe Road, mile 10.7
  • Milburnie Dam, mile 14.2
  • Anderson Point, mile 16.2
  • Poole Road, mile 17.7

But remember, there is an almost infinite number of put-ins and take-outs along the Neuse. So if you’re up for more adventure, head downriver to New Bern and check out the Neuse where it merges with Pamlico Sound.

For rentals, we’d recommend Neuse River Outfitters or Frog Hollow Outdoors.

2. Falls Lake State Recreation Area, NC

Falls Lake is an enormous reservoir north of town with many paddling opportunities. This reservoir is the headwaters for the Neuse River and provides water for the city of Raleigh. A small dam separates the main lake from the also popular Beaver Dam Lake.

The lake has many fingers to explore and is a great place to fish or see waterfowl. There are also herons, ospreys, and bald eagles. Its shorelines are mostly natural, with forests and natural vistas to enjoy. Even though it’s close to town, it feels like you’re a world away.

Falls Lake is located north of the city off of Interstate I-80. There are numerous access points to the park. Check the North Carolina State Parks website for complete details.

If you need to rent a kayak for your trip here, check out Rollingview Marina for more details and prices.

3. Lake Crabtree County Park, NC

This 520-acre lake is an excellent spot for kayaking, and all sorts of other watersports, too. You’ll share the water with sailboats, canoes, rowboats, and standup paddleboards. But you’ll also share the water with lots of wildlife like bald eagles, fish, and water birds.

Besides the lake, the park also hiking and multi-use trails and is connected to Cary’s greenway system.

For more information on where to launch, for fishing and boat rentals heat over to Lake Crabtree Boat Rental here.

4. Lake Wheeler, NC

The Army Corps created Lake Wheeler in 1956 as a secondary water supply for Raleigh. It’s a popular spot for boating of all sorts. The park rents single-person kayaks and paddleboards during the summer months from May through September, and there’s also a public boat ramp where you can launch your vessel.

Lake Wheeler is especially popular as a fishing destination. Several major bass tournaments have visited the lake. For the most part, the lake is known as a quiet respite from city life. But the park also hosts the occasional waterfront concert, so pick your paddling times accordingly!

Lake Wheeler Park is located south of Raleigh off of Lake Wheeler Road and US Highway 401. The park’s address is 6404 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, NC, 27603.

If you need to rent a yak then check out Lake Wheeler’s Waterfront Center as you can only rent boats at certain times of the year.

5. Robertson Millpond Preserve, NC

Robertson Millpond is the only blackwater cypress swamp left in Wake County. It’s an 85-acre preserve that’s a great spot for nature lovers.

The area has a long history, too. Native Americans hunted here, and the creek is named for the herds of buffalo that roamed the area centuries ago. From the 1820s onward, a gristmill operated here. Unfortunately, it has since been removed due to hurricane damage and disrepair.

The park, which is located in eastern Wake County, just north of US Highway 64, features a delightful 1.15 miles paddling circuit that takes you through the pond and creek. It’s marked with numbered buoys along the way. Download your trail map and brochure here.

There are few things as peaceful and lovely as a paddle through a quiet swamp. The marked trail makes it an easy and fun trip for people of all ages and experience levels.

For boat rentals head over to Preserve Boat Rentals who will sort you out.

6. Cape Fear River, NC

The Cape Fear River carves a winding path due south as it heads towards Wilmington and the Atlantic. It’s a big river, and that means there are lots of padding options.

Within a short drive from Raliegh, you’ll find everything from lazy river-style tubing and floating to a little bit of action on some Class II rapids.

The river is full of jumping fish and birdlife. You can pick your action–be it for a few hours or a few days. The outfitter has a shuttle service and makes one-way trips downriver easy and fun.

If you need to rent a kayak for your trip head over to Cape Fear Adventures. The outfitter’s base is located south of town on US Highway 401 in the town of Lillington.

For other access points and a good guide to the different areas on the river, check out their website. They have a complete list of put-ins and information on where to find the best conditions.

7. Lake Raleigh, NC

Lake Raleigh is located on the south side of the North Carolina State University campus but is open to the public. This 75-acre lake has a fishing pier and a put-in for non-motorized vessels. It’s a peaceful spot that the students and staff from the university love to visit.

The parking area is located right off of Main Campus Drive inside the university’s property. You may be required to get a parking pass.

The campus is located just north of Interstate I-40 at the Lake Wheeler Road exit.

Sadly, there aren’t any outfitters in the area so you’ll need to BYOB–Bring Your Own Boat.

8. Harris Lake County Park, NC

Harris Lake, NC by Patrick Mueller (CC BY 2.0)

The Shearon Harris Reservoir is one of the area’s largest lakes and makes a great day’s outing from Raleigh. There are several access points to the lake, which has multiple fingers and peninsulas to explore.

Harris Lake is located southwest of Raleigh near the town of Holly Springs. The county park is most easily accessed by taking US Highway 1 south to New Hill Holleman Road.

Like lake Raleigh, you’ll need to bring your own kayak as there are no rentals available here

9. Fred G. Bond Metro Park, NC

Lake Bond, NC by Selena N. B. H. (CC BY 2.0)

One of the largest parks in Cary, Fred G. Bond Park has picnic areas, athletic fields, an amphitheater, and even a challenge course. The Boathouse sits on Bond Lake, a small but picturesque pond surrounded by the park’s beautiful green spaces.

The park is located just west of downtown Cary on High House Road. The Bond Park Boathouse – where you can also hire boats from – can be found at 197 Bond Park Drive, Cary, NC, 27513.

10. William B. Umstead State Park, NC

Umstead Park Lake, NC by Nathania Johnson (CC BY 2.0)

Besides peaceful and beautiful kayaking, this state park features over 22 miles of lovely hiking trails and 13 miles of horseback riding or mountain biking trails. In addition, there are three man-made lakes in the park.

The largest is aptly named Big Lake, where you can rent canoes and rowboats. There are also picnic areas and campgrounds for land-side exploration.

The park is located northwest of the city between Interstate I-40 and US Highway 70. It’s near the airport. The park’s address is 8801 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC, 27617.

For kayak rentals, check out Umstead State Park’s website for information and prices.

Summing up the Best Places to Kayak Near Raleigh

There are many kayaking options near Raleigh–enough to keep you busy paddling for most of the year.

From lazy floats down big rivers to quiet backwater lakes and swamps, Raliegh has enough to give you a taste for all sorts of different types of paddling.

Enjoy!