There are four trails at Cliffs of the Neuse: Bird Trail, Galax Trail, Spanish Moss Trail, and the aptly named 350-Yard Trail. Bird and Galax are to the right of the parking lot and trailhead, at the end of the gently sloping, sandy 350-Yard Trail that leads to the river's edge. Spanish Moss Trail branches off to the left of the trailhead. All the trails together add up to 1.7 miles.
Having taken the 350-Yard trail on a quick scouting expedition last year, we opted for the Spanish Moss trail on this trip. I absolutely love Spanish Moss, and miss seeing its tattered tails fluttering from the boughs of tall oaks in the Lowcountry breeze. Unfortunately, we saw only a handful of what is apparently a member of the pineapple family during our short hike.
Unlike the easygoing 350-Yard trail, the Spanish Moss trail descends to river level via a series of steep stairs built into the hillside. At this time of year, dead oak, maple and other leaves from deciduous trees litter those steps, hiding small indentations in the sand. I turned my ankle ever so slightly after taking one step, but caught myself on the wooden railing provided to assist hikers on their descent. As with all outdoor destinations, if you decide to visit the park, please watch out for hidden as well as exposed obstacles that may put a quick end to your fun and adventure.
According to the NC Parks site, Cliffs of the Neuse has approximately 750 acres within its boundaries. According to Classifications of Natural Communities in North Carolina, much of those acres are an example of a Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest:
Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forests generally occur on sites that are sheltered by topography and moisture from fire. Fires were probably much less frequent and intense than in most of the Coastal Plain uplands. Fire was probably an important factor in confining mesic, fire-intolerant vegetation to these sites.
Associations: Usually bordered by Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwoods, Cypress-- Gum Swamp, or Small Stream Swamp at slope base and Dry-Mesic Oak--Hickory Forest, Dry Oak--Hickory Forest, or Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill above. May grade to Nonriverine Wet Hardwood Forest on flats. *
: characterized by, relating to, or requiring a moderate amount of moisture**
Indeed, we did spot shallow water pooling around some cypress trees and noticed the dirt beneath some mulchy groundcover was damp. One would say of course, after all, the park includes a river. But in these drought stricken days, that doesn't mean much.
We searched for blooming objects as we walked, and while we saw a few bits of green, including ferns struggling to survive on a dry hillside, we saw only one type of blossoming shrub. ID TBD. Lady Slippers and Trillium reportedly bloom in the park during the spring. ETA TBD, but I can't wait.
Cliffs of the Neuse is a great day-trip destination. If you prefer an overnight trip, camping sites are available. In addition to hiking and camping, consider kayaking or canoeing down the tranquil blackwaters of the Neuse (byob--bring your own boat.) Swimming is available as well. From what I understand, the park has an eleven-acre lake, though we've yet to see if. For more information on Cliffs of the Neuse, go to www.stateparks.com/cliffs_of_the_neuse.html
The park's gates currently close at 6:00, so please check operating hours before you go.
Cliffs of the Neuse S.P. Feb 08
*Classification of Natural Communities in North Carolina, pg 41 and 42
** Merrian Webster online at www.m-w.com