Sunday Stroll: Neuse River Trail

Paved greenway offers 33 miles of trail from Falls Lake to Johnston County

What's in a word? Or rather, what's in a silence?

Long, hard work at a day job, and long, physical work in Johnston County forced my silence for the past week. I've never been one to plan blog posts more than a couple days in advance, so with a sudden onslaught of extra responsibilities and the sudden lack of time (an hour commute each way and extra work killed all my blogging and running time) meant radio silence.

On Saturday though, stuck in Johnston County, I took the chance to explore somewhere new for a little stroll. I figured I'd check out Clemmons State Educational Forest in Clayton, NC, but when I arrived the gate was shut and the sign warned, "DO NOT ENTER: Forest is closed." 

Who knew they closed for the winter? So with that option unavailable I wandered down the road in my car looking for what I thought might be in that area: the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse. I'd gone running on that trail a few times before when I'd been in Clayton visiting family and desperately needed a quick run, so I knew it was roughly in that area. I just had to find it with no cell service.

Instead, I unintentionally crossed into Wake County and found the Neuse River Greenway Trail, a 33 mile greenway that runs from Falls of the Neuse to the Johnston County line. It connects to the Clayton River Walk at the county line, and I figured since I'd come from Clayton I had to be close to the county line and the river walk, so I parked, went under the overpass where the trail crossed the two-lane country highway, and headed east down the trail.

The greenway is a nice trail - evenly paved with just a little more meandering than the American Tobacco Trail, which can sometimes be arrow-straight from point A to point B. 

The trail has markers every quarter mile, which was nice since my GPS watch kept getting paused whenever Ryder made a beeline to smell something and the leash banged against the watch on my wrist.

It was bitterly cold that morning though, and everything had that matte grey look of winter, and I imagined how I'd play with my photography style to match the mood as I explored the trail and honed in on details like hay fields behind a white fence or the many footbridges crossing over streams feeding into the Neuse River, or shelf mushrooms growing as big as my feet on fallen logs.

The Neuse River Greenway Trail is a pleasant trail that meanders along the river, though not so near the river that you'd expect to see much of it in summer. It's just all pleasant - no spectacular views of the river rushing over rocks or past exciting bends - but plenty of pleasant trail with no road crossings and plenty of song birds. (There were so many birds I even managed to snag a shot of a woodpecker - and that's saying something!)

Finally I reached the Johnston County line where the Neuse River Greenway Trail ended, though the pavement continued unassumingly eastwards. This had to be the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse, part of the 4 miles from the county line to Clayton. I explored only a little longer at that point - my fingers were going numb from the cold and I wanted to get back in time to drop off Ryder and go for a long run.

I eventually worked my way back to my car parked at Mial Plantation Road, totaling about 3.5 miles on the greenway. It was a very quiet, peaceful hike - I wasn't sure if it was because of the season or the cold weather but there were just a smattering of other runners, walkers, and bicyclists on the greenway trail.

Wake County makes it sound like the greenway just ends at the Johnston County line, but it continues as the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse

After I dropped Ryder off I came back to the greenway to go running, starting at Covered Bridge Road in Johnston County and heading west towards Wake County. I went about 2.5 miles that direction, coming close to the county line but not quit getting there, and hopping over a stream where Hurricane Matthew had washed out a large bridge.

Cellphone photos since I was on a long run.

I returned to my car and then continued east, but from Covered Bridge Road towards Clayton I could only go one mile before I hit some severe flood damage. The entire trail was dug up and impassable with giant industrial bins left on the trail by backhoes. There was no way around or through the construction zone, so I never made it to Clayton or even to the art installations along the trail that I remembered from previous runs.

Clayton River Walk on the Neuse - these are all crummy cellphone photos since I was running this trail

I was just short of seven miles total on the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse after all the running back and forth from my car to other points on the trail, but it was good to get out and get a long run in on the weekend. Hopefully the repairs to the trail will be done soon. Until then, it's still a good option along the Wake County portion of the trail for running, hiking, biking, and walking. I know for me personally I'm thinking about taking my road bike to the greenway on warm days to work on my biking skills, since the trail seems to go for so long between road crossings, and the couple road crossings I did see went along underpasses so you didn't have to deal with any traffic at the intersections - perfect for someone still getting the hang of her wheels like I am.


Trail: Neuse River Greenway Trail (Wake County) and Clayton River Walk on the Neuse (Johnston County)

Trail condition: Paved greenway. Flat, fairly straight, good condition minus the couple spots in Johnston County that are being repaired after Hurricane Matthew.

Good for: Road running, walking, biking, kids.

Have you ever been on the Neuse River Greenway Trail or the Clayton River Walk on the Neuse? Let me know your thoughts on the trails!


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