Black Tea and Cypress Trees at Lumber River State Park

By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, NC Division of Parks and Recreation

Lumber River State Park, one of our southernmost properties, stretches 115 miles across four counties to the South Carolina border. Extensive timber transportation along the Lumber River (originally called “Drowning Creek”) in the late 1700s led to the settlement of several towns along its banks. It is North Carolina’s only blackwater river to earn federal designation as a “national wild and scenic river.” Staff who know our parks best call this one of the best paddling experiences in our state.

There’s something poetic about this peaceful river’s transition from hauling lumber to gently carrying paddlers and boaters between its quiet banks. The river is lined with cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, reminiscent of visits to Charleston or Savannah. It is nearly silent, save the songs of some magnificent birds, like the swallow-tailed kite and prothonotary warbler. Leached tannins from vegetation decay along the river leave the water clear and acidic and give it its golden brown color.

Photo by Charlie Peek

The Lumber River’s black waters make this ecosystem appear mysterious and intriguing. As we paddle, it draws me in the same way that a dusty, dog-eared old book or a tattered coat leaves one wondering what adventures it has under its belt.

The surrounding ecology locked in the fairytale-like atmosphere on the river—swollen-trunked cypress trees, bogs thick with worn stumps of drowned trees, and the slow, southward ramble of the water. Dragging our hands through the clear, cool water took the edge off the summer heat.

I was dying to see a river otter, but learned they aren’t very outgoing in this area. I knew to expect some interesting birds at the park.  The beautiful belted kingfisher knocked my socks off with its intense colors and stylish coif. Quite a beak for a little bird!

Belted Kingfisher

A great egret soared overhead and landed on a lofty branch that looked like it could never support its weight. I marveled as she balanced her bulky birdie self on the wobbly perch and scanned the river for a snack.

We completed an hour-long canoe paddle on this trip that seemed to fly by, and I can’t wait to get back to the park for a longer paddle. I look forward to the exploration I’ll be able to accomplish with my nimble kayak. We had a nice breeze for our paddle and weren’t bothered much by mosquitoes, but on a calmer day I’d imagine you’d want a hardy bug repellent.

Naked Landing Trail Access for hikes along the river

The riverfront hiking trails are not to be missed here. Beginning at the Princess Ann river access, you can enjoy a short trail along the highest bluff of the Lumber River including a 100-foot boardwalk, fishing pier, and an old millpond over 100 years old.  At the park’s Chalk Banks access, stroll a three-mile loop along the river’s edge next to serene wetland habitat and a pine and hardwoods forest. Pristine and quiet campsites are offered at the Chalk Banks Access along with a lovely day use area adjacent to a scenic river access.

Entrance to Chalk Banks Access
Riverside at Chalk Banks Access
Camping at Chalk Banks Access

Visitors, you’ll want sunscreen, a hat, and PLENTY of water on the river. The beauty of a river paddle is that it’s pretty difficult to get lost as long as you exit where you planned. The challenge is that it’s very difficult to go back the way you came. Make sure someone knows where you are, when to expect you to emerge from the river, and have your transportation planned for when you haul out.

Thanks for joining us on this journey. We hope to see you soon in our parks!


Katie Hall is the new Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.  A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more.  Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.

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