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Paddling in Eastern North Carolina, Part 3: Devil’s Gut

This is the third in a series of six guides to paddles in Eastern North Carolina. The series runs through the summer. The first, on Greenville’s Tar River, is here; the second, a trip to Bear Island, here.

Text and photos by Brad Beggs
Guardian columnist

The full moon reflected on the still backwater, bats hunting insects, the calls of barred owls: on a hot summer’s night, you’ll feel like you’re in the belly of the devil.

Both camping platforms at Devil’s Gut off the Roanoke River offer quiet solitude, an ideal place to find wildlife and old-growth trees.

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If you can bear the heat, go in the summer (late June – August). Otherwise visit during the other three seasons. It’s a great place to paddle any time of year.

The Main Paddle Trail Details | 1.89 mile to 2.83 one way

Who Should Paddle This Trail

Astoria Rd NC Wildlife Boat Ramp and launch point.

Astoria Rd NC Wildlife Boat Ramp and launch point.

This trail is for you if you are:

paddle camping for the first time and don’t want to travel too far from your car;
a birder or other wildlife seeker needing a place to stretch your legs;
looking for an adventurous picnic date (spring or fall recommended);
going kayak fishing —the rockfish here are world famous— and need a spot to eat.

The Trail Details

As you drive down Astoria Road in Jamesville, you might wonder if boat ramp signs were correct. The the road is bumpy but easily passable in any sedan. The parking lot at 1333 Astoria Drive is large, but during rockfish (i.e., striped bass) season from March to April, the lot can fill with fisherman. The rockfish generally reach the Jamesville area, just downstream of this ramp, around the beginning of April.

From the boat ramp, you’ll head left (west, upstream) towards the Gut, which you can see about a quarter mile off. The Roanoke’s current usually is slow enough to make for easy paddling.

wayfindingOnce you reach the confluence of Devil’s Gut and the Roanoke, head left (or straight, depending on your angle). Keep a careful eye on your right (north) as you enter the Gut; you’ll see directional signs pointing the way thanks to the Roanoke River Partners.

The first stream on your right (north, at just a mile from your start), is Lower Deadwater. The signs here point towards the Barred Owl Roost and Beaver platforms. Hang a right (north) for Barred Owl and paddle until you reach signs pointing the way for the last 30 yards to the platform.

If you desire a longer paddle or wish to camp on a larger platform, you can skip going up Lower Deadwater. If you have the time to check it out, it is worth a visit.

From the confluence of Lower Deadwater and the Devil’s Gut, keep heading straight (west) for 1.22 miles to reach the Beaver platform. The next and only stream on your right (north) is Upper Deadwater, which leads to the double Beaver Tail and Beaver Lodge platforms. At the confluence of Upper Deadwater, you’ll also find directional signs.

brown winter trees and water

Winter’s brown.

Once you pass Lower Deadwater, the Gut narrows considerably and trees grow over the water. This is another worthwhile detour if you have the time to spare.

What You’ll See

During a December paddle, I saw flock of eastern bluebirds, several sightings of great blue herons, vultures, a red tailed hawk, barred owl, nutria, weasel, three species of woodpecker, chickadee and belted king fishers. Warmer season paddles should provide as much, unless you go during the heat of a summer’s day.

This marsh is old and the seasons have weathered the trees into incredible shapes.

Once you enter “the gut,” you’ll see absolutely no human development, barring the occasional sign and the camping platforms.

The Local Knowledge To Make it Great

For a day paddle, you can go anytime of year, though avoiding the weeks around the first of April will save you from the heavy fishing traffic. During the summer, the bugs are only bad about an hour before and after sunset or sunrise. Keep in mind you are in a marsh and there is no breeze to drive the heat away.

Barred Owl RoostWhile most of the birds are visible, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the well camouflaged barred owls. Paddle close to the north shore (on your right as you start the paddle) so you have a better chance of seeing them. Their calls are said to sound like, “Whoooo-coooks-for-yooouuu. Whoooo-coooks-for-yooouuu-all.”

If you’re paddling here for the day, you’ll want to use restrooms before arriving at the boat ramp. There are no facilities at the ramp, nor on the platforms.

If you want to camp:

All of spring (March through mid May) and fall (mid-September through late November) are pleasant, with few bugs and comfortable temperatures.

Winter camping brings expanses of brown —brown trees, brown water— and moderate cold. It can be pleasant during the day with highs in the 50s, but can get to below freezing at night. You may see no one else at all on the river. My first paddle trip on the Roanoke River from the source at Roanoke Rapids to the Albemarle Sound was during the dead of winter (late December/early January), and my friends and I found it quite comfortable, if a bit cold at night.

Bring your own bucket or similar device to “pack out” solid human waste. Each platform has a privacy stall.

Bring a gallon of water per person, per day. There is no available water source for this paddle.

Barred Owl Platform in winter.

Barred Owl Platform in winter.

The Barred Owl platform can fit six people camping in close quarters with tents and rain-flies, or eight if you use a large (12’x12’) tarp instead of individual rain-flies over the tents.

The Beaver Lodge and Beaver Tail platforms are joined together with a walk way and can fit eight people per platform with tents and rain-flies.

Park Info

Go to Roanoke River Partners for information on the platforms and to make reservations.

Cost

Roanoke River Partners charge a per-person camping fee to offset maintenance charges. Visit their website (above) for details. The platforms are free to use for the day.

Where to Stay

There are no lodging options in Jamesville.

For tent or RV camping, Pettigrew State Park, about 40 miles east of Jamesville, offers a nice campground right off Lake Phelps and close to several other beautiful paddles.

For hotels, Williamston (west 10 miles) or Plymouth (east 11 miles) have multiple commercial options.

Big Mill B&B outside Williamston comes highly rated on Trip Advisor.

Detailed Google Map

Use this map to see the exact route to paddle, find Devil’s Gut campsites, concessions and other optional paddles.

Brad Beggs is developing a web-based guidebook to the beautiful paddles of ENC while directing ECU’s Adventure Program full-time.

 

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