Camping On the Banks of Goose Creek
Nestled at the confluence of the Pamlico River and its namesake tributary, the fourteen campsites at Goose Creek State Park are spread out under a 90-foot canopy of longleaf and loblolly pines. Boasting five riverfront properties and nine generous and secluded inner sites, you'd be hard pressed to find another frontcountry camp that comes this close to a backcountry experience.
Camping at Goose Creek State Park
Hit hard by two hurricanes in 2018, you can still see some of the aftermath at Goose Creek State Park, but you have to look pretty hard to find it. The rangers and park maintenance crews have done a remarkable job of bringing the landscape back to life in such a short time. With the exception of a few damaged boardwalk trails and a scattering of downed trees along the shoreline, the park looked dramatic under a late November sky.
If you are not overly concerned about securing a riverfront campsite, then save yourself the reservation fee – at least in the off-season. You'll hardly be settling for a lesser camp experience. What the inner sites give up in water access, they more than make up for in privacy. Most of the sites are set well back from the single track that winds itself gracefully through the park. You have to applaud the restraint that the park system displayed when they designed the campsites. They could have easily tripled the number of sites and camping at Goose Creek State Park would still be a good frontcountry experience, but we're glad they didn't.
Woodsheds are stock full of dry, manageable-sized logs. At $5 a milk crate, you really can't go wrong. Park rangers patrol at regular intervals and seem to run a tight ship. Although listed as a 'primitive' campground, the composting vault heads are about the cleanest looking – and smelling – we've ever experienced in a state park that they justify an in-copy shout-out, something normally relegated to the nota bene below.
There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore.
The park hosts a few trails that are unique and allow you to experience the coastal North Carolina plains from different perspectives – by foot and by paddle.
Live Oak Trail
If you start at the parking lot and hike clockwise, the Live Oak Trail runs less than a half mile through a Spanish moss-covered oak forest and then follows along the shallow banks of the Pamlico River. As you get closer to the shoreline, you'll start seeing the unfortunate effects of hurricanes Florence and Michael which blew through the state. Several downed trees along the banks make for dramatic scenery and great climbing for the kids, but also serve as a somber reminder of the devastating power that these storms can pack.
On a sunny day – even in the dead of winter in North Carolina – we would have packed in a lunch and enjoyed a respite on one of the south-facing beaches lining the lower half of Live Oak trail. The Pamlico River – close to its sound – is tidal and brackish. The salty marsh supports sawgrass and black needlerush, creating a home for a number of avian species that you can knock off your life list: marsh wrens, heron, egret, rails, barred owls, and red-shouldered hawks to name but a few. The colder weather also attracts a different population of migratory critters including ruddy ducks, bufflehead, black ducks, and wood ducks plus the occasional tundra swan.
Goose Creek State Park Paddle Trail
If you are all set up, then bring along your kayak or canoe for a short paddle through 19th-century lumber history. The three-mile Goose Creek Paddle Trail takes you through the waters that early loggers used to float timber to a sawmill in nearby Washington. Some of the historical remnants of the operation are still visible from the trail.
If you are camping at Goose Creek State Park, you can access the trail from a dock at the end of Campground Road. If you are a day-use visitor, then Dinah's Landing across the creek is the designated put-in.