Cape Fear - Wildlife Road access near Lillington to NC 217 bridge near Erwin

Cape Fear, North Carolina, US


Wildlife Road access near Lillington to NC 217 bridge near Erwin (Lillington to Erwin)

Usual Difficulty I-III (for normal flows)
Length 7.9 Miles
Avg. Gradient 5 fpm
Max Gradient 10 fpm

Cape Fear Surfing

Cape Fear Surfing
Photo of Gil Williams by Jack Imbriani taken 06/24/06 @ 4'

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02102500 1.60 - 11.00 ft I-III 00h35m 5.72 ft (running)
Upper limit for best boatability uncertain. Please help your fellow boaters with a comment or report.

River Description

Wildlife Access Road Boat Ramp downstream from NC-210 in Lillington.

NC-217 bridge near Erwin.
1. River Left under bridge (steep)
2. River Left past Campbell Falls Rapid (short portage)
3. River Right under bridge (overgrown/steep)


This is a popular section of the Cape Fear due to the many paddling opportunities, reliable flows, and proximity to the Triangle Area. This section begins with several miles of flatwater with some Class I-III rapids mixed in.

This section has had many drownings at high water.

Rapid Descriptions provided by Gil Williams and Michael Carter.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2007-02-12 08:03:57


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
4.5Shaw's Great FallsIIPlayspot Photo
5.2Canada's Fish TrapI
5.4Narrow Gap (Glassy Wave)IPlayspot Photo
6.0Smilie's FallsIIPlayspot Photo
6.3Little River Confluence
6.5Killing FallsIIIPlayspot
7.9Campbell's FallsII+Takeout Hazard Playspot

Rapid Descriptions

Shaw's Great Falls (Class II, Mile 4.5)

Shaw's Great Falls (Stewart's Falls)

Shaw's Great Falls (Stewart's Falls)
Photo of Hole on Shaw's Great Falls by Jack Imbriani taken 06/24/06 @ ?

Narrow Gap (Glassy Wave) (Class I, Mile 5.4)

Surfing the Narrow Gap

Surfing the Narrow Gap
Photo of Chase Patenaude by Jacob Callahan

Most of the water is confined to a thirty foot channel through a cleft of bedrock. This is a very popular spot for practicing numerous eddy moves and rolls. Some of us even like to take a swim through this one in the summer (safely). This rapid washes out at high flows, and low flows. 2'-3' seems to be when the Narrow Gap forms a surfable wave. That said, there is something to do at all levels on this rapid. At higher levels (4-6'), if you take the river right channel directly across from this feature, a nice hole forms. The hole is formed from water flowing down a rock slide. At about 4.5-5' the hole is stable enough to practice side surfs and 360 spins. It is sometimes refered to as the "Honey Hole".

Smilie's Falls (Class II, Mile 6.0)

Smilie's Falls

Smilie's Falls
Photo of Cindy McGhee by Michael Carter taken 06/24/06 @ 4'

Little River Confluence

Confluence of the Little River and Cape Fear. The Little River is usually several degrees cooler than the Cape Fear in the summer. Large waves can form after significant rainfall. Great place to practice rolls and cool off!!!

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
May 18 2017 (614 days ago)
cstevens0909 (159098)
Paddled this with a friend at 2.2 ft. Do your self a favor and avoid this stretch at that level if
you are paddling a whitewater boat. The four mile flat water paddle is not worth the riffles below.
In a sit on top though, this would be a nice relaxing paddle.
January 16 2017 (735 days ago)
jimbobboater (157201)
boated this section yesterday. water level was about 3.25.This is a great section for first time
and beginner paddlers. nothing above class II despite what this page says. first 4 miles are flat
water and a few class 1s. great to let a new paddler get comfortable before anything happens. many
new houses have cropped up in the past few years and Red Neck Campground has more trailers have
paddled it as low as 1.75 and as high as 6.5. between 2 and 4 feet is the best. below 2 and it is
very boney. above 5 features start to wash out. above 6 and it is just fast moving water and some
waves. the scary part of high water is the number of trees and junk in the water.
May 26 2013 (2066 days ago)
Mhleitch (155433)§ion=news/local The picture from
the helicopter shows a pinned kayak under a strainer. Be safe out there.
May 26 2013 (2066 days ago)
Mhleitch (155433)
Another rescue, looks like the same place.
February 14 2012 (2534 days ago)
x (1)
Alakazaam-information found, porbelm solved, thanks!
December 2 2011 (2607 days ago)
x (1)
Three of us made the run from Lillington to Erwin yesterday. The River is remarkably clean compared
to previous years. The addition of the park & river access at Erwin is awesome. We used to dread
the drag up the bank and through the poison ivy under the bridge. My compliments to the groups that
are behind the new access. We need to see more of this down the river. The Cape Fear is a
recreational resource that is being overlooked by too many people.
February 3 2011 (2910 days ago)
fishman027 (151029)
Why does the Rapids section of this page read like "A Guide to the History of Harnett County?"
Couldnt we just get some beta?
August 14 2009 (3448 days ago)
x (1)
Rapids flood out at 6 feet. Ran it today, 2/21/2010, and it was a lot of paddling.
January 27 2009 (3647 days ago)
x (1)
Has any one tried this creek for the putin? Google Map: I paddle Cape
Fear this past Sunday (1/25/09) and noticed there was a good flow (both cfs and speed) underneath
the Titan Roberts Bridge. The length of this creek to Cape Fear is about 2.5. The confluence of
this creek with Cape Fear was wide and poured forth water. Using this as a put-in seems to give
only 1.5mi of Cape Fear rapids.
November 19 2008 (3716 days ago)
Matt MuirDetails
The "Take-out" info for # 1 "River Left under bridge (steep) is incorrect. The River Park was
opened at this location in April, 2008. It is 16 acres with a take out area for canoes/kayaks. A
vehicle (without trailer) can be driven to the waters' edge for easy pick up. The River Park also
offers walking trails with overlooks, free parking, restrooms, and picnicking facilities with
covered areas. For further information, please contact Harnett County Parks & Recreation or The
Town of Erwin Recreation Department. Best regards, Dale Ryals
May 4 2008 (3915 days ago)
x (1)
As of May 2008, there's a new Riverside Park on this section of the Cape Fear in Erwin (at the Hwy
217 bridge): canoe/kayak access, walking trails, overlooks, restrooms, a shelter and space for
outdoor education. Two groups put in almost $1 million to tame the landscape there: non-profit
Harnett (Co.) Forward Together and the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. It's managed by the
town of Erwin, NC, and Harnett Co. Parks/Rec. Getting up the steep riverbank there is almost
heavenly now.
May 19 2007 (4266 days ago)
James LumpkinDetails
I went to the Harnett Airport to check on that road which runs close to the river just west of the
lower rapid section. The road is blocked with a do not enter sign. I asked the airport personnel
and they said it was privately owned, and the owner doesnt want anyone on his property.
April 23 2007 (4291 days ago)
Bracken GentryDetails
A buddy and i ran it last weekend while it was flooded. the level was around 8.5-9 feet and most of
the rapids on the first half of the trip were washed out. its definately more fun at higher levels
and new features pop out of no where. the waves that were at smilie's falls where outstanding about
3ft high and glassy. and a 6ft wide hole at Killing Falls made me swim. the last rapid campbells
falls could not be run as we would have missed the takeout due to how fast the water was moving and
how little the takeout beach becomes during a flood.
August 13 2006 (4544 days ago)
James LumpkinDetails
You can cutoff about 2 miles of the Lillington-Erwin run by utilizing the Wilderness boat ramp
south of lillington. From the river, head toward burgerking, at the third stoplight (Ross Road)
take a left and a few miles down you will see the boatramp sign on the left. You will cutout about
2 miles of flatwater making the run about 7miles.
November 3 2005 (4828 days ago)
James LumpkinDetails
You can cutoff about 2 miles of the Lillington-Erwin run by utilizing the Wilderness boat ramp
south of lillington. From the river, head toward burgerking, at the last 4-way stoplight (one
before the 210-401 split) take a left and a few miles down you will see the boatramp sign on the
left. You will cutout about 2 miles of flatwater making the run about 7miles.
February 17 2004 (5452 days ago)
Richard KoflerDetails
I did the section from the Buckhorn dam to Erwin a number of times, with either my big, old family
canoe or my OC-1.

At a good water level, it usually takes 6 to 8 hours, depending on how much playing we do.

The Rock Garden, right after the Buckhorn dam put in, can be a little bit of a challenge at high
water levels, especially if a canoe is loaded down with camping gear. At high water levels, it
easily can become a class 3+ with large, standing waves.

September 24 2001 (6328 days ago)
Donnie Lee PardueDetails
This section is best done in two days, with the respite being a campout at the canoe access only
Raven Rock State Park campground. It's marked by a buoy on river right. Most paddlers seem to
bypass the upper section and paddle from the Wildlife Access near Lillington and takeout at the
Erwin bridge. This makes for about an 8 mile trip about half of which is white water. An alternate
partial trip would be to run the Upper Little River from the second bridge above it's confluence
with the Fear, then continue on down to Erwin as a regular Fear trip. The Fear is good to save for
when everything else is bone dry.