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Bring the Neuse

Camping near the city at Falls Lake State Park

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Maybe because I tend toward all-or-nothing outdoor adventures with obvious death risks (my last camping trip was glacier-climbing in the Andes in March), I often overlook what's right here at home. But camping doesn't mean you have to go far away. It doesn't mean you have to risk your life, or even that you have to give up all the luxuries of home.

The amenities at Falls Lake State Park prove that camping is something to be done at your own pace—whether you have a week or a weekend, a tent or an RV, 40 years of experience or none. The park meanders throughout the countryside of Wake Forest with seven facilities locations and four campgrounds buried behind quiet neighborhoods and country mini-marts.

Two friends and I pulled in to Holly Point campground with greetings of grumbling thunder as clouds crowded above us. Undeterred, we drove through, chose a campsite and quickly set up our tent. Holly Point has sites for RVs, campers and tents, offers electric and water hookups and provides bathhouses with toilets, sinks and showers. Campsites boast fire pits, picnic benches and flat areas to pitch a tent (some sites are covered in fine gravel—the next morning we discovered a sleeping pad is favorable). The sounds of rain and distant thunder made for an early night.

By the next morning, however, the rain had cleared and we hiked the Holly Point Trail down to the lake, which has a ramp for non-motor boats, a designated swimming area, playground and bath and picnic facilities—even a grill and outdoor shower. The view was impressive as the moisture hung in the air above the water.

We had arranged to go canoeing that afternoon at Paddle Creek on the Neuse River, a 15-minute drive from Holly Point. Paddle Creek offers canoe and kayak trips of various lengths to accommodate any paddler, but we opted for a shorter trip. We got there early to picnic by the river and noticed a barbecue booth set up in front of the shop, making our sandwiches look gloomy in comparison.

Across from Paddle Creek are hiking paths and the Tailrace Fishing Area, where people were grilling fish they had caught for lunch. Turkey and cheese was indeed starting to seem lame. Luckily, we soon forgot about this as we checked in for our river trip. None of us had much experience canoeing, so we were glad to be on a guided trip, accompanied by a young couple and a family with four kids, all under 10.

As the guides pushed us out and told us not to pass the second bridge, we realized that there were no more canoes on the bank—we were on our own. Of course, this was only a momentary panic, because we soon realized that the current is almost nonexistent and the water is about 3 feet deep. With some reasoning and rearranging in the boat, we finally started to get the hang of it as we followed the other three canoes down the river.

We passed under green tree branches as columns of light struck the water. After a little over an hour of glimpsing wildlife and light paddling, we had just mastered the concept of steering when we arrived at our take-out point. Minutes later, the guides arrived to drag the canoes out for us.

We climbed into the van with the kids, who were replaying the highlights, giggling and proud of their adventure. And two seats up and 20 years older, the three of us were doing the exact same thing.

Visit the Web site of Falls Lake State Park at ils.unc.edu/parkproject/visit/fala/do.html. For information on Paddle Creek, visit www.paddlecreeknc.com.

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