If you are up for an unforgettable experience the trip from Lillington to Wilmington might be for you! With greater reward comes greater commitment. Lillington to Wilmington is 146 mile trip that offers an amazing scenery of changing ecosystems from Piedmont to Coastal, variety of landscapes and endless wildlife in water, on land and in the air.
The first 14 miles from Lillington to few miles past Erwin has some rapids, Class I, II, II+. Always be sure to check river level, because at higher levels you will encounter Class III rapids and likely capsize without proper equipment and skills. After the first 14 miles the river will flatten out and will remain that way for the majority of the trip.
There are 3 locks on the river that you have to port around. Lock #3 is located 16 miles past Persons St. access point in Fayetteville. Lock #2 is located just passed Elizabethtown, right about half way point. Lock #1 is 32 miles before Wilmington's Dram Tree Park, which is the take out.
Very common question is how long would it take to complete the trip. Too many times we hear folks plan over their heads some unrealistic goals. Our suggestion is to plan paddling no more than 20 miles per day, considering you are in a very good physical shape, but have not been trained specifically to paddle long distances. You will be sore and tired - for sure! But with adequate breaks, nutrition intake, and planning it is doable. With that in mind, you can plan to complete the trip in 7 days and 6 nights. If you have more time you can make the trip even better! You'll have much better time if you don't exhaust yourself. If you are limited on time just do a shorter section, you'll be glad you did!
Unfortunately, there are no designated campsites along the way. Be prepared to do very primitive camping on the side of a river. A lot of the times banks are quite muddy and challenging to find a good spot to camp on. Having prior camping experience would go a long way. Using hammock is also a very good idea!
Single best source that we know of is the book called "Paddling Eastern North Carolina" by Paul G. Ferguson. It gives you all access points along the way, in case you plan to complete this trip in sections. Also, you can find more detailed description of the river and the surrounding areas.