Paddling the Rocky River

With its scenic rock outcrops and bluffs, swift rapids, diversity of wildlife, and beautiful pastoral setting, the Rocky River is a little known paddling pleasure found in our region. Starting in Mooresville, it continues into Cabarrus, Union, Stanly and Anson counties, before joining the Pee Dee River. I have had the good fortune to do many different stretches of the river in the past few years, and have found them all to be picturesque and serene.

This summer, I kayaked the stretch of the Rocky River from Plank Road to U.S. 52. Thanks to a partnership among Anson County and the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) and others, there will soon be a formal access at the Plank Road site. The county purchased land there this year and is working with CTT to develop a more formal put-in here with parking and steps to the river.

On this stretch of the river, The LandTrust for Central North Carolina received grant funds last year from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund to acquire a unique property that has two rare natural communities and three rare plants, and there may also eventually be some kayak camping available on the site.

Recently, I also paddled the stretch of the Rocky River starting at Riverbend Farm, a new access that is open to the public. (Address is 12150 McManus Road, Midland, N.C. 28107).

On this paddle trip, I spotted a wide variety of wildlife, including two turkeys that flew across and four deer that splashed across the river right in front of me. A group of six white egrets put on a show as well, flying downriver in front of us for more than a mile. The river was a little low and we had to get out in a few places, but overall it was a great trip and well worth the effort.

The town of Midland maintains the Riverbend Farm river access. I was fortunate enough to accompany a group of conservation, recreation, and tourism folks, and we had permission to take out at a property downstream. The LandTrust for Central NC, the Carolina Thread Trail, and Catawba Lands Conservancy are working together on possible future public accesses downstream. There is also a 0.9-mile hiking trail at Riverbend Farm.

Another public access is above where we put in: the Pharr Family Preserve, maintained by Catawba Lands Conservancy. (It’s at 9111 Mount Pleasant Road South, Midland, N.C. 28107). From this put-in, it is approximately 4.5 miles to the take out at Riverbend Farm. You can learn more and view maps on the Carolina Thread Trail website here:

There is an additional public access to the south in Anson County on the Pee Dee River, making it possible to paddle from U.S. 52 on the Rocky, pass the Forks where it merges with the Pee Dee, and taking out at the N.C. 109 wildlife access area on the Pee Dee near the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge (also known as the Red Hill access, location at N 35° 5′ 5.3” W 79° 59′ 55”). I have not done this stretch yet, but A Paddler’s Guide to Eastern North Carolina by Bob Benner and Tom McCloud estimates the length of this float at 11.4 miles and approximately 4.5 hours. Their guidebook has more details on the upstream accesses on the Rocky River, as well.

Whatever stretch of the Rocky you may decide to do, gather all the information you can and carry all needed supplies, and then get out and enjoy the river. Fall is a great time for paddling, when the leaves rain down softly on the water, and the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows in the trees are reflected there, as well. It is exciting that the additional public access area on the Rocky is in the works to make this great place more open for all. It is another jewel in our region.