Wilmington, NC is a great place to SUP. I should know, I’ve lived here close to 25 years. I have kayaked the rivers, canoed in the Intracoastal Waterway and I love to SUP in almost any water I can find. There are the obvious places to SUP and there are some hidden gems that I have found through the years. Today I drove around town and took some pictures of my favorite places to SUP.
So here is my list of the 11 best places to SUP around Wilmington, NC (with maps to help you find them and photos to help you picture the beauty.)
1. The Atlantic Ocean
Let’s get this big obvious one out of the way. The Atlantic Ocean. My kids and I love to play on our boards just outside the breakers, and when the conditions are right, we have been known to slide into a gentle bar break and ride it in.
The beaches just to the east and south of Wilmington offer many easy access points to the ocean. The waves around here are not huge but can be challenging if you want to enjoy some SUP surfing.
2.Wrightsville Beach Waterfront
I really enjoy paddling past the Wrightsville Beach waterfront. For one, there is easy access at the boat ramp, just on the other side of the draw bridge. So, it’s a great starting point for your daily SUP. Secondly, after you paddle through town, you have many choices. You can continue down the Intracoastal, or you can take a left and paddle “The Loop” which is about a 3-mile circle that takes you all the way around the inner island of Wrightsville Beach, right back to where you started.
If you are hungry before your paddle or after completing the loop, you could always stop at one of the many waterfront restaurants.
One word of caution though. Due to tide changes, there is quite often a brisk current coming through the waterfront area. It can also get pretty crowded with boats, especially on the weekends.
3. Cape Fear River Downtown Wilmington
Access to the Cape Fear River is just south of downtown Wilmington. In fact, it is under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. You can’t miss it. There are heavy currents most of the time at this stretch of the Cape Fear River and when the tide is coming in, some standing waves can form.
There is a lot to see from the water though, starting with the historic district of downtown Wilmington. Directly across from downtown Wilmington is the USS Battleship North Carolina. The battleship was decommissioned in 1947 and was made a floating museum in Wilmington in 1962. From a SUP you can get a feel for how menacing she really must have been.
If you continue up the river, about a mile past town, the river narrows a bit and is surrounded by marsh grasses and lots of old dead trees. If you keep a close eye out you could see an osprey nest or even a bald eagle nest.
4. Greenfield Lake
Located Just a few miles south of downtown Wilmington, Greenfield lake offers a quiet place to paddle without being disturbed by motorboats. The lake has a trolling motor only rule. It is a beautiful place to paddle with giant cypress trees filled with Spanish moss.
There are plenty of fish if you want to take your gear out with you. In addition to all the aquatic birds and turtles there are also plenty of gators in the lake, so be careful. Most of the alligators I see are in the 2-foot range, but I have seen some sunning themselves that had to be at least 7 feet long.
5. N.E. Cape Fear from Castle Hayne
A couple miles north of Wilmington is a little town named Castle Hayne.There is a public boat ramp where you can slide your SUP into the Northeast Cape Fear river. I like this wooded area. The current isn’t terribly strong and the trees close in on both sides. It makes for a nice peaceful paddle.
I have fished up here a few times, mostly using live bait for catfish. It’s nice to just bounce a bait off the bottom as you slowly paddle downstream, and you may end up with supper.
One of the best things about SUPing here is that the ramp is not nearly as crowded as the ones on the beaches.
6. Shark Tooth Island
Just the name makes it a place that has to be explored. Since Wilmington is a port town and the large cargo ships have to come up the river to the port, the main channel of the river has to be dredged.
The dredging sucks the mud and sand and rocks, and whatever else is in the channel and dumps it onto what are called “spoil islands.” Well, apparently there were a lot of fossilized sharks teeth in this stretch of river and when this particular island was created, all of those sharks teeth were sucked up and deposited to make the island.
So far, I am never disappointed when I go searching for teeth. A little tip though. While Shark Tooth Island is the most well known to tooth hunters, most of the other spoil islands in this stretch of river also have their share of teeth to find.
One of the best things about exploring this area on a SUP is the access is less than a half-mile from the island. You can be there in 10-15 minutes.
7. Masonboro Island
Masonboro Island is an uninhabited 8-mile barrier island directly to the south of Wrightsville Beach. It is a wonderful place to explore on a SUP. Behind the Island are miles and miles of creeks and marsh grass. The Island itself is a destination for camping and picnicking.
There are 2 easy accesses to the Island. One is from the beach at the very south end of Wrightsville Beach. Just park, and paddle over. The other way to get over to the middle portion of Masonboro Island is the public boat ramp on Trails End Road. Here the parking is free and to get to the Island all you have to do is cross the Intracoastal Waterway and make your way through the grassy tidal flats.
High tide is the easiest time. At low tide, some of the waterways are very shallow and in some areas full of painful oyster shells.
8. Carolina Beach State Park
Carolina Beach State Park is located on Pleasure Island in Southern New Hanover County, just across the Snow’s Cut Bridge. It is a great place to SUP if you are a beginner. The waters are calm on most days and the boat traffic is pretty light if you stay south of the access. There is even a place to rent stand-up paddleboards.
If you do venture north of the access into Snow’s Cut, be aware that boat traffic is heavy and currents are strong. If you stay close to the beaches, though, there is some nice scenery.
My destination when paddling from the State Park access is the spoil islands directly west of the access. Here you can explore, fish, or have a nice picnic.
9. Carolina Beach Boat Basin
If you want some calm water and views of waterfront living, then the Carolina Boat Basin is for you. Even if you do encounter a boat or two while you paddle, that’s ok. The whole basin is a “No Wake” zone.
Access the the basin is simple via a public boat ramp right beside the basin.
There is one paddle-up restaurant at the very end of the basin that you could visit to split up your outing.
10. The Basin (Kure Beach)
At the very southern tip of Pleasure Island Is another public boat ramp that gives access to the “Basin”. The Basin is a protected area. To the west is a rock wall separating the Cape Fear River and the Basin. The wall extends to Zeke’s Island which is almost a mile on the other side of the Basin.
At low tide, there are several sand bars that are fun to explore with the kids. There is also some great fishing back in the tall grasses that border the east side of the Basin.
11. Town Creek (Winnabow)
Last but not least, there is Town Creek in Brunswick county right across the bridge from Wilmington. This is the most secluded of the lot. The access to Town Creek is off Hwy 133 in Brunswick county. From the access, if you paddle south, you would eventually enter into the Cape Fear River. Paddling upstream takes you from the wide-open grass flats into the heavily timbered Brunswick forest.
There is some great fishing in the creek, with some monster bass lurking in the dark waters. In the winter, wood ducks are a common target of hunters along the creek.
So, there you go. My 11 favorite places to stand-up paddleboard around Wilmington. There are quite a few runners-up that I had a hard time leaving off the list, but that just leaves room for the next post.
Where can you rent SUPs near Wilmington? You can rent a SUP in several places near Wilmington. Surfberry on Wrightsville Beach is a local favorite. At Carolina Beach State Park, you can rent a SUP right at the boat access.
Do I have to wear a life jacket to SUP? While it’s always a good idea to wear a life jacket. It’s only required for kids 12 and under to wear a life jacket while on a SUP. Adults are required to have one on board but are not required to wear it.
For more, don’t miss Is Stand up Paddle Boarding Fun? | 18 Reasons to Try It.