By Crawford Crenshaw, Kate Dixon, Jim Grode and Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
This 66-mile segment parallels the Neuse River as it flows from the outskirts of Raleigh—North Carolina’s capital city—to Johnston County’s rural southeastern corner. More than 36 miles of the route are on several stretches of paved, multi-use greenway, the longest of which is over 17 miles. (The current route incorporates a long-term detour around a section of the Neuse River Greenway that is closed at least through 2024 due to a major sewer project.) The trail crosses the Neuse River several times, affording scenic views of the river, the surrounding floodplain, and wildlife.
The route also leads hikers to the bustling downtowns of Johnston County’s two largest towns—Clayton and Smithfield, the county seat—and past rolling farmland used to grow tobacco, cotton, grapes for wine, fruits, and vegetables. The eastern end of the route is at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center in the heart of a vast, wilderness Neuse floodplain known as the Let’Lones.
Most of the greenway is called the Neuse River Trail (NRT), but when it enters Johnston County, it changes its name to the Clayton River Walk, then to Sam’s Branch Greenway in Clayton. After a road-walking stretch, the greenway resumes in Smithfield as the Buffalo Creek Greenway. Travelers will have numerous wildlife viewing opportunities and an education through the many interpretive signs, which bring alive the history and abundance of natural resources along the trail.
This segment is a great place to explore by bicycle as well as on foot as the entire route is on multi-use, paved trails and on roads.