River to the Sea Bikeway

North Carolina

19 Reviews

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River to the Sea Bikeway Facts

States: North Carolina
Counties: New Hanover
Length: 11 miles
Trail end points: Market St & Water St and Lumina Ave at US 74 (Jonny Mercer's Pier)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016430

River to the Sea Bikeway Description

The River to the Sea Bikeway (WMPO Bicycle Route 1) is an 11-mile, on- and off-road bicycle route that follows the Historic Beach Car Line, which carried vacationers from downtown Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach by trolley. The bikeway is comprised of neighborhood residential streets, off-road multi-use paths, and a few busy arterial roadways.

It begins at the foot of Market Street at the Riverwalk, with the Battleship USS North Carolina visible across the Cape Fear River. The bikeway then traverses the Old Wilmington, Bottom, and Forest Hills neighborhoods before crossing Independence Boulevard and passing by Empie Park. In the park, you can connect to the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail, a 15-mile route that links other parks, Wrightsville Beach, the UNC-Wilmington campus, and the Autumn Hill community.

From Empie Park to South Kerr Avenue, the bikeway follows Park Avenue, a quiet local street that passes by Audubon Station. After merging with South Kerr Avenue and crossing South College Road, the bikeway passes through the Winter Park area on Pine Grove Drive and McMillan Avenue before joining up with Park Avenue again. Between Wallace Avenue and 52nd Street, the bikeway uses an off-road path, with a spur to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (WMPO Bicycle Route 1A) via Wooddale Drive.

Between 52nd Street and Hinton Avenue, the route follows on-road bicycle lanes on Park Avenue. Beyond Greenville Avenue, the ride is much more uncomfortable for recreational cyclists. Oleander Drive and Wrightsville Avenue are busy arterial roadways with few bicycle facilities and high-speed traffic, and there are several bridges to cross. This section is not recommended for recreational cyclists.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the downtown Wilmington trailhead, follow U.S. Highway 74 toward Wilmington; take the Wilmington DOWNTOWN exit. Proceed south on North 3rd Street. Take a right onto Market Street and follow it west to Riverfront Park. Parking is available on-street or in the city of Wilmington parking deck located at Market Street and North 2nd Street. The bikeway begins at the foot of Market Street at North and South Water Street. Follow the bicycle Route 1 signs.

To reach the Empie Park parking area, follow U.S. Highway 76 to Independence Boulevard northbound. Take a right onto Park Avenue and an immediate left into the park driveway. The bikeway is on Park Avenue. Follow the bicycle Route 1 signs.

To reach the Wrightsville Beach trailhead, follow U.S. Highway 74 toward Wrightsville Beach. At the intersection of Salisbury Street and North Lumina Avenue, continue straight on Salisbury Street to the on-street parking area. The bikeway begins on Salisbury Street west of North Lumina Avenue. Follow the bicycle Route 1 signs.

There is also parking at the Wrightsville Beach municipal complex at the intersection of Salisbury Street and Seawater Lane.

River to the Sea Bikeway Reviews


A third of the ride is designated bike trail, the other two thirds are streets, and a few are very busy streets! Many street crossings, and signage is fair. Had to check the map several times to make sure we were on the bikeway. Won’t ride this ever again.

Not a bikeway in any sense of the word

Just get out a road map and go for it if you are extremely comfortable road riding. Wilmington is a beautiful town that has had little interest in building bike paths. They think calling a heavily trafficked road a bike path if you add a sign.

Not Really a Trail

I rode this in December 2022 As most of it is on road I would call this a bike route and not really a trail Some of the on road sections are on busy roads without a specific bike lane Some of the route in the downtown area is on brick pavement so not fun to ride on I did see lots of signs for the trail where turns required Some other comments mentioned parts of it are in unsafe areas. I certainly did not feel that was true.


I rode this trail one time and did not enjoy it and swore I'd never do it again. It was difficult to follow/find, unattractive, and dangerous. I lived in downtown Wilmington at Pier 33 for 2 months and rode to Wrightsville Beach frequently, but only once on this full trail. Instead, I created a more pleasant, safe and enjoyable route from downtown to Empie Park and then hopped on the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail, which is MUCH prettier, enjoyable, and safe.


well marked and sketchy in spots

Road most of the trail from Wilmington to almost 2 miles from the beach. Nice trail, fairly well marked. There is one spot mid way that switch backs to use a crosswalk on a busy road. Ok but could be marked better. The hard part came towards the end your crossing and and going on busy roads to cross the bridges. We at that point turned back. Later we found if you jump on the cross city trail for a bit it would have helped with the second bridge. All and all it needs work in that busy and contested area.


I’ve lived here in ILM for almost 10 years now and have been keeping an eye on the progress of this trail since I moved here. I bike from downtown to work near Mayfaire on this trail very regularly and, while it certainly has gotten better from where it started this trail still needs significant work. The sections of the trail between South College (which you will have to cross at a light through traffic) and up to the bridge at Wrightsville are fine. You’re on a separate trail and have cross-walks as needed. However, when you’re riding around downtown and after you cross the bridge at Wrightsville, you’re on roads. This is mostly okay because they can be smaller roads, but you will be on some main roads with cars going by you pretty quickly. If you’re okay with that, go for it! It really is a fun ride. But if you’re newer to road cycling or are uncomfortable with cars going quickly by you, maybe skip this one for now. Like I said, the city is working to improve this trail. It’s just not quite there yet.

We absolutely loved it!!!

Don’t let the negative reviews discourage you, as they almost did me. He had an amazing time! Spoke and Wheel dropped off our bike rentals at our hotel, no extra charge. I highly recommend them! We set off from the Ballast Hotel. The brick streets were so so quaint. The ride was very flat. We stopped at the Alcove along the way for a beer. Then headed on to Flying Machine Brewery (such a cool place—great beer and even better music). Then circled back to End of Days distillery. So, as you can see we did not do the entire trail, but plan to next time! It is a beautiful, flat ride

Extremely dangerous

I love the idea of a downtown to beach bike ride. Like others, I was disappointed from the start when I realized it would be mostly on roads, not bike trails. However, the first approx. 2/3 of the ride is pleasant for the most part.

I was SHOCKED by the last portion of the ride. I can't believe someone hasn't died yet...perhaps they have. It strikes me as extremely irresponsible to have this ride even exist and be marked with signs because it gives the impression that it is at least relatively safe (which it is not). It's reckless to have bikers crossing without a crosswalk or light and, more notably, to be riding in tiny shoulders with cars zooming by at 45+. A slight drift of a vehicle into the shoulder would result in biker death. Even the most experienced bikers are putting themselves at risk.

Not a trail, dangerous and poorly marked

It's poorly marked and you mostly ride on roads. Some of the roads are quiet but many have heavy traffic with a shoulder to ride on. In a few cases you are expected to cross busy streets at a site with no traffic light and no crosswalk. This is a dangerous trails and IMO shouldn't even be on this site. Don't ride it!

The River to the Sea Bikeway (WMPO Bicycle Route 1)

We'll see!

Hardly a "Bikeway"

We were visiting Wilmington, NC and were told by hoteliers about the River to Sea Bikeway. Others have said it all and I'm just updating since this it is 2 1/2 years since the last review. As others have said, this is not really a trail. Some sections are very well marked but many are not and we got lost several times, landing us in heavy traffic areas. My husband and I are avid cyclists and have no problem riding in heavy traffic when there is a shoulder. There are some nice sections of this route that are paved "trail" but it is intermittent. The route is mostly roadway, some of which has shoulder but some of the heavy, high speed traffic areas that are supposed to be part of the "bikeway" do not, especially as you get closer to Wrightsville Beach. Our basic conclusion was that it takes a lot of nerve to call this a "Bikeway".

Good Route but needs improvement

I ride this trail regularly. Most of the route is on city and neighborhood streets with some pedestrian/bike dedicated connectors. Some of the portions along Park Avenue have inadequate lane width to allow safe passage by cars and the edges of the pavement are broken in several places, making it difficult or impossible to "bail out." Much of this will be corrected in the future with a dedicated bike lane along a portion of Park Ave. The portion along Oleander Dr/US 76 is dangerous, as it is shared with heavy traffic. An alternative is to pick up the Cross-City Trail at Empie Park or Donna Ave. east of Wallace Ave. via the wooden bridge, then following Wood Dale to UNC-W campus. None of Wilmington's bike routes are adequately marked so take a map or GPS your intended route.

River to the Sea Bikeway and Cross-City Trail Alignment

Built in the late 19th century, Park Avenue was originally the route of the Wilmington Sea-Coast Railroad passenger and freight line, that ran between Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, a distance of ten miles. At the intersection of Park Avenue and Audubon is the Audubon trolley station, listed on the National Register of Historic Places listings in New Hanover County, North Carolina.
I grew up in Wilmington and lived there for over thirty years. When I went home to visit family last year, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the city was building the Cross-City Trail Alignment. In 2008, the Wilmington City Council adopted the Cross-City Trail alignment. Tentative plans for the Cross-City Trail arose from the passage of the Parks and Greenspace Bond, of which $1 million was allocated for a bike-hike greenway system, and expanded through private and public partnerships and through connections to existing or funded off-road trails. In early 2009, the Cross-City Trail project was awarded $2.0 million in funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Scenic, not pratical, sidewalk

I lived in Wilmington, Nc for over a year. This is not a "trail" this is called the loop. It loops around the island and consitst of streets and sidewalks with a small portion being paved. Wrightsville Beach has no smooth surfaces, some is paved, but needs to be redone & most of the path is a sidewalk, & lots of houses and businesses are crammed on this island so the path is made up more of the resident's driveway, litterly a driveway every 5ft. (and is not a consistent level) with many side streets. Impossible for anyone in a wheelchair. I went here 5x a week for the time I was here because this is one of the only areas they really have that is safe for a single runner. I usually would have prefered to inline skate or ride a bike, but due to trail conditions, high traffic to and from the beach with all the necessities needed for a day at the beach that was not an option. Also no bikes are allowed on the sidewalk, or loop. The need to look into developing practical trails that are convenient, long, smooth, and worth it. Your better off running on the side of the road, especially in off season because the street parking spaces are empty. They did extend the path off of the island, it's wider and newly paved but you always have to stop due to developments, driveways, streets, etc. Your better off finding a development and just running or walking within it. It's very sad. I look forward to moving back south at some point but would not move to Wilmington due to the lack of trails. I'm looking for a paved smooth asphalt wide trail that has many miles. I rollerblade or bike 10-20 miles a day, but here I could only run, (about 5 miles per day). I have not been able to find any trails like this by the coast. Any suggestions?

Your advice needed for improvements

"To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the American Institute of Architects, AIAWilmington is giving a study of the River to Sea Trail to the City of Wilmington. Our goal is to provide a document that analyzes each section of the trail and how it can be improved to make the trail a safer more enjoyable and viable means of transportation. AIAWilmington is studying how the trail relates to bus routes, neighborhoods, schools, UNCW, other bike routes, and shopping. This trail has tremendous potential because it bisects Wilmington, and being a converted trolley trestle path most of the easement is already in the city’s right of way so funds will be needed for improvements rather than purchasing land. AIAWilmington has conducted several public input venues using a 16 foot long aerial map of the trail to see how people use the trail, as well as having them fill out a questionnaire. But we can use your help too. Please send us your comments on how you think the trail can be improved. Thanks philip@johnsawyerarchitects.com "

Very Dangerous

"Wilmington had the chance many years ago for a real rail trail, and decided against it, sending the Federal funding back to the government. This 'trail' is in no way a rail trail. It routes you onto heavely traveled multi lane roads with no shoulders. Definitly not for the faint hearted or children. In no way a relaxing ride."

Death Ride

Not only do the roads have no shoulders but people here are not use to sharing the roads with cyclists.

Not really a trail

"Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach are such beautiful areas. It's a shame there aren't more rail-trails or hiking areas in the area. Carolina Beach State Park has an okay hiking trail. As the description for the River to the Sea Bikeway notes, the ""majority of the route is on the road."""

Skip it!

"This is a bikeway in name only. Almost all of it is on city streets and highways, many of which are unattractive and dangerous for biking. At one intersection I was actually brushed by a cement mixer!"

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