Riverbend Green Trail Loop (Bike/Hike Long Route)

Riverbend Green Trail Loop (Bike/Hike Long Route)

Published: August 24, 2023

2023 is the Year of the Trail in North Carolina and we invite you to spend it at Catawba County Parks! This series of articles will help you do that with details on suggested routes across our four parks. Our next feature is a hike or bike ride on the Green Trail at Riverbend Park.

Route Statistics:
     Distance: 6.0 miles
     Estimated Time: 2.5-3 hours hiking; 1.5-2 hrs biking
     Elevation Gain: 350 feet
     Difficulty: Moderate Hike; Easy Ride

Route Overview:
Riverbend Park is named after its idyllic location along the Catawba River. This 6-mile route on the park’s multi-purpose trail follows the outer perimeter of the 690-acre property, traveling through a variety of wildlife habitats including a riparian ecosystem along the river and numerous creeks, an upland forest once the site of a pine plantation and native grasslands rich in ecological and cultural history. The loop is rated as a moderate hike due to length and an easy bike ride for its even terrain.

Directions to Trailhead:
From I-40, take exit 132 and travel North on NC Hwy 16, turning right onto 1st Avenue North to stay on Hwy 16. The entrance to the park is on the right in 7.6 miles, just before the bridge over the Catawba River at Oxford Dam. Once in the park, follow signs for the overflow parking area. The hike begins at the trailhead for the Blue & Green trails at the far left corner of the lot. If the overflow parking area is closed, park in the main lot, walk up the stairs to the park office and take the gravel path up to the overflow lot, cutting on a diagonal to the trailhead at the far left corner.

Route Description & Details:
Begin on the combined Blue/Green trail, a mixed surface service road comprised of a crushed gravel base topped with dirt and pine needles, adorned by lush green moss along its edges. The wide path, mostly flat, travels through a Virginia pine forest, passing a wooded picnic area on the right at 0.17 miles. A short distance ahead, at 0.2 miles, the Blue trail splits off to the left at map stand 19; stay straight to remain on the Green trail as it proceeds into the heart of the park. The shaded path is littered with pine cones and cushioned with pine needles from the loblolly pines that rise above the monoculture, coniferous forest of a former Duke Energy plantation of trees for power poles.

At 0.28 miles at map stand 18, the Green trail splits in two at a Y junction; take the left split which travels on a slight downhill to another split at 0.35 miles. Bear left as the path descends gradually and curves to the right, meandering and rolling gently to 0.52 miles where the descent gets more noticeable. At 0.57, the previous split of the green trail joins in on the right and a bench awaits on the left a few steps ahead. Beyond that, the descent gets steeper as the gravel-topped, hard clay path comes to a junction with a connector trail at 0.64 miles. The connector trail turns off to the right; stay on the Green trail, which curves to the left and begins to parallel a creek, the park’s main creek that splits the property in two.

Turn right at the Y junction at 0.72 miles at map stand 4 where the Blue/Red trail joins in from the left. The combined trail crosses over the creek and curves to the left, just past a spur path on the right at 0.74 miles marked with a sign for the waterfall picnic area it leads to. The peaceful spot with a table next to a small water feature is perfect for a snack, picnic or rest break; in warmer months, kids can get in the water here to wade in the stream and look for salamanders. Returning to the main path, follow the Green/Blue/Red trail as it parallels the creek on a flat, doubletrack crushed gravel surface lined with Japanese stiltgrass through a verdant riparian habitat forested by sycamores, river birches and poplars. Pass map stand 5 where the Blue trail veers off to the right at 0.79 miles and come to another Y junction at 0.9 miles at map stand 6.

Take the left fork uphill to follow the sandy Green/Yellow trail north to the banks of the Catawba River. The Yellow trail turns off to the right at 0.98 miles while the Green trail swings east to follow along the river for the next quarter mile. At the start of this section, look for a curlyleaf yucca plant in the bank on the left, a 3-to-8-foot tall and 3-to-5-foot wide evergreen perennial with a panicle of showy, white, bell-shaped flowers blooming late May to early June, attracting hummingbirds, moths, small mammals and songbirds. The path briefly becomes grassy at 1 mile, lined with river cane wrapped in butterfly pea vines, then sandy again, still flat and wide as it comes to another junction with the Yellow trail which joins in from the right at 1.14 miles at map stand 7. 

Bear left and pass two benches, one on either side, continuing parallel to the river past a few paths leading down to the water. In August, a big patch of Jerusalem artichoke blooms here with numerous 2-to-4-inch yellow flowerheads on tall, hairy stems that reach a height of up to 10 feet. A species of a sunflower native to the Midwest, the plant, also known as sunchoke, was cultivated by Native Americans for its edible tuber; it most likely sprouted here from seeds dropped when the Catawba River was a major trading route before the construction of the Oxford Dam upstream in 1927. The tree canopy opens overhead, lighting up the grassy trail on the approach to map stand 8 at 1.25 miles, a three-way junction of the Orange trail to the right, Yellow/Green/Orange straight ahead, and a spur trail to the left that leads to a picnic area with a beautiful view of the river and the dam. This site is a hidden gem of the park and a scenic spot for picnicking, wading the river, birding and wildlife observation. 

When water levels are low, depending on dam releases upstream, various species of turtles can be observed basking in the sun on logs and the exposed rocks of the riverbed, sometimes gathering there by the hundreds. River cooters, with their bright underside and yellow hairpin stripes on their head and neck, are the most common species; they are often accompanied by painted turtles marked with vivid colors of red, yellow and olive on their neck, head, tail, legs and lower shell. An occasional spiny softshell turtle can be seen in the mix, noticeable for its large size (up to two feet around) and flat, leather-like shell. In winter, these cold-blooded reptiles spend most of their time in the water but never resist the warmth of a bright sunny day to laze above surface.

Retrace your steps out of the picnic area back to map stand 8 and take the sharp left turn onto the Yellow/Green/Orange trail which is a little rooty as it goes over a hump, narrows to 1.5 wide, and comes to an open area at 1.46 miles past a vernal pool on the left marked with an informational sign. Vernal pools are ephemeral ponds without a permanent water source and thus only hold water for part of the year, usually at times of heavy rainfall. A valuable habitat for several plant and animal species, these pools of standing water serve as breeding grounds for toads, salamanders and other amphibians and insects and attract wading birds, reptiles and mammals for foraging and nesting.

The mowed grass path continues past map stand 38 at 1.55 miles, where the Orange trail turns off to the right; continue slightly left on the Green/Yellow trail ahead which parallels a small creek on crushed gravel doubletrack. It meanders, mostly flat, before curving to the right at 1.65 miles and continuing slightly uphill on a grassy, wide, rolling, meandering terrain in full sun. Come to a T-junction at 1.85 miles at map stand 39 where a connector trail goes off to the right a short distance to a corn crib at 1.89 miles. Made of wood slats to allow for ventilation and air flow, corn cribs like the one here were common in the 1930s for storing and drying out ear corn.

Retrace your steps back to map stand 39 and take the right fork onto the Yellow/Green trail, over a culvert at 1.94 miles to another 3-way split with a bench. At this spot, the Yellow trail goes off to the right, a connector trail continues straight ahead, and our route, the Green trail, takes a left. Travel on a slight uphill on a mowed grass trail that is wider than doubletrack into a southern grasslands habitat comprised of a rich biodiversity of non-woody plants including flowering forbs, sedges, rushes and grasses with relatively few trees. One of the most rapidly disappearing habitats in the world, grasslands support a wide range of species and contribute to overall soil health, air quality and water clarity; Riverbend Park has the only public native grasslands in Catawba County. With the area exposed to sun all day, every day, a succession of wildflowers bloom here all summer and fall, including goldenrod, wingstem, ironweed, crownbeard, meadow beauty, butterfly weed, oxeye daisy, milkweed, and red clover. Late August into September is the peak time to catch the color show put on by these wildflowers.

At map stand 36 at 2.08 miles, the Green trail turns off to the right and a few steps ahead, the Woodland Trail enters the woods also to the right. Continue straight to the Floodplain Loop instead, which begins at 2.16 miles with a bench to the right and a descriptive sign about the osprey nesting platform visible in the distance ahead. Nesting platforms like the one here provide safe places for ospreys to raise their young and have proven to be more stable than most natural nesting sites; nests should be observed from as far away as possible, preferably more than 300 feet, to minimize disturbance, limit stress and reduce the chance of predation on chicks. Take the 1.08 mile loop in a counter-clockwise direction to the right. Be aware that the entire loop and much of the next 2 miles of the hike is fully exposed to sun, so come prepared with sun protection such as a wide-brimmed hat, UV protective clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen.

The Floodplain Loop is home to many varieties of asters which blossom from late summer through fall, painting the scenery here in shades of purple, white and yellow. At 2.36 miles on the right, there is a planting of a Schweinitz’s sunflower marked with an informational plaque. Federally endangered and one of the rarest species of sunflower, the native herbaceous wildflower in the aster family typically blooms from August to October with daisy-like flowers that attract a variety of pollinators. Continuing on the wide grassy path as it curves to the left and meanders, walk along the Catawba River for the next quarter mile, taking a spur path on the right at 2.54 miles leading to an open view of the river where mud flats are exposed at low water levels. This is a great spot for watching birds flying overhead or perched on the banks. Shore birds such as great blue herons, egrets and ducks can be spotted at the sand bar scanning for prey or seeking out their next meal; raptors like ospreys, hawks and eagles, including the bald eagles that nest at the river upstream, soar overhead or fly low to the water before plunging feet-first to catch fish in their talons. Various swallows flock by the thousands to eat insects off the surface of the river from March to May. Neotropical migrants like the warblers, grosbeaks, tanagers and flycatchers come to breed in the spring, filling the air with their cheerful song in concert with the sporadic hammering of the woodpeckers, the caw of the crows, or the hoot of the owls that make their residence at Riverbend Park year-round.

Back on the Floodplain Loop, come to a Y junction at 2.69 miles. The left fork will take you through the middle of the field by the osprey nest; choose the right fork instead to continue along the river past another spur path to a vantage point at 2.72 miles. The path then curves to the left and ascends to complete the loop at 3 miles. Turn right just before the bench to come out of the floodplain and return to map stand 36 at 3.07 miles. The first path to the left is the 0.37 mile Woodland Trail you can choose to take through the small area of woods located here; it adds approximately 0.1 mile versus taking the second left onto the Green trail which ascends and meanders through the grasslands to where the two trails meet at 3.26 miles. The grassy trail then curves to the right to go over a culvert and ascends up and out into more open meadows to a T junction at 3.33 miles. Turn left to stay on the Green trail, avoiding the connector trail that goes off to the right. This stretch of trail contains a large concentration of milkweed, a major food source for over 450 insects and the host plant for the larvae of monarch butterflies whose population is rapidly declining. 

The wide, mowed-grass trail with some patches of gravel travels on a rolling terrain, curving and meandering via a set of S-curves on an approach to map stand 35 at 3.5 miles where the Yellow trail turns off to the right. Take the left fork to stay on the Green/Yellow trail, passing over a culvert on a crushed gravel surface and ascending noticeably to a T-junction at map stand 40 at 3.65 miles. Detour to the right to view a chimney, the only remains of the house built by A.L. Little whose family operated a ferry on the Catawba River before the dam was constructed and whose ascendants raised cattle on the property since the 1870s. More about the historic features and former activities of the site are presented on an informational board a few steps past the chimney at the junction with the Orange trail at map stand 34.

Return to map stand 40 instead and turn left onto the Green trail which continues on a slight ascent past an old barn on the right; a short distance in front of the barn and not visible from this spot is the former house of the late Harriet Bean at whose bequest 209 acres of her family land was donated to Catawba County for the expansion of Riverbend Park in 2019. The Bean house is the site of the annual hummingbird banding events held on the first two Saturdays in August. Continuing past the barn, the Green trail veers to the left and ascends, meandering through the grasslands to map stand 41 at 3.92 miles. Turn left if you choose to add on the 0.45 mile Grasslands loop that originates here. The loop is home to a chimney swift tower installed on the southeast corner in April of 2023 as an Eagle Scout project by Anna Kmosko. Chimney swifts use the tower to nest in May; migrating birds heading south use it to roost starting in August with peak usage around mid-to-late September. The corner spot also houses a bench for birdwatching and offers views of Barrett’s Mountain in the foreground and the iconic Grandfather Mountain in the distant background.

Back at map stand 41, continue west on the Green trail past the portable toilet on the right, cross the service road at 3.95 miles, and come to map stand 32 at 3.96 miles. Take a left onto the Green/Orange trail and ascend gradually to map stand 31 at 4.16 miles, then turn right onto the Green trail and go past a bat house on the right to a picnic shelter at 4.31 miles. The landscape in front of you resembles a rolling prairie of the Midwest, though it’s a native part of North Carolina’s ecological history; records dating back to the 1500s reference Piedmont savannas of sunny fields with chest high grass and few trees, much like the one here. A view of the Brushy Mountain range serves as a background to the beautiful view and a picnic table awaits under a covered shelter, the site of the park’s annual hawk watch events held the last two weeks of September.

After enjoying the view, continue on the Green trail which makes an S-curve to a T-junction with the Orange trail at map stand 30 at 4.39 miles. Turn left onto the Green/Orange trail as it re-enters a shaded loblolly forest. Tall pines tower above, the youngest crop of the former plantation sown in neat, evenly-spaced rows easily distinguishable in this section. The shaded, hard-packed doubletrack trail covered in pine needles offers a noticeably cooler setting, a pleasant respite in summertime from the sun-drenched paths you just walked through the grasslands. Ground surface turns to crushed gravel at 4.54 miles and becomes a little sandy on the approach to map stand 13 at 4.55 miles where the trail forks; continue on the Green trail to the right past a bench on the left on a hard-packed sandy and rooty path. The ecosystem changes to a mature hardwood forest populated by oak, hickory, poplar and white pine trees, a noticeable change from the duo-tone look of the pine forest previously traveled. The terrain becomes more technical at 4.6 miles, uneven due to rocks and roots that protrude from the surface; the trail narrows, descends and curves through the only section of the route that may be slightly challenging if ridden on a bicycle.

The Blue trail joins in from the right at 4.7 miles and the path widens to doubletrack, swings to the right, crosses over a culvert and ascends continuously for 0.15 miles on a packed pebble surface. At 4.85 miles, it levels off and comes to a T junction; take a left turn onto the Green trail as it splits away from Blue and re-enters a loblolly forest. Pass a bench on the right at 4.88 miles and descend gradually on a hard-packed surface cushioned with pine needles. The decline becomes steeper at 4.93 miles, leading to a creek crossing over a culvert at 4.97 miles, followed by a noticeable ascent on the other side. A bench at 5.03 miles offers a chance for rest, after which the climb continues, more gradual but noticeable this far into the trek. The trail is a little rooty here, still plenty wide, covered in pine needles with muscadine vines and fan clubmoss blanketing the bank on the right. It levels off at 5.15 miles and meanders on a rolling terrain curving right along the southwestern corner of the park, adjacent to a private farm where cows or goats can sometimes be seen grazing in the pasture on the left.

At 5.5 miles, the Red trail crosses at map stand 17; continue straight crossing the Blue trail a few steps ahead. Take the left fork at map stand 18 at 5.65 miles, where the Green trail splits in two, and keep straight through a junction with the Blue trail to the right at map stand 19 at 5.72 miles. Continue on the combined Blue/Green trail on the home stretch back to the upper trailhead parking lot to complete the route at 5.93 miles. If you parked at the main lot, cut through the field to the far left corner with the storage shed where a gravel path leads to the office and stairs descend down to the parking area.

Mileage Breakdown:

  • 0.00 – start of hike at Blue/Green trailhead in overflow parking lot
  • 0.17 – wooded picnic area on the right
  • 0.20 – Blue trail splits off to the left at map stand 19; stay straight
  • 0.28 – Green trail splits in two at map stand 18; take the left split
  • 0.35 – trail splits in two again; keep left
  • 0.64 – junction with connector trail; curve left to stay on Green trail
  • 0.72 – Y-junction with Blue/Red trail at map stand 4; turn right onto Green/Blue/Red trail
  • 0.74 – spur path on right to waterfall picnic area
  • 0.79 – Blue trail veers off to the right at map stand 5; keep straight
  • 0.90 – Y-junction at map stand 6; take left fork onto Green/Yellow trail
  • 0.98 – Yellow trail splits off to the right; stay straight
  • 1.14 – Yellow trail rejoins at Y-junction at map stand 7; bear left onto Green/Yellow trail
  • 1.25 – 3-way junction at map stand 8; take left fork onto spur path to riverside picnic area
  • 1.40 – turn left onto Yellow/Green/Orange trail at map stand 8
  • 1.46 – vernal pool
  • 1.55 – Orange trail turns right at map stand 38; bear left to stay on Green/Yellow trail
  • 1.85 – T-junction with connector trail; turn right to visit corn crib
  • 1.92 – take right fork onto Yellow/Green trail at map stand 39
  • 1.94 – 3-way junction; take left onto Green trail
  • 2.08 – Y-junction at map stand 36; continue straight 
  • 2.16 – turn right to begin Floodplain Loop in counter-clockwise direction
  • 2.36 – Schweinitz’s sunflower planting
  • 2.54 – spur path to Catawba River
  • 2.69 – bear right at Y-junction to stay on Floodplain Loop
  • 3.00 – turn right to exit Floodplain Loop
  • 3.07 – junction with Woodland trail at map stand 36; take second left onto Green trail
  • 3.33 – T-junction with connector trail; turn left to stay on Green trail
  • 3.50 – take left fork at Y-junction at map stand 35 onto Green/Yellow trail
  • 3.65 – T-junction at map stand 40; turn right to view chimney and informational sign
  • 3.92 – right turn on Green trail at map stand 41 past portable toilet
  • 3.95 – cross service road
  • 3.96 – turn right onto Green/Orange trail at map stand 32
  • 4.16 – turn right onto Green trail at map stand 31
  • 4.31 – bat house and covered picnic shelter
  • 4.39 – T-junction at map stand 30; turn left onto Green/Orange trail
  • 4.55 – Y-junction at map stand 13; turn right onto Green trail
  • 4.70 – Blue trail joins in on the right; keep straight
  • 4.85 – turn left onto Green trail at T-junction
  • 5.50 – Red trail crossing at map stand 17; Blue trail crossing ahead; continue straight
  • 5.65 – Y-junction at map stand 18; take left split of Green trail
  • 5.72 – Blue trail joins in on the right; keep straight
  • 5.93 – end of hike at overflow parking lot

Visitor Reviews:
Well-managed trails and pleasant landscape changes. (AllTrails Review)

Very easy trail and well-marked. Great for hiking, running or biking. (AllTrails Review)

Well-marked trail… First quarter of hike is in woods. Middle half is out in the open with little shade. Last quarter back into the woods. Overall a very nice hike. (AllTrails Review)

It was a moderate trail with some really fun hills to go down, creeks to cross, and places to catch some air. When you get to the field you get to a picnic area with a really great view of the mountains. 10/10 will go again. (AllTrails Review)

This park has great trails. The Green Trail takes you through multiple meadows where there are lots of birds.  This is my new go-to birding trail! There are clean bathrooms at the parking lot and trails along the Catawba River. There are benches, picnic tables, and trail maps throughout the park. The trails are well-maintained and well-marked. (Google Review)

…this is an easy to moderate hike with beautiful views of the landscape. The trails were nicely manicured and very well taken care of. We enjoyed this hike and will definitely be going back. (AllTrails Review)

Route Video:

Other Routes in the Series: