The Black River may be the most beloved place to paddle in eastern North Carolina, and for good reason. One, it's remote, making its way through the Down East farmland of Sampson, Bladen and Pender counties. Despite the fact it passes numerous hog farms, it also has some of the cleanest water in the state, earning Outstanding Resources Waters designation in 1994. And the blackwater swamps through which it passes have some of the oldest living trees in Eastern North America. That's a lot to recommend in a river. In large part it's because of those ancient trees that paddling the Black is magical. You put in and slowly make your way downstream, slowly because it's easy to lose the main channel in these swamplike surroundings. Slowly, too, because you're constantly on the lookout for the ancient cypress who tip their age not so much by their height, but by their girth. It's a stunning thing to suddenly come upon a massive trunk indicating a tree that might date back to the time of Christ. A favorite stretch is Section 5, a 7.6-mile run from the Ivanhoe Road access in Sampson County to the pullout at Beatty's Bridge Road less than three-and-a-half miles away. Part of the reason it's a fave: through an agreement with the land-owning International Paper Company the Cape Fear River Watch maintains a rare campsite on the Black, about midway down Section 5. Reservations can be made at 800.380.3485. More info: Paul Ferguson's "Paddling Eastern North Carolina," Pocosin Press Maps: Paul Ferguson's "Paddling Eastern North Carolina," Pocosin Press Getting there from downtown Wilmington here.