Kayaking South Carolina: Discover the Top Destinations for Paddlers

Kayaking South Carolina: 13 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

South Carolina is a haven for kayaking enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of waterways that cater to every paddler’s preferences. From untouched wild rivers to tranquil lakes and coastal inlets, this state has it all. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline-pumping whitewater adventure or a peaceful paddle surrounded by breathtaking scenery, South Carolina has the perfect spot for you.

Devil’s Fork and Lake Jocassee, SC

At Devil’s Fork State Park, you’ll find the magnificent Lake Jocassee, hailed by National Geographic as “One of the World’s Last Great Places.” This pristine lake, fed by mountain streams and waterfalls, is a kayaker’s paradise. Explore the calm waters, go for a swim, or indulge in scuba diving. Fishing enthusiasts will be thrilled with the excellent trout fishing opportunities, while hikers can enjoy the picturesque Oconee Bell Nature Trail and climb Sassafras Mountain. For the adventurous, the Jocassee Gorges present a scenic wonderland of waterfalls and awe-inspiring landscapes that can only be accessed by water. Whether you have your own kayak or need to rent one, there are facilities available, as well as guided tours and shuttle services for hikers and paddlers. Don’t miss the chance to camp at the Double Spring Mountain area, where primitive campsites offer a peaceful retreat for nature lovers.

The Chattooga River, SC

Originating in the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains and flowing through South Carolina and Georgia, the Chattooga River is a gem designated as a “wild and scenic” river. Its untouched beauty and natural surroundings provide a thrilling experience for advanced kayakers. As you navigate its rapids and enjoy the adrenaline rush, you might recognize some spots from the movie Deliverance. The river is also known for its excellent trout fishing. Please note that commercial operations on the river are limited, so plan accordingly.

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Lake Tugaloo, SC

For a more serene kayaking experience, head to Lake Tugaloo, where the Chattooga River ends. This peaceful lake, surrounded by the Sumter and Chattahoochee National Forests, offers a four-mile paddle with stunning views of small waterfalls cascading down the mountains. Launch your kayak from the Bull Sluice Road and embark on a tranquil journey. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Tagaloo Dam and Tallulah Gorge, which are worth a visit.

Shem Creek, SC

Just a stone’s throw away from Charleston, Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is a popular destination for kayakers. With various rental options and guided tours available, you can embark on an adventure to explore Charleston Harbor or discover the tranquil marshy inlets teeming with unique wildlife. After your paddle, take a leisurely stroll along the beautiful boardwalk, and indulge in the city’s abundant dining and shopping experiences.

Waccamaw River, SC

Nestled within the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, the Waccamaw River is a hidden gem winding through tidal marshes and forested wetlands. This blackwater river spans 140 miles, offering kayakers a chance to immerse themselves in the region’s unique wildlife and habitats. With 16 public access points and a variety of outfitters to choose from, you can easily explore the wonders of this sanctuary.

Capers Island from Isle of Palms Marina, SC

To truly appreciate the diversity of South Carolina’s waters, a visit to Capers Island is a must. This undeveloped barrier island boasts stunning ocean views, sandy beaches adorned with petrified trees, and winding tidal creeks frequented by dolphins, ospreys, and egrets. Although only accessible by boat, you can rent a kayak from outfitters on the mainland for a peaceful and uncrowded day trip or overnight camping experience. The Northern end of the island, accessible via the Isle of Palms marina, serves as an excellent put-in point, allowing you to enjoy the scenic intercoastal waterway on your way to Capers Island.

Lake Moultrie, SC

If kayak fishing is your passion, then Lake Moultrie is the destination for you. This 60,000-acre lake offers diverse environments, including swamps, marshes, and open water areas. With its mild climate, the lake remains accessible throughout the year, providing ample opportunities to catch largemouth bass, stripers, and catfish. Fully rigged kayaks and tackle can be rented from outfitters for a half or full-day fishing adventure on the lake.

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The Little Pee Dee River, SC

If you’re seeking stunning scenery, abundant birdlife, and a taste of South Carolina’s famous cypress trees, look no further than the Little Pee Dee River. This picturesque river is perfect for beginners, featuring gentle switchbacks and smooth waters. While there are no white water rapids, you may encounter fallen trees as natural obstacles, adding to the area’s charm. Starting your kayaking journey at Highway 301 North river bridge and ending at the take-out landing on Highway 57, you can enjoy a four-hour, moderately challenging trip that showcases the river’s beauty.

4 Holes Swamp, Francis Beidler Forest, SC

For a unique adventure deep into the heart of a swamp, visit 4 Holes Swamp in the Francis Beidler Forest. Kayaking through this untouched wilderness gives you a glimpse of nature’s wonders, with birds, water snakes, and captivating flora surrounding you. Guided tours are recommended to navigate the labyrinth of cypress and tupelo trees and to observe alligators in their natural habitat. Launch your kayak near the Audubon Center at Beidler Forest, and prepare to be immersed in the sights and sounds of this enchanting swamp.

Cedar Creek, Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park offers a serene paradise for kayakers, and Cedar Creek is the ideal spot to explore its pristine wilderness. With calm waters and picturesque surroundings, Cedar Creek is suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. While you may encounter narrow passages and fallen trees from winter ice storms, the paddling experience is generally smooth and enjoyable. Keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that calls this swamp home, including fish, dragonflies, butterflies, and even white-tailed deer. Plan your adventure starting from the parking lot off S. Cedar Creek Rd and prepare for an unforgettable journey through this stunning swamp.

Santee National Wildlife Refuge, SC

Nestled near the South Carolina shore, the Santee National Wildlife Refuge showcases an impounded lake perfect for kayaking. Begin your adventure at the visitor center, where you can obtain maps and information about the area. As you paddle across the lake or explore its streams and ponds, you’ll be greeted by a plethora of wildlife, including osprey, bald eagles, herons, and alligators. Autumn visitors can witness the enchanting migrations of geese and ducks. With various accommodation options available, including camping at Santee State Park or staying in local motels, you can extend your kayaking journey and fully immerse yourself in this natural wonderland.

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The Catawba River, SC

Stretching 200 miles from its northern reaches, the Catawba River flows to Landsford Canal State Park, making it an excellent starting point for kayaking trips. This river offers scenic beauty and diverse wildlife, including nesting bald eagles, deer, osprey, and otters. For a thrilling experience, explore the shoal and rapid areas located just a couple of miles from Landsford. Less experienced paddlers can enjoy the tranquility of upstream paddling, taking in the breathtaking surroundings. If you time your visit right between May and June, you’ll witness the rare spider lily’s stunning bloom. Landsford Canal State Park is the perfect launching spot for day trips of various lengths, so be sure to check park hours and river information before embarking on your adventure.

Bull Island, SC

Located within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Bull Island awaits your exploration. This uninhabited island offers a paradise of dirt roads and freshwater ponds, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Accessible only by boat, you can launch your kayak from Garris Landing and paddle approximately 4.5 miles to reach Bull Island. The route offers scenic beauty, and although it can be challenging on windy days with occasional waves, the overall paddling experience is enjoyable. Spend your day bird-watching, hiking, fishing, or simply basking on the island’s pristine beaches. Note that camping is not allowed, so plan your visit accordingly.

South Carolina is a paddler’s dream, with a myriad of waterways catering to all skill levels and interests. Whether you crave the rush of whitewater rapids or seek tranquility in serene lakes and coastal inlets, this state has it all. From breathtaking landscapes and wildlife habitats to thrilling fishing spots, South Carolina offers an unforgettable kayaking experience. So grab your paddle, explore the diverse waters, and create memories in the beautiful waterways of South Carolina.

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