The Best Kayaking in South Carolina
Almost 18.6 million Americans went kayaking at least once in 2021, and the sport continues to grow in popularity. Beginners and experienced paddlers alike are always looking for new kayak adventures to test their skills. There are multiple ways to enjoy the sport, from kayak fishing to adrenaline-pumping whitewater kayaking. Kayaking in South Carolina ticks all the boxes, offering adventures of every type.
10 Best Places for Kayaking in South Carolina
South Carolina is a must-visit location for kayaking enthusiasts, no matter what type of kayaking you enjoy. The state offers every kind of waterway, from wild rivers for adrenaline enthusiasts to tranquil lakes for those who want to relax and enjoy the scenery.
If you’re planning a kayaking trip, the following locations provide some of the best kayaking in South Carolina:
1. Devils Fork State Park
A South Carolina kayak trip is only complete with time spent at Devils Fork State Park. It’s the only access point to the famously clear waters of Lake Jocassee — a humanmade lake fed by waterfalls and mountain streams. The Jocassee Gorges, which is a breathtaking collection of waterfalls, are only accessible by water and ideal for kayakers who prefer a relaxing paddle on the lake. Avid anglers can also partake in some trout and bass fishing from their kayaks.
You can visit this stunning destination year-round, as each season brings unique beauty. Devils Fork is also a fantastic option for camping enthusiasts. When you’re done paddling, you can stow your kayak and head out on one of the scenic trails over the foothills and through the gorges.
2. Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River
Chattooga River was designated as a wild and scenic river in 1974 and remains mostly untouched, making it the perfect destination for those who prefer to experience nature at its best. The river begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains and winds down to create the border between Georgia and South Carolina. The river’s boating season is from December to April.
Chattooga descends at an average of 49 feet per mile, so it flows rapidly and boasts multiple class four and five rapids. These exhilarating rapids make it a prime destination for experienced and trained kayakers looking to tackle some challenging rapids. You can use multiple public access points along the riverbanks to launch your kayak.
When negotiating the Chattooga’s robust currents, it’s essential to check the weather conditions before you launch. Throughout your trip, you’ll experience a combination of calm sections and technical whitewater, so ensure you have a basic understanding of what to expect in the river’s different areas.
3. Congaree National Park
Explore some of the tallest trees in eastern North America, experience the magnitude of the old-growth forest and enjoy the wildlife in its natural habitat. One of the best ways to see Congaree National Park is by kayak, as you get close to its many natural wonders. If you’re lucky, you might spot the North American river otter, wild boar or coyote.
There are several waterway trails to choose from, including the following:
- South Cedar Creek Landing: You can explore upstream or downstream from Cedar Creek Landing. This serene portion of the creek is perfect for those who prefer to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings.
- Bannister’s Bridge to Cedar Creek Landing: The stream gets wider along this route, and you see some of the largest trees in the park on either side of the creek. Watch for snakes and turtles sunning themselves on the many fallen trees.
- Cedar Creek to Route 601 Landing: This trip is best done with an overnight stop and takes you through the wilder section of the park, past some of the oldest remaining forests.
4. Waccamaw River Blue Trail
The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge boasts many wetlands and waterways, covering tidal marshes and forested wetlands. This unique ecosystem offers a habitat for the local birds and wildlife, and the park is home to more than 400 species of birds and animals.
The Waccamaw Blue River Trail has over 140 miles of exquisite blackwater from its headwaters in North Carolina. Its development remains focused on preserving wildlife and habitats, making it one of the best kayaking trips for nature enthusiasts. Although traversing the river during daylight hours is best, travelers can camp in designated areas.
There are 16 public access points to this Blue River Trail. Wherever you choose to launch your kayak, you’ll have ample opportunities to spot wildlife and experience the breathtaking views of the winding tidal creeks. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, the Waccamaw Blue River Trail provides everything you need from a kayak trip. When you want to take a break from the water, you can stop at one of the many picnic spots and even try your hand at fishing.
5. Lake Tugaloo
Chattooga River flows into Lake Tugaloo, but if you prefer to avoid the challenging rapids of the river itself, the lake provides a more serene option. This lake is a fantastic location to spend the day exploring from your kayak, surrounded by the trees of the Chattahoochee and Sumter National Forests. You’ll have some great views of small waterfalls coming off the surrounding mountains on your travels.
You can choose to paddle left or right from the boat ramp. If you paddle left, you’ll reach Tallulah Gorge and Tugaloo Dam — both exquisite sightseeing opportunities. If you turn right from the ramp, you’ll paddle just under 3 miles to the river’s end. Whichever direction you choose, Lake Tugaloo is ideal for anyone who likes to take it slow, and you can rest assured you’ll have a front-row seat to everything nature has to offer.
6. Little Pee Dee River
Little Pee Dee River is an ideal kayak trip for bird and nature lovers or anyone who wants to relax and appreciate the surroundings in a less crowded setting. Certain river sections have state scenic river designation, and this water trail has something to offer kayaking enthusiasts of all levels. It does contain some switchbacks and swift water to get your heart racing, but there is no whitewater. Due to the area’s remoteness, you may encounter fallen trees and other obstacles on your travels.
There are several access areas to get out on the breakwater and start your journey. You can choose from various routes to paddle along this stretch of river, from a short trip upriver to a more extended trip down that can last a few days. Anglers can enjoy bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish and crappie fishing against a backdrop of cypress trees. When the water level is lower, there are plenty of white, sandy beaches where you can stop and have a quick snack.
7. Capers Island
Caper’s Island, near Charleston, is a State Heritage Preserve and a must for anyone who wants a diverse experience of South Carolina’s waters. This undeveloped barrier island is a fantastic place to experience ocean views and sandy beaches. You can also spot incredible wildlife in the meandering tidal creeks, including abundant bird and marine life. Bird lovers will love the diversity of habitats, which draw many migratory bird species.
You can only access the island by boat, making it a tranquil and secluded destination for a day or overnight trip. You’ll have plenty of options to build your campsite, but as the island is undeveloped, ensure you bring everything you need for your stay, including food and water. In addition, this trip is suited to kayakers with some experience. While ashore, walk through the maritime forest to complete the experience.
8. Shem Creek
Shem Creek offers miles of paddling from central Mount Pleasant to Charleston Harbor through wildlife-rich marshlands and calm, meandering waters. Expect to paddle alongside bottlenose dolphins and try and catch sight of the manatees, sea turtles and pelicans in the warmer months. When you reach the harbor, you can explore Charleston by water, flanked by the city skyline.
There is something for everyone, whether you’re an experienced kayaker or a complete beginner, making it ideal for family day trips. It’s a fantastic way to experience the different sides of South Carolina, from a secluded start to a bustling harbor. Kayak around the boardwalk, try kayak fishing or kayak by moonlight — the options are varied.
9. Lake Moultrie
Lake Moultrie is ideal for kayak fishing enthusiasts, who can expect largemouth bass, catfish, stripers and crappies. The swamps, marshes and black water ponds don’t freeze in the winter, so kayakers can enjoy them year-round. Although the water can get choppy on a windy day, there are plenty of places along the shoreline to find breaks in the wind, making parts of Lake Moultrie suitable for all levels.
You can choose to traverse many sections of the lake, and those who prefer activities other than fishing can look forward to camping under vast, starlit skies, relaxing on the beautiful beaches and taking in the exquisite scenery. The lake has many kayaking options, from easy skill-level water trails like the Cross Fish Hatchery to the more challenging Santee Canal. For a multi-day trip, consider the Swamp Fox Canoe and Camping Trail for five days of exquisite paddling through the cypress-filled scenery.
10. Cedar Creek
Although Cedar Creek is in Congaree National Park, its pristine wilderness and easy paddling are worth mentioning. There are landings at either side of the creek, and although you’ll need to navigate the occasional obstacle or narrow section, the fishing and wildlife opportunities are abundant.
When the water is up, you can look forward to mini rapids and even whitewater to get your heart pumping, intermingled with long, flat water sections. Ensure you research which areas of this blackwater stream are best suited to your experience level before you launch. Camping is permitted for those who enjoy a more rugged experience.
How to Prepare for Kayaking in South Carolina
Kayak trips are much more enjoyable with a bit of preparation. A basic kayaking checklist is essential for whatever you plan to do on your journey and wherever your chosen venue is. Depending on where you’re going, you can add or remove items from your list as needed. The following ideas can help get you started:
- Kayak and equipment: All of the abovementioned locations offer kayak and equipment rentals, but if you have your own, your trip is often more enjoyable.
- Appropriate clothing: Some kayakers prefer wetsuits or dry tops, but a T-shirt and shorts are perfect for warmer weather. Take a change of clothes with you just in case. Avoid cotton clothing, as cotton absorbs water. Opt for quick-drying clothing like nylon or polyester.
- Dry bag: You’ll likely want to bring a cell phone or camera on your trip to capture those special moments and stunning views. Ensure you pack them in a watertight bag to keep them dry even if you capsize.
- Sun protection: Double-check that you have waterproof sunscreen and reapply regularly. Wearing a hat and sunglasses is also a good idea to protect your eyes from the glare of the water.
- Camping equipment: Many of our top 10 locations offer camping options, some more rugged than others. Check with your destination so you know what you need, but remember your shelter, sleeping bags, food, water and cooking utensils.
- Insect repellent: Rivers and creeks are homes to all types of wildlife, including mosquitos. Pack plenty of insect repellent so you can focus on having a good time instead of swatting bugs.
- First-aid kit: A first-aid kit is one of the most essential items to have with you. Store yours in a waterproof bag that’s easy to find while you’re on the water.
- Helmets: A helmet is another essential piece of equipment, even if you’re not negotiating rapids or whitewater.
- Maps: Whatever destination you choose, a map of the waterways is important to have with you.
- Binoculars: If wildlife spotting is on your to-do list, a pair of waterproof binoculars is an excellent tool.
- Fishing equipment: Many South Carolina kayaking trips are perfect opportunities for kayak fishing, so remember your fishing supplies when you set out on the water.
Safety always comes first on a kayak trip. Keep your eye on the weather conditions throughout the day and play it safe if things get rougher than expected or the weather changes. Check the wind, tide and swell along your route, and stay within your comfort zone when exploring new places.
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