Kayaking, Canoeing, and Tubing

Looking for the paddling world’s best-kept secret? You’ve found it - Columbia, South Carolina. For starters, three diverse rivers - the Broad, the Saluda and the Congaree - crisscross the region, offering a range of experiences from easy floats to challenging rapids.

“Within 10 minutes of downtown you can paddle calm, flat water past historic structures like the old Confederate Arsenal or through a set of 1907 locks. There are also class II rapids on the Saluda and lots of wildlife,” says Kevin Geddings, who owns Adventure Carolina and has been leading canoe and kayak trips for years. “I particularly love paddling in the fall and winter, when the trees have lost their leaves. The views are incredible. All you need is a warm coat and a pair of gloves - you won’t get wet!”

If you’d rather explore further afield, book a kayak trip with Bill Easterbrooks of Carolina Outdoor Adventures, who takes kayakers south on the Congaree, past sites of ancient Congaree Indian settlements, a historic sunken barge and to large sandbars for lunch and a swim.

Located within Congaree National Park, the Cedar Creek paddle trail is a well-marked, self-guided path that leads kayakers and canoeists through the ethereal stillness of the park’s massive bald cypress and water tupelo trees. Rent your own watercraft or participate in one of the park’s ranger-led canoe tours, which are free and include canoe use and fascinating stories about the park. You can also rent kayaks at Saluda Shoals Park, which sits on a particularly pretty stretch of the Saluda that’s dotted with giant boulders and small islands, or at Sesquicentennial State Park, where a tranquil lake is perfect for beginners. Many outfitters rent stand-up paddleboards as well.

No matter which trip you choose, get ready to be awed by nature - veteran paddlers report regular sightings of egrets, heron and turtles; you’ll also likely spot river otters, muskrat, eagles and even the occasional swimming deer. In early summer, the shoreline is awash in clouds of white spider lilies, a rare, fragrant flower that blooms for about three weeks.

Rather float than work? In additional to kayak rentals, Palmetto Outdoors, Adventure Carolina and others rent inner tubes and provide shuttle service back to the put-in point for a stress-free trip down the river at your own pace.

Paddlers also flock to Lake Murray, where small islands serve as serene picnic spots and the 650 or so-miles of scalloped coastline is decorated with shady coves and small sandy beaches. Rental kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and even paddleboats are widely available. Launch at a local marina or near the dam on the Irmo side, at Dreher Island State Park and at various SCE&G recreation areas in Chapin and Prosperity. During the summer months, you can also join guided sunset tours of the lake or cruise to Bomb Island, a former WWII aircraft training ground that’s taken over each summer by tens of thousands of purple martins. The area is so popular with the swooping birds that it was designated as the first Purple Martin Sanctuary in the U.S.