Kayaking, Canoeing, and Tubing
Looking for the water sports world’s best-kept secret? You’ve found it - Columbia, South Carolina. Three diverse rivers - the Broad, the Saluda, and the Congaree - flow through 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 in Cayce and has been leading canoe and kayak trips for years. For an unforgettable experience with incredible views, Kevin recommends paddling during the fall and winter when the trees have lost their leaves. If you’re up for a longer journey, 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 large sandbars for a bite of 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 serene stillness of the park’s massive bald cypress and water tupelo trees. Rent your own watercraft or participate in one of the park’s free, ranger-led canoe tours that include canoe use and fascinating stories about the park. You can also rent kayaks at Saluda Shoals Park for a scenic float down a stretch that’s dotted with giant boulders and small islands, or at Sesquicentennial State Park, where a tranquil lake is perfect for beginners. If paddleboarding is more your speed, you can find boards to rent at many of the outfitters as well.
Paddlers also flock to Lake Murray, where small islands serve as picnic spots, and the 650 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, and you can launch at a local marina or near the dam on the Irmo side, at Dreher Island State Park. During the summer months, you'll want to join a guided sunset tour 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.
Rather take a laidback float? Grab your friends, some sunscreen, tubes, and head to the water. No worries if you didn't come prepared with a tube of your own. You can rent one at Palmetto Outdoors or Adventure Carolina and take advantage of their shuttle services for a stress-free trip down the river at your own pace. Bonus points if you have an extra tube for a cooler so you can sip and snack while you go with the flow (literally).
No matter which trip you choose, get ready to be awed by nature - regulars report frequent sightings of egrets, heron, and turtles. Don't be surprised if you spot river otters, muskrat, eagles, or 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.