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Where are the Best Kayaking Places in South Carolina?

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in South Carolina can let you experience whitewater, coastal water, and swamps. And in addition to that, you’ve got an abundance of wildlife and nature from the moment you launch.

There are so many places to paddle in the Palmetto State, so we have narrowed it down to some of our most favorite. Remember to pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray.

Kayaking In South Carolina - PinterestPin

7 Best Places To Kayak & Canoe In South Carolina

1: Capers Island

Capers Island is a small barrier island, just north of Charleston. It’s only accessible by boat and can be best explored by kayak. Capers Island Heritage Preserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including alligators and birds. Sea turtles can also occasionally be spotted.

The island has a rich habitat of salt marshes, oyster beds, and maritime uplands. It is also home to boneyard beach, where the ocean has eroded the forests and left behind bleached, dead trees.

You can launch your kayak at Gadsdenville Public Boat Launch in Awendaw.

This can be an easy four-mile paddle to Capers Island if you ride the tide out. You can camp on the beach on the island but make sure you get a permit from the DNR before you head out.

You can rent kayaks at the marina in Isle of Palms.

How to get there:

From Charleston, take Highway 17 north to Gadsdenville Road to reach the boat launch.

2: Waccamaw River

The Waccamaw River features 140 miles of Blue Trail and flows through both North and South Carolina. Thought to be one of the best blackwater rivers in the Southeast, the Waccamaw can be a fantastic place to paddle if you’re looking for wildlife.

The river flows through the Waccamaw River Heritage Preserve and the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, where you can paddle alongside alligators, swallow-tailed kites, river otters, hawks and wild hogs.

There are several launch sites, making it easy to paddle short or long distances. The first launch is at Wortham’s Landing, with the first take-out at Chris Anderson Landing, roughly six miles downstream. Kayak rentals are available at Chris Anderson Landing.

How to get there:

Chris Anderson Landing is located just off Highway 9 north of North Myrtle Beach. Wortham’s Landing is located at the end of Highway 111 north of Wampee Road. You can also access the Waccamaw from downtown Conway.

3: Hilton Head Island

People kayaking on the river on the sunsetPin
Courtesy: H. Michael Miley on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hilton Head Island is a popular vacation island off the South Carolina coast, just north of Savannah, Georgia. It’s probably best known for its beaches and golf courses but exploring by kayak can give you a different perspective of this sometimes busy island.

There are lots of quiet creeks to check out and you can even paddle around Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a variety of birds, reptiles and mammals. There is also an 11-mile flatwater lagoon which can be great for new paddlers.

There’s a boat ramp just off Marshland Road and another at Broad Creek Landing, just under the Cross Island Parkway Bridge.

Kayak rentals and tours are available near Broad Creek Marina.

How to get there:

From I-95, take Route 278 east to Hilton Head Island. There is a public boat ramp at the eastern end of Marshland Road, off Route 278.

4: Chattooga River

The Chattooga River is a National Wild and Scenic River that runs along the border with Georgia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are different sections of the river that can be paddled, with sections III and IV having some serious whitewater. These sections are famous for being where the 70s movie Deliverance was filmed.

A good section to tackle if you’re looking to avoid dangerous rapids is section II. This can offer a more relaxed pace, with mild to moderate rapids (mostly Class I and II, with one Class III).

The launch for section II is just off Highway 28, on the Georgia side of the river. The take-out is at Earl’s Ford, just over seven miles downstream from the put-in. Earl’s Ford is where section III begins.

Kayak rentals are available in nearby Long Creek.

How to get there:

From Walhalla, head north on Highway 28. The put-in is just over the bridge at the Georgia State Line.

5: Lake Moultrie

Lake Moultrie is around 40 miles north of Charleston, so it can be easy to get to from the city. There are also several boat ramps, located all around the lake for easy access.

One of the highlights of this 60,000 acre lake is the Jungle paddling trail through a swamp, which forms part of the Berkeley Blueways. This section of paddling trail along the eastern shores of Lake Moultrie can be a great place for a family adventure.

There are water lilies and other vegetation, with alligators and wading birds to spot. This can be a quiet place to paddle, as larger boats generally cannot make it through this roughly six mile trail.

A good spot to launch for the Jungle trail is at the Gourdine Boat Ramp near St Stephen. You can rent kayaks near the town of Bonneau.

How to get there:

From Charleston, head north on Highway 52 to Bonneau. There’s a boat ramp at the end of Black Oak Road in Bonneau.

6: Santee Coastal Reserve

Santee Coastal Reserve is a Wildlife Management Area that covers 24,000 acres of protected wetland habitat in eastern Charleston County. This can be a remote place to paddle, with lots of creeks and swamps. Remember to take plenty of water with you. A GPS might be handy too.

There are lots of opportunities to spot wildlife in this area, with lots of birds and alligators and not a lot of people. There are a few places to launch, depending on your preferred paddling location. McClellanville has a boat landing behind the town hall but you need a permit.

The Pole Yard public boat ramp on the North Santee River can also let you access the coastal reserve. Alternatively, Buck Hall Recreation Area, south of McClellanville has a boat ramp and kayak rentals.

How to get there:

From Charleston, head north on the US-17 to McClellanville. Buck Hall Recreation Area is just off US-17 and Pole Yard boat landing is just off the US-17 on the north shore of North Santee River.

7: Congaree National Park

Courtesy: U.S. Department of the Interior on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Congaree National Park is home to one of the southeastern USA’s largest and last-remaining areas of old-growth bottomland forests. Paddling can be one of the best ways to explore this park and experience these old forests up close.

The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is a 15-mile flatwater trail through the wilderness forest where you can encounter wildlife, such as otters, deer, birds and even alligators.

From Cedar Creek Landing in the park, you can launch your kayak and paddle in either direction. A good day trip can be from the launch at Bannister’s Bridge to Cedar Creek Landing, which is roughly six miles. The trail continues past this to the Congaree River if you want a longer trip on the full canoe trail. The take-out for this is the Route 601 bridge.

Kayak rentals are available in nearby Columbia, where you can also rent roof racks to transport the boats to the creek.

How to get there:

From Columbia, take the SC-48 east to Old Bluff Road and follow it to the canoe launch at Bannister’s Bridge. For Cedar Creek Landing, continue following Old Bluff Road and take a right on South Cedar Creek Road.

What Are The Kayak Laws?

US Coast GuardPin

Paddling in South Carolina, you should follow SC state laws and regulations. However, you may need to follow regulations set out by the US Coast Guard, for example on coastal waters. Remember to check the rules in advance for where you plan to paddle.

  • wearable US Coast Guard approved PFD is required for each person on a kayak or canoe.
  • Children under 13 must wear a US Coast Guard approved PFD at all times while on a kayak.
  • Registration is not required for non-motorized kayaks or canoes.
  • BUI (Boating Under the Influence) is illegal in SC and applies to kayaks and canoes. You will be considered under the influence if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or above.
  • sound producing device, such as a whistle, is required for kayaks and canoes.
  • Visual Distress Signals (VDS) for night use are required for kayaks on coastal waters between the hours of sunset and sunrise.
  • white light is required for all kayaks and canoes on South Carolina waters between sunset and sunrise.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around South Carolina

Final Words

South Carolina has a variety of paddling locations, depending on the type of adventure you’re looking for.

There are also plenty of options for rentals and tours if you don’t have your own boat or you’re new to kayaking

If you’re heading to coastal areas or swamps, it might be a good idea to pack a GPS or a compass along with your essentials

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