Where to Kayak in the Columbia SC Area

Looking for best places to kayak in the Columbia or Midlands area? Our writer has spent the past couple of years doing just that, and here’s what she recommends.

You, Yourself & A Kayak.

A positive side effect of the 2020 pandemic is the discovery of new things. And I don’t mean discovering how good you look in a face mask. Most of us have had to find ways to entertain ourselves that don’t involve being around a bunch of other peeps. We’ve had to emerge from our former club-loving, party-going, theatre-attending selves, and develop a fondness for being alone or close to it. Fortunately for me, I bought a kayak from River Runner Outdoor Center on Gervais Street a couple of years ago and it has given me the opportunity to continue having fun while staying sane during COVID19.

Kayaking is easy. It might appear that pulling yourself through water with a paddle requires a lot of physical effort, but it doesn’t. I would hardly call it exercise. You are skimming the surface in your little vessel, which sits high in the water, and as a result, paddling it is quite effortless. It does take a little bit of exertion to move the kayak from your vehicle to the water (mine weighs 36 lbs.), but once you learn how to balance it from the center of the boat, carrying it is easy. I have also overheard people say that kayaking is hard on your back. Not unless you do it wrong. I have a kayak with a cockpit, my knees are bent as I paddle, I have my foot rests adjusted for my height, I lean a little forward, and I have yet to get a backache. And I spend hours at a time out on Lake Murray paddling.

Lake Murray

It’s fairly inexpensive. I paid $469 for my kayak (a 9′ Zydeco from Dagger), $139 for my paddle (I bought a pricey paddle because I wanted a light-weight one), and $75 for a good life vest. There are less expensive kayaks around. Surely you’ve seen them at Walmart or Sam’s Club. There you can pick one up for under $300 including paddle. I checked on the new REI Co-op Store, but their website says that they’re sold out of kayaks. If you want to rent one, River Runner rents them by the day, and Saluda Shoals Park rents them by the hour. I just dove in and bought one, but hey, that’s just me. Rent one if you like to try before you buy.

Another necessity is a pair of water shoes if it’s summer when the water isn’t cold, or a pair of rubber boots if the water is too cold. You will definitely get your feet wet. Getting in and out of a kayak requires that you stand in the water. I have tried to get in from a dock and it’s REALLY hard!

Obviously you’re going to have to put it on top of your vehicle, inside the back of your SUV or pickup truck. I’ll leave it to the experts to explain the best ways to transport it to the launchpad. Here are two extremely helpful websites to get your kayak and you around safely: REI and Kayak Help (watch these guys make a roof rack with two pool noodles!).

Okay, so whether you buy or rent and regardless of what type of kayak you end up with, you’re going to want to get in the water pronto! So where can you put your kayak in and spend an awesome day?

Places to go, things to see

And don’t forget to check the weather before you head out. The National Weather Service has a website where you can find everything you need about any body of water you’re considering, as well as the daily forecast – weather link.

Saluda Shoals Park

The Saluda is a peaceful river in this section, and it’s an easy paddle. You’ll see wildlife and beautiful scenery. The water is very cold, even in summer, because it flows from the bottom of the Lake Murray Dam into this section of the river. Saluda Shoals Park offers kayakers a put-in on the Lower Saluda River, many park amenities and you can make arrangements for them to pick you and your kayak up on their shuttle bus from their lower boat ramp. Or you can go farther downstream to the Gardendale (Dominion Energy) take-out where there is plenty of parking (you’ll obviously need two vehicles to take out here because the park’s shuttle does not pick up from that location). At Saluda Shoals, you can rent kayaks from them or bring your own. Shuttle service for your own boat is just $5 but is included if you rent one of their kayaks. It takes about an hour to paddle from the upper boat ramp (the launch point) to the lower boat ramp. Generally, it’s a good idea to explore above the upper boat ramp when you first put in. Saluda Shoals Park parking fee is $5. Kayak rentals: $25 for one hour; $35 for two hours and $50 all day.

Lake Wateree

Near Camden, Lake Wateree offers over 13,000 acres to explore. Launch your kayak from Lake Wateree State Park. This large park offers its visitors access to the lake, picnic tables, restrooms and plenty of parking near the lake. Admission is $3 for adults and $1.50 for seniors. Click here to get more info.

Lake Murray

50,000 acres of sparkling, unsalted waters… shark-free! There are many places to park your vehicle and launch your kayak. Beautiful, unspoiled natural shoreline, uninhabited islands, gorgeous waterfront homes… ducks, geese, cormorants, ospreys and bald eagles aplenty! Watch for whitetail deer swimming in the water! This website lists the 11 public access points where you are easily able to put your kayak in the water and park your vehicle.

Congaree River

The Congaree River Blue Trail is a recognized “National Recreation Trail” by the U.S. Department of the Interior for its significance as a local and regional treasure. The Blue Trail is a 50-mile-long waterway trail that winds from just below Columbia’s downtown to the Congaree National Park. It would take a while to explore the entire trail! Here is a PDF of the trail, its parking and launch sites and interesting places to see along the way.

Monticello Reservoir

Located north of Columbia in Fairfield County, this 7000 acre lake is accessed easily from Lake Monticello Park as well as 3 public boat ramps.

South Edisto River

There is a 1.7 mile canoe/kayak trail inside Aiken State Park. The trail gives kayakers a short but worthwhile paddle in a stretch of the most remote of the Edisto’s forks. This blackwater river is shaded and maintained by the park to stay open through the vegetation. Much of the Edisto River is clogged by fallen trees and requires portage, so this is a nice place to explore. Admission to the park is $3 for adults and $1.50 for seniors.

Goodale State Park

Inside this state park is a 3-mile canoe/kayak trail which goes from the park’s 140-acre lake into Pine Tree Creek. You’ll see lovely cypress trees (and knees) and wildlife including alligators and waterfowl. Goodale State Park is near Camden. Admission is $3 for adults and $1.50 for seniors. You can rent a kayak or canoe for $10 for a half day or $20 for all day.