Paddling the rocky shoals that dot the Catawba River in search of the largest stand of spider lilies on the planet is an annual event signaling that spring has fully arrived and summer is near in the Carolinas. But May and April aren’t the only months that Landsford Canal State Park is worth a visit. A leisurely paddle north of the State Park nets tons of wildlife views and gently flowing waters in and out of small coves.
What Makes It Great
Landsford Canal State Park is one of those places that if you have a kayak, you need paddle at least once. The same shallow, rocky shoals which made barge traffic so treacherous, forcing the construction of a system of locks and canals in the early 1800’s, have created the perfect habitat for the spider lily. This tall, hardy plant - named for it’s long, thin peddles – bloom once a year between mid-May and early June.
Every weekend during peak bloom time, kayakers paddle between the tiny, lily-covered islands, snapping pictures as they go. The shallow waters and multiple rocky outcrops force many to abandoned their craft and walk, pulling their kayak behind them like a stubborn puppy.
But the spectacle of the largest stand of spider lilies in the world is just one reason to spend time paddling this section of the Catawba River. At other times of the year, you can experience a much more peaceful trip by heading north from the State Park put in instead of south towards the shoals.
This undeveloped section of the river is typically calm and offers opportunities to view great blue herons, hawks and osprey, and even a pair of bald eagles that have nested nearby since the 1990’s.
Who is Going to Love It
When water is slow, this is a paddle for any level of kayaker. Anyone interested in exploring untouched shoreline for turtles or simply floating under a Carolina blue sky will enjoy a trip north of the state park. While a beginner can navigate the rocky, more turbulent waters to the south - and will be rewarded with stunning scenery - it's important they travel with an experienced paddler.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To view the spider lilies, put in at the north end of Landsford Canal State Park and paddle South. There is an exit at the bottom of the park but you’ll need to pay attention to find it. Stash your boat and walk back up the 1.5 mile trail to get your car, stopping for a history lesson or two about the area.
To explore north of the park, simply put in at the same location and head upstream as far as you’d like to paddle.
In either case, it’s a good idea to check with the park ranger to make sure higher than normal water flow hasn’t made the area more technical.
The state park has bathrooms, picnic tables, and drinking water.