Just below the Lake Wylie Dam the Catawba river flows gently enough for a serene flat-water paddle past parks, wildlife habitat, and through some very historic places. This 30-mile stretch of dam controlled blue-way offers several options with multiple put-ins and take-outs. The new Riverwalk community is an exciting development for outdoors lovers and a great starting spot for all levels of paddlers.
What Makes It Great
Just south of the Lake Wylie Dam and the NC/SC border, 30 miles of nearly uninterrupted water flows past several important locations. With several options for getting in and out of the river, this section of the Catawba is an excellent way to spend an hour or a day in a ‘yak.
The first section begins at Fort Mill Dam. Drop your boat in near New Gray Rock Rd and paddle south – as if you have a choice, there’s a giant dam to the north.
After a few miles you’ll pass under the bridges for highways 77 and 21. Look to the right and there’s the paved boat launch at the new Riverwalk Development.
If you decide to continue further, your next opportunity to exit is another few miles down river. Also on the right keep an eye out for the launch at River Park. In total that’s about 6 miles of paddling so far.
Ready for more? You better be. The next section of blue way runs 18 miles from River Park to Lansford Canal State Park. This is a beautiful stretch of water with limited development along its banks. You’ll float past the Catawba Indian Reservation on the way down.
The final section of river flows about 7.5 miles from Lansford Canal down to the launch at highway 9. Home of the famous spider lilies, rocky shoals, and historic canals, this area is a must paddle and is detailed more completely here.
No matter which piece of the Catawba you explore, expect a lot of company, especially in the morning and late afternoon. Great blue herons perch near the bank, lifting off in a slow grace that seems impossible for flight. Osprey, hawks, and even the occasional eagle soar overhead, occasionally diving for an unlucky bass. And under overhanging trees turtles plop in the water when kayaks get too close for their liking.
Who is Going to Love It
Since the river is usually calm and a paddle can mean a short circle near the launch or a 30-mile sojourn, this section of river is a good option for every level of paddler. For beginners, it might be best to stick near the Riverwalk launch. More experienced paddlers will want to head down to Landsford Canal State Park for a more remote experience.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are four popular public launches along this stretch of river. Just below the Lake Wylie Dam, at the new Riverwalk development, River Park, Lansford Canal, and Highway 9. Parking is fairly abundant at each site.
It’s important to check for water levels before getting on the river. Below 80 cubic feet per minute (cfm) and you’ll be carrying your boat. Above 11,800 cfm and the mile class I rapids morph into II’s and III’s. Duke Power manages and flow and is a great resource for understanding current conditions.