With everything from mirror-like flatwater to Class III rapids, Gaston County, N.C., features a place to paddle for everyone from novice to expert. Spring has arrived and summer’s not far behind, so stock your dry bag, strap down the kayaks and SUP boards, and head to the launch for a day on the water. Here are some of our favorite destinations.
South Fork Blueway
The 8.5-mile, one-way paddle from Spencer Mountain to Cramerton on the South Fork River Blueway cuts through 1,300 acres of undeveloped and protected mature hardwood forest. Except for the infrequent train trestle or bridge, you’ll enjoy uninterrupted views of the North Carolina Piedmont, and your travel companions will be deer, wild turkey, great blue herons, osprey, bald eagles, and the occasional turtle sunning itself on a downed log.
Class I and II riffles pop up between rocky outcroppings just below the Spencer Mountain launch. At mile 3.5, the water widens and slows to an almost-imperceptible nudge against your boat. Enjoy the float, because at mile 5.5 the McAdenville launch on the right bank provides an exit point while the Adam Springs Portage on the left bank detours the McAdenville Dam and some serious churn below the dam. Pay close attention to signage along the bank and be ready to take out at the portage. Below, the McAdenville to Cramerton section of river is deeper and ideal for SUP boarding. Water levels are consistent, so you can extend your kayak or SUP trip by adding an upstream paddle against the gentle current.
Seven well-marked public launches between Spencer Mountain and Cramerton make it easy to plan half-day and full-day paddles. Start your trip with a kayak or SUP board rental at Sun’s Up Scuba at the South Fork Village launch. Or stop off at the Village to refuel with a snack and craft brew at District 8 Beer Company. Take out at Goat Island for a taco or sandwich at local Tex-Mex favorite Doffer’s Canteen.
With three new launches in town, Cramerton Parks & Recreation is organizing group paddles throughout the summer. BYO boat or rent a boat at the Goat Island launch to Float the Fork. Pick up a latte and a scone along with your kayak rental at Floyd & Blackie’s and The Floating Goat Rentals just steps away from the launch.
The water is wide and calm on the Catawba River, providing some of Gaston’s best opportunities for kayak and SUP lessons, as well as guided trips. The Catawba River Paddle Club offers kayak and SUP board instruction and rentals out of Tailrace Marina with lessons provided by ACA-certified instructors. It also offers two-hour and full-day rentals, as well as membership and season-pass options for those who own their own boat. Guided group paddles start with orientation at the marina and a boat ride to the launch. A six- to eight-mile paddle from the Mountain Island Lake dam to Tailrace Marina travels a wide and non-technical section of the river, perfect for novices and groups.
A large dock and launch at Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park in Belmont is a perfect starting point for a paddle upriver to the U.S. National Whitewater Center or downriver to York Chester Brewing or Muddy River Distillery, both located at Tailrace Marina. What makes the Loftin launch really special is that it’s ADA-accessible. Restrooms and the picnic shelter are sweet amenities here as well. Upriver in Mt. Holly, Tuckaseegee, Mountain Island, and River Street Parks are also ideal launch points for a shorter paddle to the USNWC dock.
Don’t let the name fool you, flatwater paddling activities abound at the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s Catawba River access. Throughout the summer, USNWC guided paddles are of the culinary variety, including multi-course fireside dining, craft beer, and wine with your kayak or SUP rental.
The Whitewater Option
Ready to up your paddling intensity on big water? The USNWC’s three man-made whitewater channels feature Class I-III rapids, and an activity pass gets you on the water with your own kayak or SUP boarding gear. Whitewater kayak and SUP instruction is offered and includes equipment. Guided two-hour raft trips are yet another way to experience the water. Combined with sunset and a stop at the River’s Edge Bar & Grill and your day is complete.
Lazy Lake Days
There’s much to be said for chilling on the water, and two Gaston lakes offer rentals to make it happen. Paddle the shoreline of the seven-acre, man-made lake at Crowders Mountain State Park or drop a fishing line for largemouth bass and sunfish. Canoe rentals are available weekdays and non-holiday weekends throughout the summer.
Head to Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park for kayak, canoe, jon boat, and pedal boat rentals. The 80-acre reservoir is home to osprey, great blue heron, migratory birds, and even a pair of bald eagles. Bring your own canoe or kayak to launch during boat rental hours. Leave the SUP at home though, because SUP boarding is not allowed on Rankin Lake.
Bring on the Competition
Gaston is home to the Belmont Rowing Center, opening up a cool opportunity to try a lesser-known sport and get a great workout at the same time. The BRC offers rowing and sculling lessons out of its new facility at Loftin Park on the Catawba River.
Earn SUP bragging rights at the USNWC’s Battle Royale SUP Sprint in July and the SUP Stream Catawba River Race in September. Flatwater navigation around a series of buoys tests Battle Royale paddler’s skills in a heat-based, double elimination format. SUP Stream participants paddle a four-mile course against the current, elements, and other competitors on the Catawba River.
Gaston County is embracing its waterways with endless opportunities for any age and ability to make the most of the county’s rivers and lakes. Make this year your time to test new gear, try new sports, and get out on the water.
Originally written for Gaston County Gov.