In the Southeast there are many signs to remind us that summer is on its way. We’re reminded the first time it’s not pitch dark 8 minutes after we get off work, we’re reminded every time we pull half a dozen inch worms off our shirts after a daily jog. But few reminders are more uniquely Carolina than the blooming of the spider lilies at Landsford Canal State Park in Catawba, SC.
The Landsford Canal was originally built around 1820 as a way to help barges navigate a 2-mile section of the Catawba River that’s chock full of rocky shoals. After about 14 years of use the railway came along and eliminated the need for this form of commercial transportation. The area was originally owned by an early settler named James Land and was once used as a river crossing by local Indian tribes as well as American armies during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. While the shoals in this part of the river may have made for treacherous barge travel, they also created the perfect environment for spider lilies to flourish.
Each year between mid-May and mid- June, thousands of Hymenocallis Coronaria (spider lilies to you and me) coordinate a spectacle of white blooms unmatched anywhere in the world. As the largest known stand of these lilies, the show brings thousands of visitors each year to this state park.
Though definitely the highlight of this park, the flowers aren’t the only inhabitants worth a look. Since the mid 1990’s a pair of Bald Eagles have taken up residence here. Bald eagles mate for life (presumably to avoid deciding who gets the nest in a break up), and this pair has been hatching a new generation of birds for 20 years. Eggs hatch in early April and the young eagles will take their first flight around June first. This means that the eagles just so happen to be most active during the heart of the lily bloom, gathering food and teaching their young how to fly.
There are several ways to see the lilies and watch for eagles. On foot you can walk the nature and canal trail, part of the Carolina Thread Trail System , in the park. About a 1.5 mile one-way walk will get to the blooms and to an information kiosk where you can read the history of the canal. Bathrooms, a playground, and park map are located at the northern access (2051 Park Dr, Lancaster SC).
If you’d like a more personal experience, hop in a boat. “The best way to experience the lilies in bloom is in a kayak,” says Scott Thrift, a local guide and owner of Thrifty Adventures. “You can get up close and even take a selfie with them,” says Thrift. Although Thrift admitted he couldn’t believe he just used the term "selfie", hundreds of people will follow his advice this spring and paddle this section of the river.
If you put in at the northern end of the park, you can expect to spend an hour or two making your way down to the takeout at the southern end. There is a short distance you’ll have to tote your boat from the parking lot to the water. Keep in mind the same shoals that give the lilies a place to grow also create class I and II rapids (sometimes class III when the water is high). The rapids are not difficult to traverse- in fact, most paddlers will use flat water boats- but it should be said that this is not the place to learn how to kayak. It’s best to go with someone with experience. There are several options for guided trips like those run by Thrifty Adventures . If you do bring your own boat, make sure you have all the right safety equipment. A PFD and sunscreen are the most essential. You’ll also want to check water levels. The State Park website can help and so can the rangers. Finally, you’ll need a car drop to get your boat back to the starting point. A mile and a half is a long walk with a kayak.
After a long, enjoyable day spent spider lily stalking and eagle chasing, you’ll probably want to stop for a bite and a beer. Millstone Pizza and Taphouse in Fort Mill offers some of the best pies in the area, a full menu of salads and sandwiches, and a quality selection of microbrews on tap.