Kayaking in and Around Charlotte: 10 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

By James @ Sea Kayak Explorer

Charlotte is North Carolina’s largest metropolitan area and home to some of the best kayaking in the state. The Queen City region boasts scenic lakes, state parks, and waterways, giving residents and visitors the opportunity to explore various kayaking adventures no more than an hour’s drive from downtown. 

If you’re looking for an epic kayaking adventure in the southern United States, don’t overlook Charlotte. Whether you prefer the rush of white water rapids or calm lakes, Charlotte has something for you. In this post, we list the top ten places to go kayaking in Charlotte. 

For more kayaking destinations nearby check out our post on the best places to kayak in North Carolina here.

1. Crowders Mountain State Park, NC

About 33 miles west of downtown Charlotte, you’ll find Crowders Mountain State Park. Situated along the Appalachian Trail with spectacular views of the 150-foot vertical cliffs that mountain is named after, Crowders Mountain’s history stretches back more than 500 million years. 

With its 9-acre lake surrounded by forests, trails, and mountain peaks, Crowders Mountain is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Charlotte. Kayakers flock to the park for its tranquility, where they can float along the lake’s tall grass while staring at the mountain peaks on the horizon. 

There’s much more than paddling to keep you entertained at Crowders Mountain. Visitors can climb the vertical cliffs that reach an elevation of 1700-feet or hike one of the many trails leading to Crowder Mountain’s summit. You can launch your own kayak at the park or rent one onsite. 

2. Catawba River, Rock Hill, SC

An adventure awaits paddlers of all skill levels on the calm waters of the Catawba River at the Riverwalk in Rock Hill. If you’re looking for a laidback journey, float down to the Riverwalk from the Fort Mill dam, a slow-paced 3.5-mile trip with two small Class I rapids. 

If you’re looking for something more challenging, launch your kayak from Riverwalk for a 2.75-mile journey that starts off with Class I and II rapids. You’ll encounter Class I rapids right before you reach River Park. If you’re a fan of kayak fishing, the Rock Hill Riverwalk is a great place for the sport. 

There’s a lot to do besides kayaking along the river route. Bike and jogging paths are available along the river, and you can grab a bite to eat or explore museums after kayaking. You can launch your Kayak near Fort Mill Dam or rent one there. 

3. US National Whitewater Center, NC

Are you ready to level up your kayaking? If so, it’s time to plan a trip to the US National Whitewater Center. From beginners to experts, kayakers of all ages and abilities will get something valuable from the center’s comprehensive paddling programs. There’s nothing quite like it in the Southeastern United States. 

The non-profit’s focus is education and land resource management, with 1300 acres of protected areas comprising Long Creek and the Catawba River. You’ll be in good hands at the center as professionals guide you down its majestic waterways. Based on your skill level, you can choose routes with rapids ranging from Class II to IV. 

When you take a break from paddling, you can enjoy rock climbing, zip-lining, or the “adventure dining” paddle dinner cruise. Purchase a day pass to launch your boat within the park or go on a guided tour to explore the whitewater area. 

4. Mountain Island Lake, NC

Mountain Island Lake attracts kayakers from all over the Southeast who come to enjoy the flat water paddling around the lake. The lake is perfect for beginners and SUP enthusiasts. Particularly, family-friendly Latta Plantation Nature Center is a great place to embark on an adventure in the great outdoors.

The center is a wildlife sanctuary, and blue herons are especially prevalent in the area. It’s also the Southeast’s largest eagle sanctuary. Mountain Island is a protected waterway that feeds into the Catawba River. When you take a break from hiking, you can explore the historic Latta Plantation’s over 18 miles of hiking and horse riding trails.

You can learn more about the area through the educational programs and information on the preserve’s natural communities, flora, and fauna at the center. A trip to Latta Plantation Center is an immersive nature experience. 

5. Anne Springs Close Greenway, NC

A top destination for nature-loving Kayakers, Anne Springs Close Greenway has over 2100 acres of land. Lake Haigler is the most popular kayaking destination within the park. The lake is calm, making it ideal for beginners. 

However, kayakers of all skill levels will enjoy the expansive lake with trees lining the shores. Lake Haigler is also a wonderful fishing spot, so you’ll be able to put your kayak fishing skills to good use. 

Anne Springs Close Greenway has more than 50-miles of mountain biking and hiking trails to explore when you want a change of pace. Boat ramps are available at Lakes Crandall and Frances and Stumpy Pond for unloading kayaks or canoes or at Lake Haigler’s access ramp. Kayak rentals are also available.

6. Goat Island Park, Cramerton, NC

Although you won’t find goats wandering around this island, you will find some of the best kayaking near Charlotte, plus a lot of wildlife. If you’re looking for a kayaking adventure, you can’t go wrong with Goat Island Park. 

The calming waters of the Southern Catawba River flow past Goat island, making it an ideal spot for novice paddlers. As you paddle around goat island, you’ll get to take in beautiful hardwood forests and tranquil greenways.

When you’re not paddling, you can enjoy the island’s paved walking paths, disc course, and other outdoor activities. If kids join you on your kayaking adventure, the island has a treehouse playground for them to enjoy. 

Goat island makes it an excellent day trip when you want to get away from Charlotte’s big-city atmosphere. There are two ramps to launch your kayak at Goat island, or you can rent one there.

7. Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park, NC

Home to one of the best boat launches in the Charlotte area, Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park is a must for kayaking enthusiasts of all levels. The park sits at the edge of the breathtaking Catawba River. On the river’s shore, you’ll find a picnic area, playground, and pier, making the park a great destination for a family outing. 

If you want to improve your paddling skills, the tranquil river is a great place to do so. As you’re paddling, you’ll get to enjoy relaxing views of trees and greenery. Besides kayaking, many visit the park to experience its playground built from natural wood. Kayaks are available for rent onsite if you don’t have your own. 

8. Lake Norman, NC

Lake Norman is an outstanding destination for a relaxed day paddling with a flat-water lake, public beach, and sandy shoreline. Particularly the shores around Ramsey Creek Park, the park is a great place to launch your kayak and enjoy views of some of the region’s most beautiful homes. It also has one of the most accessible kayak launch sites in the area. 

The flat water lake is ideal for beginner and intermediate kayakers. As you paddle around Lake Norman’s open waters, you’ll get to take in stunning views of the tree-line coast. When you’re ready to take a break from paddling, you can relax under the sun on the beach or walk around the park. 

At the northern end of Lake Norman, you’ll find shallow waters ideal for paddling and swimming. Ramsey Creek Park is a popular destination because it’s so close to Charlotte, so get there early if you want a good spot on the beach.

9. French Broad River, NC

French Broad River, NC by Pollinator (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As you paddle down the French Broad River, you’ll enjoy the beautiful scenery and close-up views of Asheville’s historic sites. A trip along this river is suitable for kayakers of all ages and skill levels. There are two kayaking routes along the river, one is 6 miles, and the other is 12 miles.

You’ll start your journey near Blue Ridge Parkway and the North Carolina Arboretum in Bent Creek Park. From there, you’ll enjoy miles of continuous nature as you kayak towards the end of your journey at Hominy Creek, a 6-mile trip. 

If you want to spend more time out on the water, continue paddling through the River Arts District and New Belgium Brewery for a 12-mile trip. You’ll encounter Class II and Class III rapids in more challenging parts of the river. Launch your kayak at Bent Creek park or rent one when you arrive.

10. Copperhead Island, Lake Wylie, NC

Copperhead Island’s 14-acre park is the largest park in Charlotte and a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Lake Wylie surrounds the park, making it an outstanding destination for paddlers of all levels. From Copperhead Island, you can launch your kayak directly into Lake Wylie. 

Copperhead Island is a quick 30-minute drive from downtown Charlotte, making it a great day trip. There are four public access ramps, so you’ll be out on the water in no time. SUPing and kayaking through the wooded inlets of McDowell Nature Preserve is a must for nature lovers who want to experience the area’s wildlife. You can even paddle with turtles. 

Summing up the Best Places to Kayak in Charlotte

Charlotte has some of the best kayaking spots in the Southeastern United States. Whether you want to challenge yourself with white water rapids or are looking for a calm meandering kayaking trip, you’ll find it in Charlotte. 

With its abundant waterways, you’re sure to have a fantastic time kayaking in Charlotte.