South Carolina is a fantastic destination for kayaking adventures of all kinds. From remote wild rivers, to coastal inlets, to serene lakes, the state has every kind of waterway, with incredible opportunities to view wildlife, fish, or simply explore stunning landscapes.
So whether you’re looking for white water rapids to test your skills or just looking for an easy paddle on a calm lake, here are some of what we think are the best places to kayak in South Carolina.
1. Devil’s Fork and Lake Jocassee, SC
Devil’s Fork State Park is the only access point to the crystal clear waters of Lake Jocassee, named by National Geographic as “One of the World’s Last Great Places.” The man-made lake is mostly undeveloped, fed by mountain streams and waterfalls. Lake Jocassee offers incredible opportunities for water and outdoor recreation, whether you want to paddle in the calm waters and enjoy swimming or scuba diving, fish in one of the best trout fishing spots in the state, hike the Oconee Bell Nature Trail, or climb Sassafras Mountain.
More adventurous kayakers will love exploring the Jocassee Gorges, a scenic area of waterfalls and breathtaking landscapes only accessible from the water. It’s a perfect destination for a calm afternoon paddling on the lake, or a multi-day kayak adventure in the gorges.
It’s also a good option if you don’t own your own kayak as there are facilities for boat and kayak rentals as well as public boat launches, guided tours and shuttle services for hikers and paddlers.
2. The Chattooga River, SC
The Chattooga River starts in the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains, descending from its high headwaters down to form the border between South Carolina and Georgia. From there it winds over 50 miles through the two Southern states before ending at the beautiful Lake Tugaloo (which we’ll look at next).
Back in 1974 it was designated a “wild and scenic” river and as a result it has been left somewhat untouched by humans and so retains a very natural feel. It has a protected undeveloped corridor of more than 15,000 acres and is known as the “Crown Jewel” of the southeast. You might recognize it too as some of its rapids were made famous in the movie Deliverance.
Over the course of 50 miles, the river descends an average of 49 feet per mile so flows pretty fast which makes it very popular destination for whitewater kayaking along the way. It also means that the Chattooga is a river for advanced kayakers only, and only three companies are commercially licensed by the Forest Service to operate on the river. Check out Section IV which features its most famous rapids, the Five Falls.
As well as whitewater rafting, the Chattooga is also a great destination for kayak anglers as it also has some of the best trout fishing in the state.
3. Lake Tugaloo, SC
For those of you that don’t want to tackle the difficult rapids of the Chattooga and prefer something a little more scerene, then check out Lake Tugaloo. It’s the lake that the Chattooga flows into and is an idea spot for a day of exploring in a kayak.
It’s a four mile lake that’s completely surrounded by beautiful trees of the Sumter and Chattahoochee National Forests.
To access the lake head to Bull Sluice Road where theres easy launch and takeout spots for paddlers. Then, either head right from the ramp to paddle three miles up to the ends of the Chattooga. En rout you’ll be treated to great views of small waterfalls coming off the mountains.
Taking a left from the ramp though you’ll come to the Tagaloo Dam and Tallulah Gorge which are also definitely worth a visit.
4. Shem Creek, SC
Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is just a few minutes from Charleston, making it a popular kayaking destination for day trips and visitors who want to see everything the state has to offer. Paddlers have plenty of options for renting kayaks or paddleboards, and there are a wide range of guided tours available.
Kayakers can choose to explore Charleston Harbor and see unmatched views of the city’s landmarks, or visit calm marshy inlets surrounded by unique wildlife. The city also has a beautiful boardwalk, and plentiful dining and shopping experiences, making it a great choice for a short family getaway.
5. Waccamaw River
The Waccamaw River is just one of the many waterways and wetlands winding through Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. The sanctuary covers nearly 55,000 acres of tidal marshes and forested wetlands and offers critical habitat for unique local birds and wildlife, supporting more than 400 species of birds and animals.
The Waccamaw River Blue Trail is one of the best blackwater rivers in the southeast, extending 140 miles from its headwaters in North Carolina. River development has focused on preservation of species and habitats, conserving local freshwater resources, and also creating recreation and activity areas for visitors, promoting a great balance of resources.
The river has 16 official public access points, a variety of outfitters, and is one of the best ways to explore the unique wildlife and habitats in the refuge.
6. Capers Island
In order to truly appreciate the incredible diversity of South Carolina’s waters, a visit to Capers Island is a must. The undeveloped barrier island offers incredible ocean views, sandy beaches dotted with petrified trees, and winding tidal creeks visited by dolphins, ospreys, egrets, and more.
The island is only accessible by boat, but kayaks can be rented from outfitters on the mainland, and it’s a peaceful, uncrowded destination for a day or overnight camping. Because Capers Island is undeveloped, it’s important to bring with you everything you need for a day (or more) outdoors, including food and water, and prepare for a long, 4.5 mile paddle. You can also book a day or overnight tour of this beautiful estuary.
7. Lake Moultrie
If kayak fishing is your thing, Lake Moultrie is your destination. The 60,000 acre lake has swamps and marshes, black water ponds, and large open areas of water. Due to the mild climate, the lake doesn’t freeze in winter months, and can be enjoyed all year long. The diverse waters, spotted with cypress and tupelo trees, create the perfect habitat for largemouth bass, stripers, and catfish.
The state’s largest Black Crappie was caught in Lake Moultrie, as was a world-record channel catfish weighing 58 pounds. Outfitters are available for half or full-day rentals with fully rigged kayaks including tackle.
We hope that helps inspire you for your next kayaking trip in South Carolina. As you hopefully saw in the examples above, it has every kind of water for every kind of kayaking adventure, interest, or skill level.
We love what this great southern US state has to offer in the way of unique landscapes and wildlife habitats, incredible spots for fishing, hunting, or crabbing, thrilling white waters, and serene recreational lakes. No matter what kind of kayaking you prefer, South Carolina has it all.