Paddle through Shem Creek

By:Marie McAden


Standing on the top deck of Red’​s Icehouse on Shem ​CreekMount Pleasant’s party central — one cannot appreciate the diversity of wildlife found in this seafood-rich coastal environment.

No, I’m not talking about the crowds of visitors enjoying frosty mugs of beer and steamed oysters on the festive waterfront. I mean real wildlife like dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, otters and shore birds.

The historic 2.5-mile creek — home to the local shrimping fleet — offers easy access to Charleston Harbor and an important sea bird sanctuary protected by the S.C. Depart​ment of Natural Resources.

On a recent visit to Cha​rleston, I decided to forgo the “tree house” view from Red’s and get out on the water for a different perspective of Shem Creek. A guided three-hour trip with Nature Adv​entures Kayak and Canoe Outfitters was just the ticket.

Owner Kathie Livingston and I set out from the outfitters’ boat ramp across from Reds, passing the colorful shrimp boats that line the waterway just past the restaurants and bars. Within minutes, we were at the mouth of the creek looking at the northwest tip of Crab Bank Seabird ​Sanctuary, a 22-acre sandpit island used as nesting grounds by a number of shorebirds, including brown pelicans, black skimmers, laughing gulls, American oystercatchers, willets, great egrets, ibis, tricolored herons and the state threatened species, Wilson’s plover.

Our trip was just before the sanctuary closes to the public for the nesting season, and we were able to beach our kayaks on the crescent-shaped island and comb the sandy shore for shells, sharks’ teeth and other marine critters. Among the day’s finds were the skeletal remains of a pelican.

During the nesting season, which runs from March 15 through Oct. 15, Nature Adventures’ Shem Creek tours circumnavigate the island, allowing paddlers to observe the birding spectacle.

“It’s just fantastic,” said Livingston, a South Carolina Master Naturalist. “There are literally thousands of birds on the island. You can hardly hear yourself speak over all the noise.”

After 15 minutes of treasure hunting, we returned to our kayaks to paddle around Crab Bank to the edge of Charleston Harbor. From this vantage point, you can see the downtown skyline, Rave​nel Bridge, Castle Pinckney, Fort Su​mter, Sulliva​​n's Island Lighthouse and Patr​iots Point.

As we cruised back into Shem Creek, we took a side trip into Bay View Creek, an inlet that runs past a marsh and Patriots Point Links. Paddling leisurely through the narrow waterway, we saw a belted kingfisher flying overhead, a tri-colored heron on a muddy bank, a group of ibis searching for dinner and a brown pelican sitting happily on a piling.

Just as we were approaching the boat landing near sunset, a pod of dolphin popped out of the water in front of Reds. I don’t know if they showed up to join the revelry or to entertain the patrons on the restaurant’s decks. Whatever their purpose, it was a grand finale to a perfect day.

The Shem Creek and Crab Bank Island Preserve tour costs $39 for a 2-2 ½-hour excursion ($29 for kids ages 12 and younger), $55 for 3-3 ½ hours ($39 for kids) and $85 for a full day of paddling ($48 for kids).

Walk-ups are welcome, but if you’d like to book a trip in advance, call (843) 568-3222 or visit www.kayakcharleston​

Related Content

Explore Charleston by Boat, Bike or Kayak
You can take a carriage ride, hop aboard a bus or follow a guide on a walking tour of Charleston. Or, you can think outside the box and experience Charleston from a different perspective. Sailboat, bike, or kayak around the historic seaport town.
Enjoy the Shem Creek Boardwalk
Soak in the panoramic views of Charleston Harbor from the beautiful boardwalk built in Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Discover Pickett Bridge Recreation Area
Pickett Bridge Recreation Area is a gem of a park surrounded by expansive stretches of marsh with fantastic views of Charleston Harbor. It is a pedestrian greenway popular with sportsmen as well as locals hoping to bring home a seafood dinner.

Featured Products

Town of Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant



Coast Region

Learn More
Mount Pleasant is separated from Charleston, South Carolina, by the Cooper River. For many years it was primarily populated seasonally by Charleston residents wealthy eno ...

Featured products and attractions in "Paddle through Shem Creek"

Nearby Attractions

  • {{}}