Just blocks from the South Carolina State House in the middle of downtown Columbia, you can go fly fishing for trout, paddle Class IV whitewater, float down a lazy river and zip line from the trees over 1,000 feet of water.
Yes, this is the Midlands.
Thanks to Columbia's three rivers-the Saluda, Broad and Congaree-this urban center has become a vacation destination for the kind of outdoor fun one would expect to enjoy in the mountains. Along with the water activities, visitors can walk, run, cycle or skate on miles of paved trails that run along the water's edge. The riverfront also plays host to several annual outdoor events, including the popular Rhythm on the River fall concert series.
Here are some of the adventures you can experience on the water on your next visit to Columbia.
- Fly fishing on the Saluda. Released from the bottom of Lake Murray, the dark blue tailwater of the lower Saluda hovers around 53 degrees, providing a sustainable habitat for trout. From late May to early September, the river also boasts one of the largest concentration of stripers on the east coast. Frank's Fly Arts and Saluda Valley Guides offer private fishing charters on the Saluda in rubber rafts.
- Canoe the Congaree. Designated a National Recreation Trail in 2008, the slow-moving Congaree River starts at the confluence of the Saluda and Broad rivers and takes paddlers through the old Granby locks through a waterway once navigated by steamboats, tugs and canal boats headed to Charleston. Carolina Outdoor Adventures offers an 11-mile guided day-trip on the Congaree Saturdays from June through early August.
- Kayak the Saluda. While high water levels can create Class IV and V rapids on the Saluda, the dam-fed river typically sports Class II and III whitewater. On summer weekends, Palmetto Outdoor offers guided trips through the section of the river with the calmer shoal rapids. Some paddling experience is recommended for this trip.
- Tube the Saluda. The water might be chilly, but in the summer it's the coolest place to be in famously hot Columbia. Sitting comfortably in a rubber tube, you'll drift down two miles of this picturesque waterway-with a little whitewater thrown in for fun. The cascading rapids are so mild, you can take small children on this one. Palmetto Outdoor offers tubes and shuttle service for $15 to $20.
- Skate, stroll or run the Three Rivers Greenway. Enjoy the view of the Congaree-and the Columbia skyline-as you make your way down the west side of the river under a canopy of hardwood trees. Along the trail, you'll find shaded overlooks, picnic tables, park benches and educational wayside exhibits on the history and habitat of the area.
- Zip line over the Saluda. ZOOm the River!, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden's canopy tour, takes participants on a breathtaking 1,000-foot run over the scenic Saluda. Starting from a platform that sits 25 feet up a tree, you'll glide 75 feet above the water at speeds reaching 35 miles per hour. Tours are offered seven days a week by reservation only.