Winding 250 miles from the Sandhills region of South Carolina to the tidelands at the Atlantic Ocean, the Edisto River is acclaimed as the longest free-flowing blackwater river in North America-and one of the prettiest in the Eastern United States.
The slow-moving, scenic waterway runs through an ecologically unique landscape of cypress-tupelo swamps, forest lands and floodplains, supporting a wide diversity of wildlife that includes several nationally threatened and endangered species.
For canoers and kayakers, it's an enchanting paddling destination where you can float for miles on tea-stained water shaded by magnificent moss-draped oaks. The narrower North and South Forks that feed into the main river traverse remote, largely undeveloped areas, making the two tributaries especially attractive to paddlers.
Traditionally, arranging to get back upriver to your put-in site can be difficult in this rural region of the state.
To make it easier on boaters, the Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce offers free shuttle service to a different section of the Edisto each month from April through October. Most of the scheduled trips are on the South Fork, a wild, heavily wooded stretch of the river less traveled than the wider main Edisto.
For starters, it can be tricky navigating the tight turns in the river's many switchbacks. Adding to the challenge, deadfalls and snags create obstacles in the water that you have to maneuver around or pull yourself over.
But the sheer beauty of the river and the surrounding bottomland hardwoods are more than worth the added effort it takes to paddle the passage. With virtually no motor boat traffic and limited access to the water, you'll have the opportunity to experience the kind of solitude and serenity found in the backcountry.
Bamberg's river trips range in length from three to 11 miles. Boats and gear are not provided, so you'll need to bring your own or rent one from Edisto River Adventures. The outfitter's rental fee includes delivery and pick up of your kayak.
After unloading boats and gear at the launch site, participants follow shuttle drivers to the take-out. They leave their cars at the landing and catch a ride back to the put-in to begin the paddle.
The trips are not guided, but there are always experienced paddlers on hand. With their cars waiting for them at the take-out, participants can choose to set off on their own and paddle at their own pace or stay with the group.
"We started offering the river trips to give visitors the rare chance to paddle some of the more remote sections of the Edisto," Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce Director Jerry Bell said. "It's a beautiful float trip."
The Edisto has a fairly constant current between two and four miles per hour. For trips on the South Fork, 10- to 12-foot boats are recommended. A lifejacket and whistle are required.
The shuttle service is free, but reservations are required. Find more information about the trips by calling the Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce at 803.245.4427.