Lake Marion, South Carolina’s largest lake, has long been known for its big fish and abundant wildlife. On weekends, the lake is teaming with boaters trolling for striped bass, white perch, crappie, shellcrackers, bream and catfish. A record-breaking Largemouth bass — a 16.2-pound whopper — was caught in the horn-shaped reservoir.
But despite its popularity with anglers, this 110,000-acre recreational paradise offers kayakers and canoers one of the most beautiful and secluded paddling destinations in the state.
At the lake’s northernmost point, where the Santee River ends the first leg of its 143-mile journey to the Atlantic, are hundreds of acres of wetlands too shallow to be navigated by motorboats.
One particularly remote section can be accessed from Pack’s Landing in Pinewood. I had a chance to experience the beauty of the pristine swamp flats, paddling deep into the submerged cypress and tupelo forest.
A word of warning: Unless you are paddling with someone familiar with the terrain, you’ll need to bring along a GPS that can track your route. The swamp is a cleverly crafted maze created by Mother Nature to confound those who think they can outsmart her. One can become easily lost navigating through the network of shallow water passages that wind among a never-ending expanse of moss-covered trees.
From Pack’s Landing, the journey begins with a half-mile paddle over open water, following the path of a Lone Star railway trestle. This leads to a canal that connects to the Santee River.
The day we paddled, the current was working against us, making it a bit of a struggle to get the half-mile up the canal to the creek that leads into the swamp. A few john boats will venture into the creek, but mostly it’s a quiet paddle through a stunning tunnel of trees. At one point, we saw a deer walking through the wetlands. There were also duck, anhinga and hawk sightings along the way.
After 20 minutes, we left the main channel to explore the cypress swampland. We had to paddle under a couple of downed trees and through some very shallow sections, but most of the route was easily passable with a little nimble maneuvering. At least once, we had to turn around and find a different route as the water level was too low even for kayaks.
There isn’t a lot of dry land in the swamp, so we rafted together and had lunch in our boats. The setting was fantastic with 360-degree views of the wetlands.
After a couple of hours wandering around the swamp, we returned to the creek to make our way back to the canal. The current was still flowing fast—only now we had to paddle against the water. I’m not going to lie, it was a workout. But nothing that an intermediate paddler couldn’t handle.
In total, we paddled nine miles — most of it in the solitude of the wilderness.
If you’d rather not venture into the swamp on your own, you can book a trip with a local outfitter. Among those offering trips to Lake Marion’s swamps is Blueway Adventures.