South Carolina has no shortage of picturesque lakes and rivers to paddle. But if it's serenity you seek, drop your boat in Lake Russell, a 26,650-acre reservoir surrounded by beautifully preserved forestland in the rolling hills of the Piedmont.
Thanks to federal laws that prohibit the exclusive private use along the reservoir's 540 miles of shoreline, the lake offers a unique experience for outdoor enthusiasts who want to get away from it all. Whether you're paddling or fishing, you'll feel like you're in a remote Canadian lake far from civilization.
Located on the upper reaches of the Savannah River Basin between Georgia and South Carolina, the reservoir is surrounded by 26,500 acres of public land maintained in its natural state. With the exception of a few boat landings and public marinas, it's all trees in every direction.
On a recent camping trip to Calhoun Falls State Park, I had a chance to paddle the calm waters of this beautiful lake. The park features a ramp for private boats, but we were camped out on a lakefront site that offered easy access to the water. It was just a few steps down a gently sloping embankment, allowing us to launch right from the shore.
We were about a month ahead of the peak of fall foliage, but some of the trees along the shoreline had already begun to turn color. As we paddled in and out of coves, I could imagine how spectacular the landscape will look in early November.
One of the coolest coves we ventured into featured the remains of trees that once graced the land before it was flooded in 1983. Some still had branches protruding from the trunks; others were just stumps. Below the surface of the water I could see a forest of these ghostly relics. Signs leading into the cove - a prime fishing area - warn boaters of the submerged trees.
In addition to Calhoun Falls State Park, there are a number of state recreation areas offering access to Lake Russell. For a complete listing of facilities, click here.