Tackle the Catawba Rapids

By:Marie McAden


For those of us who enjoy a rollicking ride on the river but don’t have the paddling skills to kayak Class 3 and 4 whitewater, there’s the Catawba River, a wide open waterway with enough rocks and rapids to get your heart racing.

Catawba Rive​r Expeditions in Roc​k Hill will rent you a kayak or canoe, shuttle you to a put-in and set you off on this fun, slow-moving river featuring Class 1 and 2 rapids — the kind of whitewater even a novice paddler can handle.

Now in its fifth season, this family-run outfitter offers a couple of different trip options and excursions, but the most popular is a 6.5-mile paddle from the Lake Wylie Dam to River Park.

We parked our car at River Park where we met several other intrepid paddlers and Catawba River Expeditions owner Jan Brown and her daughter Katherine. With kayaks in tow, they drove us to the put-in, a landing near the Lake Wylie Dam in Fort Mill. Within minutes, we were on the river paddling relatively calm water with a few large boulders to navigate past. It was a great warm-up for what was to come.

Named after the Native American tribes that first settled on its banks, the state scenic Catawba River is a tributary of the Wateree River, running approximately 220 miles from North Carolina to South Carolina.

The section we paddled is used mostly by kayakers and canoers because the water level is too shallow for motor boats. Billed as “moderately easy — suitable for adventurous beginners,” it features Class 1 rapids — moving water with a few riffles and small waves — and a few Class 2s, easy rapids that might require maneuvering around rocks.

Most of the way, it’s a float trip that takes you under Interstate 77 and U.S. 21 bridges, past Riverw​a​lk, a 2 ¼-mile asphalt trail meandering through the woods along the Catawba.

But don’t get too comfortable. You won’t go far without encountering a variety of water hazards — big bodacious boulders, shallow rocky areas and those adrenalin-inducing, blood-pumping rapids. A few of them had me “woo hooing” as I navigated through the rough water.

More than once, I found myself stuck on a rock that lay hidden just below the surface of the water. It was easy enough to dislodge myself by pushing off the rock with my hands while scooching the kayak forward with my body.

As we paddled along, we came across a gaggle of geese sunning themselves on a rock near the bank of the river. We also spotted an osprey, several heron and assorted fishermen in and out of the river.

After about an hour, we beached our kayaks on a sandy bank to take a break and have a snack. Back in our boats, we continued down the river, refreshed and ready for the next water challenge.

As predicted, we arrived back at River Park about 2 ½ hours after the start of our trip. I hope to return to Rock Hill before the end of the summer to paddle the Catawba again. It’s a total blast!

Catawba River Expeditions also offers tubing on the Catawba, as well as trips from Landsford Ca​nal State Park during the spider lilies season running mid-May through Mid-June.

For more information or to make a reservation, click ​here or call (803) 327-9335.

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