The Catawba Riverkeeper encourages everybody to get out and paddle on the River. We sponsor periodic family paddling trips on different sections of the Catawba River and its tributaries and we we have guided trips for youth throughout the summer. Come out and canoe or kayak with the Catawba Riverkeeper. In the alternative, get out and paddle on your own.
National Whitewater Center web site). If you are comfortable paddling on your own, but lack experience, we suggest starting on one of the lakes, or the 31-mile long "free flowing" section of the Catawba between Lake Wylie and Great Falls, South Carolina. This section includes the world's largest grove of spider lilies, which bloom between mid-May and early June. A map showing put-in and take-out locations on this section of the river is available on the Duke website at http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/catawba-river-canoe-trail-map.asp?sec=content. A photo journal of a paddle trip from the Lake Wylie Dam to Santee Cooper State Park can be viewed at http://mudspikeftp.com/catawba.htm.
Some sections of the South Fork River and the Upper Catawba River Canoe and Kayak trail are also a great choice for beginning paddlers. Even the most advanced paddler will find a challenge in the Wilson Creek Gorge, or during periodic recreational releases on the Great Falls of the Catawba. Links to information about most of the places to paddle on the Catawba are included below. PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT EVEN THE EASIEST SECTIONS OF THE RIVER CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS DURING PERIODS OF HIGH WATER FLOW.
It is strongly recommended that you check the release schedule for the dam above the section that you are paddling before starting the trip because water levels can increase quickly on the Catawba. For example, if the release from Lake Wylie is 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) or less, the water may is probably too low for this section to be enjoyable, and if the release from Lake Wylie approaches 10,000 cfs, Class I rapids become transformed into Class III rapids suitable for experienced paddlers only. In general, flows of 3000 cfs to 3600 cfs are considered optimal on the section of the river between Lake Wylie and Lake Wateree.
Information about scheduled releases and the impact on downstream flow is available at the following websites:
Dam release information and scheduled release information is available on the Duke Energy website or by calling 800-829-5253.
Real time river flow data for the section below Lake Wylie Dam is available at the USGS website:
You need to be the judge of what looks safe for your level of skill, but below Lake Wylie most people consider 3,000 cfs to 3,600 cfs to be about optimal. At higher flow levels, we recommend using spray skirts and helmets. Paddlers should always wear life jackets.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation generally hosts guided paddling events open to the general public at least three times each year: our Spider Lily Eco-Tour in late May or early June, a Fall Leaf Eco-Tour on Lake James, and early spring eco-tour, usually in the Congaree Swamp. Please watch our website and facebook page for additional information about paddle trips. Information about the Spider Lily Eco-Tour is at Spider Lily Eco-Tour. Information about the Fall Leaf Tour is at Fall Leaf Tour. Information about the Youth Kayak River Expedition program is available by clicking here.
Can you paddle the entire length of the River?
Some people have paddled the entire length of the Catawba-Wateree River, and beyond, but this is a difficult journey. While most of the individual sections of the river between dams are pleasant, paddling the length of the larger lakes can be challenging because there is often a wind blowing from the south, large waves and little current. Lake Norman is 50 miles long. Furthermore, the portages around most of the dams can not be done without a vehicle and there are not a lot of public camping areas along some sections of the river. You can find information about paddling the entire length of the river (and beyond) at http://www.paddling.net/places/showReport.html?303.
Information about Access Points and Trails
(organized from the lower part of the basin to the upper part of the basin):
Wateree River - Information about the Wateree River Blue Trail is at http://www.americanrivers.org/initiatives/blue-trails/projects/wateree.html. The Wateree Blue Trail is approximately 75 miles long extending from the Lake Wateree Dam to the Congaree River. This section of the Wateree River is relatively flat and winding with only a couple of sections of minor rapids that can be traversed in a shallow-draft motorboat under normal conditions. However, there are large segments of the Wateree River that have no public access and travel below the Wateree Dam should not be undertaken without plenty of drinking water and supplies.
Lake Wateree (flat water) - Lake Wateree is a popular lake for power boats and it can be very busy on the weekends. Most paddlers prefer to paddle the upper section of the lake (where you can see glimpses of the old canal system from the early 1800s) or the numerous coves which often have stumps that make it difficult for power boats to access. http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/lake-wateree.asp
Great Falls and Rock Creek Reservoirs (flat water) - These are small reservoirs that are excellent for fishing and flat water paddling during normal conditions. However, after a large rain, these reservoirs can become a raging river. The Stumpy Pond area of the Rocky Creek Reservoir is a particularly popular and scenic area for paddling, which is accessed from the Stumpy Pond Access area off of Hwy 97. http://www.duke-energy.com/pdfs/greatfallsrockycreek.pdf.
Great Falls of the Catawba (white water) - The Great Falls of the Catawba were considered a natural wonder by the early explorers of the Catawba basin, but were largely forgotten after this section was dewatered by the construction of dams. As part of the relicensing agreement worked out in 2008, Duke agreed to put water through the Great Falls section of the River. The recreational flow schedule is published by Duke Energy each year on its website. Paddling this section is extremely hazardous due to the amount of vegetation that has grown up in the river channel and the steep drop. Only experienced paddlers with helmets, spray skirts and the proper safety precautions should attempt this section of the river.
Fishing Creek Reservoir (flat water) - This is one of the smaller, narrower lakes on the Catawba River and is generally very pleasant for flat water paddling, particularly the upper section between Hwy 9 and the Cane Creek Access Area - http://www.dukeenergy.com/pdfs/fishingcreek.pdf.
Lower Catawba River (Lake Wylie to Fishing Creek Reservoir) (partial whitewater - class II or easier under normal conditions) - This 31-mile long section of "free-flowing" river has been designated as a scenic river and it is one of the best sections of the River for novice paddlers under normal conditions. The access area below the Lake Wylie Dam is only about 15 minutes from Charlotte.
Note - If the release from Lake Wylie is 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) or less, the water may be too low for this section to be enjoyable. If the release from Lake Wylie approaches 11,000 cfs, Class I rapids become transformed into Class III rapids suitable for experienced paddlers only. 3,000 cfs to 3,600 cfs is about right for most paddlers. However, you need to be the judge of what looks safe for you. Real time river flow data for the section below Lake Wylie Dam is available at the USGS website:
From Lake Wylie Dam to River Park is about 6 miles and generally requires 2-4 hours to paddle.
From Lake Wylie to Landsford Canal is about 23 miles and is a very long paddle for novice paddlers. It will require 8-12 hours of paddling.
From River Park in Rock Hill to Landford Canal is about 17 miles and will require 6-8 hours. This is a much better day trip for most people than trying to go all the way from Lake Wylie to Landsford Canal State Park.
The first section from the Lake Wylie dam to River Park in Rock Hill is about 6 miles long. You can make this slightly shorter by getting out at the new access area at Riverwalk in Rock Hill. This is a very nice paddle after work on a summer evening. (A trip report on a very long day trip from Lake Wylie to Landsford Canal is at http://www.paddling.net/places/showReport.html?2361
The next section from River Park to Landsford Canal State Park is about 18 miles long. This is a great section to paddle, but allow plenty of time. It takes you through the Catawba Indian Reservation. There is a public access point on the reservation, but the access is difficult and not well marked. A recent trip report is at http://www.paddling.net/places/showReport.html?3071
The short section between access points in Landsford Canal State Park is about 1 mile long. This section in takes about 2 hours to paddle (if you take time to enjoy the scenery) and takes you through the rare Catawba River Spider Lilies (which bloom during May and early June) and some sections of the historic Landsford Canal. Pay attention to the orange tape marking the side channel that leads to the take-out or you will find yourself with a long, unanticipated paddle to the Hwy 9 bridge.
Another fun paddle is to go downstream from the Hwy 9 bridge and then up Cane Creek or continue downstream to the access area in Fishing Creek Reservoir (approximately 10 miles). The level of water in this area is controlled by a dam so there is almost always plenty of water in this section.
Landsford Canal Park map - map showing the location of the put-in and take-out as well as the major shoals in the River. The trip through the spider lilies typically takes 1-3 hours. There is a put-in and take-out in the park.
Lake Wylie (flat water) - The upper section of Lake Wylie (above I-85) is a popular place for flat water paddling and can be accessed at the National Whitewater Center (on the east side of the River), Tailrace Marina (on the west side of the River), or a small private access area near the Hwy 27 bridge in Mt. Holly - http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/lake-wylie.asp.
Mountain Island Lake (flat water) - The upper section of Mountain Island Lake is also good for paddling and it is mostly undeveloped due to the presence of a large number of parks and natural areas purchased to help protect the drinking water for Charlotte and other neighboring towns. The best access for paddling is the Neck Access Area near Latta Plantation Park - http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/mountain-island.asp
Lake Norman (flat water) - Lake Norman is a large lake with lots of wind and boat traffic so paddling on the main channel is often unpleasant. However many people enjoy paddling on the many coves or the upper riverine section of the lake (above Buffalo Shoals) - http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/lake-norman.asp
Lake Lookout Shoals (flat water) - This lake is just large enough and has just enough boat traffic that paddling the lower end of the lake is generally not a lot of fun. However, the upper end of the lake near Riverbend Park is very scenic and enjoyable.
Catawba River between Lake James and Morganton (partial whitewater) -This section is beautiful and under some conditions it is appropriate for intermediate paddlers, but it is not appropriate for novice paddlers.
Lake James (flat water) - Lake James is a beautiful lake that has been used as the backdrop for numerous movies including "The Last of the Mohicans." As with the other large lakes, wind and boat traffic can making paddling on the main channels of the lake unpleasant, but paddling up the coves is almost always enjoyable. http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/facts-and-maps/lake-james.asp. For an account of a paddle trip through Lake James, around the dam, and down to Glen Alpine, click here.
Catawba River between Old Fort and Lake James (partial whitewater) - The Catawba River starts in the mountains above Old Fort, NC, but generally is not navigable until below Old Fort. If you paddle into Lake James below Pleasant Gardens you may have a long flat water paddle against the wind to get to a public access area.
Catawba River Tributaries - Catawba Basin Whitewater Information compiled from American Whitewater site - This information includes information about tributaries of the Catawba including the Johns River, Linville River, and Wilson Creek. Most of the sections described in this summary are serious whitewater for skilled paddlers only.
South Fork River(from Lincolnton to Lake Wylie) - There are various sections of the South Fork of the Catawba that can be paddled, but the easiest section to paddle is a section between the Spencer Mountain access point and I-85. This section is about 5.5 miles long.
South Fork between Spencer Mountain and McAdenville - This section is generally recommended for competent paddlers, but can be very dangerous during high water conditions. There are good access areas at each end of this section maintained by the Catawba Lands Conservancy.
Wilson Creek(near Lenoir) - Wilson Creek Gorge is spectacular, but only appropriate for the most experienced paddlers (unless you just want to look at the scenery and watch the paddlers).
Johns River - The Johns River begins in the Globe Valley near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and joins the Catawba River near Morganton, North Carolina. This is a great fishing river and some sections are appropriate for novice paddlers under the right conditions. Beware of strainers (trees and other obstacles that block the surface of the river and may trap the unwary paddler). You can watch an excellent video of the highlights of a paddle trip from Hwy. 18, Morganton NC to Huffman Bridge Rd. (Catawba River) below.
Linville River - The Linville River passes over Linville Falls and through the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area on its way to joining the Catawba River in Lake James. This is one of the most beautiful rivers in the United States and the paddling is extraordinary if you are a highly skilled paddler. However, there are at least four difficulties: (1) the National Park Service prohibits paddling on the Linville River within Park Service boundaries, which extend to roughly 1/3 of a mile below Linville Falls (violating this rule can result in a $5,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail); (2) access to the Linville River is difficult and may require long hikes on steep trails; (3) the rapids are difficult and some are nearly impossible to scout; and (4) there is no easy way out if you get into trouble or realize that you are in "over your head." To paddle this entire section may require camping overnight. More information at http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/1093/.
In 2015, every water quality permit in the North Carolina section of the Catawba River basin is up for review and potential renewal. If you have a problem discharge near you, this is your opportunity to get the permit limits tightened or the discharge stopped.
In 2012, SCE&G settled a lawsuit brought by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and the Southern Environmental Law Center by agreeing to clean up a leaking ash pond at its power plant on the Catawba-Wateree River. According to a recent report, that cleanup is ahead of schedule. Unlike SCE&G, Duke Energy has not cleaned up any of its ash ponds on the Catawba-Wateree River.
Failure to control sediment from construction sites
Illegal clearing of buffer areas
Other issues that concern you
Click here to fill out a pollution reportor to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494. In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.
To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.
To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours. (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a proud member of EarthShare North Carolina, the North Carolina Conservation Network, River Network and the Waterkeeper Alliance.