Paddling South Carolina’s Water Trails

Our kayaks slip quietly through the dark river waters following deer as they plunge through the marshy wild rice paddies, into the creek and swim off in search of drier land. We paddle the Palmetto Water Trail which flows down the Cooper River to its end in a cypress pool in the Wadboo Swamp, deep in the heart of South Carolina.

This encounter highlights one of the many reasons for the Berkeley County Blueways, part of South Carolina’s water trails system. The Blueways water trails are a collection of nearly two dozen routes covering 175 miles of miles of live oak, blackwater swamps, reedy streams and cypress lakes in the SE corner of the state. The trails take paddlers through a history that includes rice plantations and Revolutionary War battles. The streams have names like Wadboo, Wambaw and Chicken Creek. (Native American tribal names for waterways often carry a “bo,” “boo” or “baw” sound that translates as “water.”)

Berkeley County is just inland from historic Charleston in South Carolina, in a region of remote waters and abundant wildlife called the Lowcountry. Its waters attract boaters to swamps of dwarf palmetto and alligator-thrashed reeds, live-oak rivers where eagles nest, lakes, wide-open bays and ocean. Kayaking in the Lowcountry is year-round and offers a wealth of wildlife encounters and outdoor adventures.

The Blueways trail system has been a joint effort among the Berkeley County Soil and Water Conservation District, Berkeley County government, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Forest Service, the S.C. Office of Coastal Resource Management, and Santee Cooper. Special thanks goes to individuals of the Carolina Gypsy Paddlers who assisted in the survey of each waterway listed and brought to light the value that a paddling trail program would contribute to the recreational opportunities in Berkeley County.

On a mossy November morning, a paddle in Wadboo Swamp travels past cypress knees and dwarf palmetto then down to flooded old rice fields,home to hawks and herons, anhingas, otter, wood ducks and pileated woodpeckers. The trail is one in the system through Berkeley County that range from the remote, owl and feral pig-haunted Wambaw Creek wilderness to cypress stands in open water on Lake Marion.


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Wadboo is one of the Low country’s obscure estuarine nooks — known mostly by fishermen or boaters who ride Tailrace Canal and cruise the creek’s rice-field maze mouth. Few go upstream past the marl and limestone bluff beyond Rembert C. Dennis Landing, where the creek closes into hardwood swamp, and paddlers glide under the tree canopy through dwarf palmetto. The sudden change from grackle-swarmed rice delta to secluded bottomland makes the creek one of the Lowcountry’s unique float experiences.

There are also gators skulking in the blackwater and reeds. Sometimes you can hear their call in the distance -it rumbles like a lion’s roar. Unlike their fierce crocodile cousins, American alligators tend to be shy, as wild creatures go. When approached, they usually jump from the bank and go under a little bit at a time until only the eyes show. More than 100,000 alligators now roam the Lowcountry and South Carolina coast.

That’s 100,000 more reasons to visit the wilds of South Carolina’s Berkeley County Blueways.

For more information on Berkeley County paddles, go to

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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