Road Trip: Touring the Southeast’s Coastal SUP Adventure Hubs

This article was produced in partnership with Go RVing

The southeast Atlantic coast is blessed with some of the most unique paddling destinations and passionate SUP communities, and this nearly 1,000-mile swing brings you to some of the best of them. Beginning in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., the home of the East Coast’s largest SUP race, then heading to the southern food mecca of Charleston, S.C., the Spanish moss-covered landscape of Savannah, Ga., and the surf of Jupiter, Fla., before ending at the literal end of the road: Key West.

But before you get started, don’t ask yourself whether or not this journey is best taken in an RV; ask yourself, “In which RV is it best to take this journey?”

Great question!

While it may be tempting to go full-luxury in a Type A coach — the one that looks like it might be carrying a just-rose-above-van-status indie band, you’ll find that it’s not best suited for the drawbridge into Wrightsville Beach. Parking and driving around coastal cities is always challenging, which is why a Type B is the call. Type Bs are the ones that look like they might be carrying a just-paddled-over-from-Puerto Rico adventurer; they feature not only the cooking, sleeping, and washing functionality you associate with larger RVs, but many also come with racks that are a perfect solution for small boats.

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC

Home of both the Carolina Cup and an array of year-round paddling opportunities, Wrightsville Beach is an iconic East Coast SUP destination.

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Photo: Greg Panas

Paddle

Beginner paddlers will enjoy “The Loop,” a flatwater circumnavigation of Harbor Island, while more adventurous paddlers can explore the undisturbed shorelines of Masonboro Island Nature Preserve. Only accessible by boat or paddle craft, the Atlantic side of the preserve features miles of empty surf breaks, while the intracoastal side offers maze-like marsh creeks and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Eat

There’s no shortage of excellent seafood options to lure you, like say, the fresh poke and blue crab burgers at the Shark Bar and Kitchen. But it’s the margs and Baja fish tacos from Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill that will have you eating and drinking like a local who knows their daily specials.

Camp

Finding a place to park a larger rig in Wrightsville Beach is going to be a challenge, but there are multiple camping options in the area. If a KOA is A-OK, there’s one in nearby Wilmington that offers full hookup sites. For camping a little close to nature, Carolina Beach State Park offers over 80 campsites, including nine spots with full hookups for RVs, and a full network of hiking trails, an on-site beach and easy paddling access to Masonboro Island.

CHARLESTON, SC

Surrounded by water, steeped in history and blessed with world famous southern cuisine, Charleston is also an under-the-radar surf city with plenty of fun flatwater to explore as well.

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Seth Cantley paddles across the Ashley River toward downtown Charleston’s waterfront historic district. Photo: Aaron Schmidt

Paddle

History buffs will love paddling through Charleston Harbor for unique views of both Revolutionary and Civil War sites, including The Battery, Fort Moultre and Fort Sumter—the folks at Charleston Paddle Company, as well as Half-Moon Outfitters, can get you sorted. SUP surfers will find South Carolina’s best waves at Folly Beach, a quirky beach town that embraces its moniker, “The Edge of America.” Meanwhile, those looking to birdwatch or scope alligators can head to either Kiawah Island or the Isle of Palms.

Eat

In a foodie’s paradise chock-full of delectable, modern eateries (see: Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House a block off Waterfront Park), the old-school gems are often the most memorable. The sandwiches from Burbage’s Grocery have been a downtown locals’ staple for over seven decades, and there’s no good argument against the southern soul food that’s been coming out of Martha Lou’s Kitchen for over 30 years. Got a sweet tooth? Leopold’s has been serving up delectable ice cream for a century.

Camp

Park the coach at the James Island County Park for a centrally located campground that includes full hookups and an array of on-site recreational activities including trails for hiking and biking, and small lakes for padding and fishing. Those looking for a longer paddling adventure from camp could put in on the Stono River at the James Island County Park Pier.  

SAVANNAH, GA

Georgia’s oldest city drips in Spanish moss and classical Antebellum plantations, but Savannah’s unique aquatic offerings are what brings paddlers to the Hostess City of the South.

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Paddling into the marsh maze off Tybee Island with the Savannah, Ga. skyline in the distance. Roddy Medders / @stand_and_paddle

Paddle

Tybee Island offers multiple SUP rental shops and even a few waves, but a short paddle south across Tybee Creek opens up a whole new landscape on Little Tybee. The saltwater creeks that meander through this uninhabited island teem with marine wildlife, including Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, manatees, egrets, and herons. For those that prefer to paddle in Georgia’s Intracoastal Waterway, Skidaway Island State Park offers scenic water trails through maritime forest and salt marshes. If you need board rentals or any paddling gear or info from the experts, stop at Sea Kayak Georgia-Paddle Tybee, right before the turn down the Tybee Island peninsula.

Eat

Gerald’s Pig & Shrimp is conveniently located across the street from Sea Kayak Georgia and is the perfect post-paddle roadside watering hole with large plates of every Southern-fried and barbecue delicacy indulgence you could dream up. Check out the Tybee Island Social Club for sit-down eats with a little more sophistication, occasional live music, but not too fancy for still-soaked shirts and sandals.

Camp

River’s End Campground provides easy access to this stretch of coastline with full hook-up RV sites located on the north end of Tybee Island. Skidaway Island State Park also offers an RV-friendly campground where you can sleep under big oaks draped in the Spanish moss for which Savannah is famous. 

JUPITER, FL

Lush mangroves and the city’s iconic red lighthouse await as a backdrop when cruising through brilliant blue waters around Jupiter.

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Cruising Jupiter’s network of mangrove tunnels. Photo Greg Panas

Paddle

The playful waves off Loggerhead Park are perfect for beginner SUP surfers, but those looking for an inland paddling experience shouldn’t miss the Loxahatchee River. Launch from Riverbend Park and paddle north as this narrow stretch of river snakes beneath cypress trees and past alligators before widening four miles later at Trapper Nelsons Cabin. You can also launch from Jonathan Dickinson State Park and paddle to Kitching Creek, another narrow passage beneath the overhanging trees, Spanish moss and semitropical flora and fauna.

Eat

Before launching at Jupiter Inlet Park, enjoy some locally caught seafood underneath Guanabana’s outdoor tiki huts. Then paddle south along the Intracoastal Waterway and turn left at the Jupiter Yacht Marina to reach Dive Bar for some refreshing drinks.

Camp

Jonathan Dickinson State Park a great option for RV camping that includes spacious sites with full hook-ups nestled amongst one of Florida’s most biodiverse environments. An alternate camping option would be the Lion Country Safari KOA, where campers park their RVs within walking distance of 1000 animals from around the world including zebras, hippos and yes, lions.

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The Holcombe family finding a perfect RV-camping perch to launch a SUP tour through the colorful and eclectic end of the Florida Keys. Photo: Peter Holcombe

KEY WEST, FL 

Margaritaville is where the road runs out of pavement, which just makes it easy to keep paddling! This classic vacation spot teems with lush mangrove tunnels and clear waters, for which standup paddling was made.

Paddle

Talk to the folks at Lazy Dog about their SUP eco-tours to learn more about the Key West’s wild side, or head out on your own to explore mangroves or check out the boats in Key West’s bustling marina. Stock Island offers a peaceful paddling respite from the hustle and bustle of Key West, while Fort Taylor offers stunning blue water and an easy spot to launch your board. For a truly unique SUP experience, leave your rig behind, grab an inflatable SUP, and head out on the two-hour ferry ride to Dry Tortugas National Park. Located 70 miles west of Key West, this park is an absolute dream for standup paddlers. You can paddle around the massive Fort Jefferson as it towers above brilliant turquoise waters alive with vibrant coral reefs and thriving marine life.

Eat

No visit to Key West is complete without a grouper sandwich, and BO’s Fish Wagon is the spot to get ‘em. This cash-only, ramshackle joint may look suspicious, but one bite of their fried fish and sip of ice cold Kalik beer from the Bahamas will erase all your worries.

Camp

The best part of RV camping on Key West is you’re always within walking distance of the water. If you want to stay close to the action, Trumbo RV park offers dry camping that’s only a 20-minute walk from downtown. But if nicer amenities is what you want, Boyd’s Key West Campground on Stock Island or Sigsbee Campground on Dredgers Key are both popular and affordable options.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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