Looking for something fantastic to do this weekend in the Palmetto State? May we suggest a paddle or hike to see the rare and spectacular Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies of the Catawba River. Less than an hour’s drive from Charlotte and Columbia, you’ll discover Landsford Canal State Park. Landsford is home to the well-preserved remains of a canal system that made the rocky shoals of the Catawba River commercially navigable from 1820-1835, and it’s home to the largest known remaining stand of Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies. This Sunday, during peak bloom, Lansford Canal will celebrate Lilyfest 2019! These lilies only show off once a year between mid-May and mid-June, so be sure to get outdoors and take advantage of this beautiful opportunity.
A year ago, we paddled the Catawba with our friends, The Silvia’s. We launched from the newly improved Landsford Canal State Park upper access and took-out 6.5 miles south at the Highway 9 Bridge. If you’re just coming to experience the lilies via water, a shorter paddle is available within the designated park. Generally, this is considered a moderate skill level float due to the rocky shoals. If you’re looking for a significantly longer paddle, check out the Catawba River Blueway map found at http://www.carolinathreadtrailmap.org and consider launching below the Lake Wylie Dam.
Not a paddler, yet? Enjoy the 3.3 mile marked historic, moderately trafficked out and back, dog and kid friendly nature trail ending at an observation platform and lily viewing area along the banks of the Catawba. Be on the lookout for eagle and osprey sightings too!
I was initially hesitant to post pictures of our adventure last May 2018 because we were out on the river when it was bloated and running well over 4000 cfs, and we would only recommend paddling in these conditions if you are very experienced. Ultimately, I decided to use this as an opportunity to discuss the importance of 1) not overestimating your skill level, and 2) being sure you’re able to read about and understand safe water levels anytime you’re headed out for water recreation.
In the case of the Catawba River at Lansford Canal State Park, water levels are dependent on scheduled water releases from Lake Wylie Dam on the weekends. See Recreation Release Schedule at https://lakes.duke-energy.com. These schedules can change at any time to manage water levels before and after large storms as was the case when we were paddling. Check the release schedule often. Also, you can always refer to http://waterdata.usgus.gov to confirm gauge levels anywhere in the U.S. As a rule of thumb, I like to look at a couple gauges just above where I plan to launch from, understanding that the water levels up-stream will later determine what the levels will be at my launch and take-out points. For example, when paddling the Landsford Canal portion of the Catawba River, I’ll look at both the gauge just below the Wylie Dam as well as the USGS gauge near Rock Hill, S.C. at the Highway 5 Bridge. If you still aren’t sure, and you’re launching from within the park, please ask a ranger. For the best experience at Landsford, it’s ideal to paddle between 2,000-3,000 cfs. Less than 1,500 cfs, and the water is low headed downstream through the shoals. It’s difficult to get through the rock shelves without tearing up your craft or having to portage for a distance of a mile; and as I mentioned before, it’s NOT recommended you paddle this section over 4,000 cfs. Wear your PFD’s! Don’t just place them inside your craft with you, and be sure to have a whistle securely attached to your PFD. SAFETY FIRST AND FOREMOST!
Check out the state park’s website at https://southcarolinaparks.com for their LilyWatch update and for travel information during peak bloom and LilyFest 2019. Also, review their FAQ’s section for more information on safe water levels.