White water rapids: The section of the Saluda River from the Lake Murray dam to where it meets the Broad River includes numerous rocky shoals that, when water levels are high, create wild rapids. They’re ideal for canoes, kayaks and rafts, but novices should avoid the Mill Race rapids just north of Riverbanks Zoo, which can be treacherous at high water levels. Unfortunately, easy access on the river for the general public is limited until the Saluda section of the Three Rivers Greenway is built. Best to check with local outfitters for advice: adventurecarolina.com, palmettooutdoor.com, . getyourgearon.com and riverrunner.us.
Tubing on the river: The largest local tube rental companies launch downstream of Mill Race rapids, giving tubers a chance to go through a couple of less rambunctious rapids on the Saluda from the zoo to the West Columbia amphitheater. The cold water of the Saluda is ideal for cooling off in a tube during the summer. During rain-free weeks, the water level often is low and the trip takes a couple of hours. palmettooutdoor.com or adventurecarolina.com.
Rocky shoals spider lilies: The section of the Broad River from the Columbia Canal diversion dam to the West Columbia amphitheater has fewer rapids, but paddlers in May and June get to spy several large clumps of the rare rocky shoals spider lilies. These beautiful plants are tough enough to survive in the rugged environment in the middle of the river. Public access is at the north end of Riverfront Park, just off River Drive before it crosses the Broad. The only tricky rapid is immediately after launch.
Columbia Canal: The city began allowing paddling on the canal a few years back, launching from the north end of Riverfront Park. It’s flat water, hardly a thrill ride unless you freak out upon seeing one of the gators that sometimes take up residence in the canal in the summer. You’re more likely to see lots of turtles, fish and birds. This is a fun place for standup paddle boarding beginners before heading out to Lake Murray.
Congaree Creek: The creek winds from Charleston Highway near I-26 in Cayce, behind the new SCANA headquarters and then to the Congaree River near I-77. Despite that urban-sounding route, kayak and canoe paddlers will feel miles away from civilization on the creek’s black water. There are access points on Charleston Highway and on the SCANA entrance road off 12th Street Extension. It can be a messy trip because you have to work your way on land around fallen trees.
Cedar Creek: The main black water creek that winds through Congaree National Park draws paddlers from all over the world to see the massive trees and wildlife along its banks. Trees and large limbs felled by winter storms will make this trip more difficult than in years past, but that just adds to the adventure. At both Congaree Creek in Cayce and Cedar Creek in Lower Richland, bug repellant is a must about eight months a year. Launch sites are at Bannister Bridge, just off Old Bluff Road, and South Cedar Creek Road. Check with the park about guided canoe trips. nps.gov/cong.
Goodale State Park: This park near Camden has a sweet canoe trail up and back on a winding creek spawned by an underground spring. The water is as clear as you’ll find anywhere in the state, and the surroundings have a variety of wildlife, including a heron rookery. southcarolinaparks.com/goodale/introduction.aspx
Fishing: Anglers can try any of the local waterways. There are stripers, smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, sunfish and crappie in most river sections. Because of the extraordinarily cold water coming out of the base of the Lake Murray dam, the Saluda offers the only trout fishery south of the mountains. Pond fishing is allowed at Sesquicentennial and Goodale state parks. Lake Murray draws major fishing events. If you don’t have a boat or want expert advice, there are many fishing guides who work the waters of Lake Murray.
Swimming: The only public swimming spot on Lake Murray is the SCE&G park on the Lexington side of the dam. As for pool swimming, try Columbia’s recently renovated Maxcy Gregg Pool or the Richland County Recreation Commission’s pools at St. Andrews Park, Trenholm Park and Hopkins Park. A new county pool is scheduled to open this summer in Eastover.
Water Park fun: The only water park in the Midlands is on Fort Jackson. It’s for military families on the weekends, but it’s open to civilians Tuesdays through Fridays. The small facility features a large pool, two water slides and a lazy river. fortjacksonmwr.com/waterpark/
Best water view: The new ZOOm the River zip line at Riverbanks Zoo offers a unique aquatic vantage point as you race over the Saluda River. The nearly 1,000-foot trip drops zippers from high on the bluff on the botanical garden side of the river to the zoo side. It’s not cheap – $55 for general public, $40 for zoo members – but it’s unforgettable. thestate.com/2013/08/15/2921879/zoos-new-zip-over-river-can-overload.html#storylink=misearch
Dam walk: The pedestrian walkway on the Lake Murray dam is popular with recreational runners and walkers. It does offer a spectacular view of the river to one side – especially at sunset. But the vehicles zooming past on the other side can be a bit off-putting. Park on either side of the dam.
Other walkways: The various sections of the Three Rivers Greenway have lured walkers, runners and bicycle riders to the rivers and fostered a new appreciation of the region’s waterways. The best river sections are along the Cayce and West Columbia Riverwalks – easiest accessed on Alexander Road at Meeting Street in West Columbia. The trail at Columbia’s Riverfront Park mostly follows the course of the Columbia Canal, accessed at the end of Laurel Street. The new Timmerman Trail in Cayce, accessed off the SCANA headquarters entry road on 12th Street extension, hugs Congaree Creek.
Spray pools: The Saluda Splash at Saluda Shoals Park, 5605 Bush River Road in Columbia, is popular with kids and parents. The youngsters get to play in the whimsical spray-ground fountains. The adults can cool off in the shady areas surrounding the spray park. Saluda Shoals also has canoe/kayak access on the Saluda River and a paved trail along the river.
Boating on Lake Murray: There are several public and private marinas on the 47,500-acre lake. If you don’t have your own boat, you can rent a pontoon for a day of cruising or a ski boat for a little more excitement. Go to lakemurrayfun.com/rental.shtml for a list of local boat rental companies. For a classic Lake Murray boating experience, follow the crowd to Bomb Island around sunset to watch the thousands of purple martins return from a day of bug eating.