Columbia sits at the confluence of two rivers – the wide and smooth Broad and the rocky and cold Saluda – and the Congaree, which is formed where the Broad and Saluda join near the Elmwood-Interstate 126 bridge.
Each river has its own personality and opportunities for a good time in the tri-city area consisting of Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce.
It also has one link connecting them all, Three Rivers Greenway. The walking path is composed of the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park, West Columbia Riverwalk and the Cayce Riverwalk and is 8.5 miles long.
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With the unofficial start of summer this Memorial Day weekend, there are few better places to keep your cool than along Columbia’s rivers. So we’ve pulled together a few ways to make it an even better time.
The Broad actually starts in the mountains of North Carolina and winds its way south, flattening out as it goes, until it reaches the city limits of Columbia at the Broad River Correctional Institution. The Broad flows under I-20 and into the heart of downtown.
Along the way
Riverside Golf & Recreation Center. The nine-hole golf course and driving range offers beautiful views of the river. When you get frustrated chasing tiny white golf balls, relax by renting a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. You can even go kayak fishing on this smooth water. Garner Lane, just off Interstate 20. www.riversidegolfandreccenter.com
Columbia Rowing Club. Offers classes in rowing and hosts the University of South Carolina Crew and rowing crews from northern colleges and high schools who travel south to train. 1871 Omarest Drive. www.columbiarowingclub.com
Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park. Park rangers from the city of Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department patrol the paved trail that meanders along the Columba Canal for 2 1/2 miles. When the Rocky Shoals spider lilies are in bloom, take a kayak tour with the rangers – or let the rangers walk you through the history of the canal. The world’s first fully electrically operated textile mill and Columbia’s first hydroelectric plant (in continuous operation 1896-2015) are located in the 167-acre park. Two entrances: North access at 4210 River Drive, South access at 312 Laurel St. www.facebook.com/Columbias-Riverfront-Park
The Saluda has its origins in the foothills of South Carolina and runs through a couple of dammed lakes – Lake Greenwood and Lake Murray – before reaching Columbia. The path of the Saluda below the Lake Murray dam is narrower than the Broad, and the river level rises and falls as SCE&G releases water from the dam. These water releases are also why the temperature of the water on the Saluda is usually cooler – between 65 and 75 degrees – and the perfect home for trout and striped bass.
Along the way
Saluda Shoals Park. This 400-acre park features paved and unpaved trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding; a public landing for small watercraft; the Environmental Education Center; a splash pad; picnic areas and the Barking Lot dog park. Check out the events calendar for seasonal concerts and sporting events. Daily admission fees and park passes are available for purchase. Entrances: East, 6071 St. Andrews Road; West, 5606 Bush River Road. www.icrc.net/saluda-shoals-park
Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden. It’s kind of cool that the zoo spans the river – and you can, too. Following an afternoon wandering among the wild animals, schedule a wild ride on the Zip the Zoo zip line that takes you through the treetops and across the Saluda River, from the Botanical Garden to the Zoo. Main entrance, 500 Wildlife Parkway, Columbia; Botanical Garden entrance, 1300 Botanical Parkway, West Columbia. www.riverbanks.org
The rapids. Access is no longer available from the Riverbanks Zoo parking lot, so you’ll have to pay to park at Palmetto Outdoor Center on Candi Lane or risk getting towed. The large granite rocks in the Saluda have long been a summer hangout for Columbians who want to chill and work on their tans. Watching the occasional kayaker navigate the series of rapids just above the zoo also can be entertaining (Mill Race Rapids have been rated Class IV for whitewater by American Whitewater). Be careful, though. Along this portion of the Saluda are monitors tracking the water levels in the river. Alarms sound when fast, high rising water is detected after a release upstream from the Lake Murray dam. Anyone in the river or along the banks should move quickly to higher ground or risk being stranded – or worse.
The Congaree is formed by the confluence, or coming together, of the Broad and Saluda. The headwaters of the new river are a bit rocky, but the Congaree widens and flattens out just beyond the Blossom Street Bridge. The river continues its slow progression south, winding through Congaree National Park, before emptying into Lake Marion.
Along the way
West Columbia Amphitheater & Riverwalk Park. This is the first public landing spot just below the confluence, at the base of the Gervais Street Bridge. The Amphitheater hosts live music, such as the Rhythm on the River concert series, and is a great place to sit and watch the people and the river drift by. The Riverwalk starts at Riverside Drive, passes under the Gervais and Blossom street bridges before connecting to the Cayce Riverwalk at its south end. Parking areas are at 435 Meeting St. and the Capital Square Shopping Center. 121 Alexander Road, West Columbia.
Cayce Riverwalk. Joins the West Columbia Riverwalk around Axtel Drive and runs south to Brookcliff Drive.
Fort Granby. The ruins of this British fort, first established in 1780 and used during the Revolutionary War, can be found along Taylor Street in Cayce. The fort started out as the home of James Cayce, but the British took it over, fortified it, and garrisoned 350 soldiers there. It was captured by Patriot forces in 1781.
Beginning on the Saluda and running through Columbia on the Congaree are seven public landing sites where you can launch a small boat, kayak, canoe or inner tube. On the Broad, you can put in at the north access point of Riverfront Park and drift downstream. Keep in mind that the Jordan Memorial Boat Ramp (on the left side of the Congaree, just south of Columbia, at the end of Rosewood Drive) and the Thomas Newman Public Boat Landing (on the right side of the Congaree, at Granby Landing Road) are the last two public landings for 47 miles.
“Unless you’re planning on spending the night in the swamp, you better take out in Cayce,” said Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler.
River rentals: Places you can rent canoes, kayaks and inner tubes or schedule a trip on the rivers in Columbia include Palmetto Outdoors, Adventure Carolina, River Runner Outdoor Center, Phoenix Adventures and Carolina Outdoor Adventure.
Nature lovers: Grab the binoculars for a view of a bald eagles’ nest along the Saluda near the confluence; spectacular blooming spider lilies can be found among the rocky islands in the Saluda and lower Broad; catch the synchronized fireflies in Congaree National Park; and watch out for the alligators.
Susan Ardis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to take a trip down Columbia’s rapids?
The American Whitewater rates the 10.5-mile trip from Hope Ferry Landing at Saluda Shoals park to the Senate Street Landing. For a detailed description, see www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/1700#main.