The Low Country


Paddling along the creeks and centuries-old rice-planting canals of South Carolina's ACE basin, a group of kayakers startles an alligator. The disgruntled fellow plunges into the water, his enormous mass nearly capsizing a kayak. It's not the first time he has cast a gimlet eye on brightlycolored plastic boats plying his waters. He's seeing more and more these days with the increase in kayaking popularity.

South Carolina Paddling

The ACE Basin is a paddler's paradise, with hundreds of miles of rivers and tributaries, and plantation rice canals dating from 18th and 19th centuries. It lies between Charleston and Beaufort and consists of the Ashepoo ("Ashy-poo"), Combahee ("Come-bee") and Edisto ("ED-iss-toe") Rivers, hence its name. (See MAP.) Within the Basin is the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. The basin boasts some of the cleanest waters in the world, according to Jea Chapman, a guide and operator of the Kayak Farm on St. Helena Island.

Paddlers can spend hours and days in the ACE basin without seeing another human, Chapman says. However, you will certainly see plenty of birds, including wood storks, bald eagles, snowy egrets, herons, and kingfishers, to name just a few.

Other paddling destinations are more ocean-and open water-oriented. A fun and relatively easytrip starts at Russ Point at the Fripp Island bridge. You paddle across wide water to huge sand bars just off Hunting and Fripp Islands.

Standing on one of the bare sand bars, gazing at the beautiful but eroding beaches ofHunting Island, it's easy to see the way a coastline constantly changes and remakes itself. In a few years, the sandbars might well be little islands, growing as the older islands nearby shrink or recede. For a bigger adventure, Chapman leads overnight trips to Pritchard's Island, location of a loggerhead turtle research center. A lodge there sleeps 18 visitors.

Coastal Georgia Paddling

Cumberland Island is perhaps the best-known outdoor destination on Georgia's coast and a great place to paddle. Near Savannah, Ebenezer Creek flows through a cypress forest. Little Tybee Island is another favorite Savannah-area destination. To the south, Sapelo Island and its historic community, Hog Hammock, make an unforgettable overnight kayaking trip.

The Marshes of Glynn, near Brunswick, Georgia and the Altamaha River, which drains into the Atlantic near Egg Island and Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge are also popular kayaking areas. The list goes on: the St. Simons area and, not not far inland, the Okefenokee Swamp, are also popular destinations.

The area around St. Marys, Georgia offers even more good paddling:

Satilla River - The easy-paddling Satilla River has pristine black waters and blindingly white sand. It is lined with cypress trees "that look like elves should be living them," says Georgia paddler Lori A. Lamoureux. This magical river also offers glimpses of alligators, tupelo trees and many species of birds. The Satilla drains into St. Andrews Sound at the north end of Cumberland Island.

Directions: From Kingsland, Georgia, take U.S. Highway 17 north to Refuge Road. Turn left on Refuge Road, and then left on Burnt Fort Road. Turn right on 3R Fish Camp Road. There is a modest parking fee at 3R Fish Camp. This trip requires a shuttle back to the Fish Camp.

Grover Island - Let the movement of the tides determine which direction you circumnavigate Grover Island. This four-hour kayak tour is a birder's delight, with brown pelicans, cormorants, little blue herons, common loons, great egrets and wood storks living on the island, but no humans.

Directions: Put in at the Crooked River boat ramp in St. Marys. There is a small parking fee at the boat ramp.

Dark Entry Creek - Start this 2.5- to 3-hour trip on an outgoing tide. There's no place to get out and stretch on this marsh tour, but you'll see plenty of birds, an occasional dolphin, and, in summer, manatees near the St. Marys downtown waterfront.

Directions: Take Georgia Highway 40 out of St. Marys to a boat ramp giving access to the creek. Paddlers must shuttle vehicles to the takeout point in downtown St. Marys.

Special thanks to Jea Chapman, the Kayak Farm, St. Helena Island, South Carolina, for her generous help with Beaufort-area and ACE Basin paddling information. Also, special thanks to Lori A. Lamoureux of the Coastal Kayaking Association, Georgia for providing information on St. Marys-area paddling.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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