Columbia owes its very existence to the three rivers that flow through it. The city was founded at the place where the Broad and Saluda Rivers come together to form the Congaree River, in the midst of spectacular but impassable rocky shoals. Those shoals meant that traders and visitors heading inland had to get off the river and portage around the rocks. A settlement, which eventually became the South Carolina state capital, sprang up.
Today, those three rivers form the backbone of almost every outdoor adventure you can have in Columbia. Luckily for everyone who loves the outdoors, they are truly beautiful rivers, and there are myriad ways to enjoy them. So when visiting Columbia, don’t just look at the rivers. Get out there and experience them.
Kayaking and Canoeing
All three rivers — the Broad, Saluda and Congaree — are accessible by kayak or canoe. Which river you go to, and where you put in and take out, will determine how much, if any, white water you go through. Your trip can be as placid or exciting as your skill and bravery allow. There are several places in town that rent canoes and kayaks, and these will be your best bet for advice and planning. River Runner Outdoor Center, Adventure Carolina and Palmetto Outdoor Center rent everything you’ll need, from boats to PFDs. Adventure Carolina also offers organized trips down the rivers.
Just a few miles south and east of Columbia lies one of South Carolina’s, and the entire nation’s, best-kept secrets. Congaree National Park is one of the least-visited parks in the country, but it is well worth the time and attention of anyone visiting the Palmetto State. As much of the park is actually comprised of the Congaree Swamp, one of the very best ways to see the park is by canoe or kayak. Canoe trails lead paddlers under the towering tupelos and cypresses and through the eerie, still, blackwater swamp. The Park Service offers guided tours throughout the year. Contact them for more information.
The spectacular Lake Murray lies just west of Columbia, with more than 650 miles of shoreline. Boats of every sort are found in these parts, from sailboats to speedboats, dinghies to yachts. Experience lake life by renting a pontoon boat and taking the family for a leisurely ride. Learn how to sail at Lanier Sailing Academy. Take a sunset cruise aboard one of the lake’s tour boats, the Spirit of Lake Murray and the Southern Patriot. The possibilities are endless, and the area is filled with companies and marinas ready to help you have a great day on the water. Find resources at Lake Murray Country.
Congaree National Park also has miles of hiking trails that lead through the spectacular, massive trees that make the park so unique. Some trails are on the ground, as you would find in other parks, but some are elevated boardwalks that carry you over the inky water. Sesquicentennial State Park has several hiking and biking trails around its lake, and through mixed pine and hardwood forests. These trails are popular with mountain bikers and trail runners in addition to families.
Columbia is one of the southernmost places you can fish for trout in the U.S. The water of the Saluda River below the Lake Murray dam is cold year round because it is released from the base of the dam. This makes it perfect for trout fishing. Check out Frank’s Fly Arts for guided tours and flies.
Nothing is better on a hot summer day than floating down a river with a cool drink in your hand, staring at the blue sky. Columbians and visitors are lucky because our rivers, which combine into one massive, gorgeous waterway, flow right through the center of town. You can see the city skyline and State House dome as you float away. Companies such as Adventure Carolina and Palmetto Outdoor Center offer rentals and shuttles. Saluda Shoals Park, a few miles outside of town, also offers tube rentals and shuttles on a more placid section of the river.
The Three Rivers Trail, a miles-long paved path along the rivers downtown, is a gorgeous place to ride bicycles in Columbia. If you’re looking for a little more nature in your bike riding, head out to Harbison State Forest for miles of mountain bike trails through the woods and along the Broad River.