The Catawba River, which begins its 200-mile journey in the foothills east of Asheville, flows free in spots, is dammed in others, creating a mix of paddling opportunities. A particularly convenient stretch near Charlotte is at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
As the name might suggest, the center is best known for its manmade whitewater “river,” where kayakers and rafters float a rollicking concrete loop. But on the Center’s west side flows the Catawba. You can get a canoe, a kayak, a stand-up paddleboard, a war canoe — lots of options — as part of a Quick Pass, or if you have your own boat you can portage to the put-in.
The Catawba here flows wide and clear. In summer, the lush canopy on both sides of the river offers welcome shade. Unless the river is running high, the moderate current is just enough to keep you from exerting yourself. Shortly, the Catawba becomes Lake Wylie; there’s a take-out about two and a half miles downstream, river right, just below the U.S. 29 bridge.
Additional good flatwater paddling can be had on Lake Wylie.
Getting there from downtown Charlotte
Distance: 20 minutes from downtown Charlotte
Time to complete: 2-3 hours
Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway