There’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature to the 31-mile stretch of the Catawba River below the Lake Wylie dam just over the South Carolina line. At nominal water flow, the stretch is friendly flatwater river paddling, a few rocks here and there, a Class I rapid but no more. The river can be paddled at a release flow as low as 80 cubic feet per second. But when the volume gets cranked up — to around the 11,800 cfs level — those Class I rapids become big Class III water, requiring a whole ‘nother paddling skillset. Thus, it’s a good idea to check the water flow and release schedules for this Duke Energy dam before heading out. (You can do that here.)

This stretch of the Catawba is broken down into papa, mama and baby bear stretches. The papa is the midsection, an 18-mile run from River Park to Landsford Canal State Park. The mama, the last 7.4 miles, is from Landsford Canal to the takeout at SC 9. The baby, which is the closes to Charlotte and a good beginner paddle, the 6 miles beginning at the Fort Mill Access just below the dam and taking out at River Park.

This “baby bear” stretch of the Catawba has a remote feel. Miles of dense forest snuggle up to the river’s banks and as a result, the opportunities for wildlife sightings are enhanced. It’s also an area rich in history: Some of the first Americans to this part of the country settled in the Catawba River Valley some 12,000 years ago.

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Getting there from downtown Charlotte
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 30 minutes from downtown Charlotte
Time to complete: 2-3 hours
Address: Lake Wylie Dam
City: Rock Hill
State: S.C.
Zip: 29715
Latitude: 35.0129
Longitude: 81.0026