If you are interested in exploring Charleston’s waterways on your vacation, one of the best ways to do so is to rent a kayak during your stay. There are lots of places to kayak in Charleston—including several areas that are within paddling distance of the city’s most-popular vacation destinations.
Where can you rent a kayak on your Charleston vacation? Where can you go in your rented kayak? What do you need to know before you hit the water? Here is a vacationer’s guide to paddling in Charleston:
5 Locations to Rent a Kayak on Vacation in Charleston
There are five main places to rent a kayak on vacation in Charleston. These are (i) Edisto Island, (ii) Folly Island, (iii) Isle of Palms, (iv) Kiawah Island, and (v) Shem Creek.
1. Edisto Island
Edisto Island is located south of downtown Charleston, about an hour’s drive away. While Edisto Island does not get anywhere near as much vacation traffic as Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, it has begun to grow in popularity in recent years.
If you choose to rent a vacation home on Edisto Island, or if you want to make a drive down the Edisto Island National Scenic Byway (which is well worth it on its own), you can rent a kayak at one of two primary locations. You can either rent a kayak at Island Bikes and Outfitters (which will also provide the equipment you need to strap the kayak to your vehicle), or you can rent a kayak and launch directly at the Edisto Watersports & Tackle.
2. Folly Beach
There are a handful of options for renting a kayak on Folly Beach. Similar to Edisto Beach, you can choose between rental companies that provide pads and straps for your vehicle (or that will drop off your kayak at your rental house for you), or that provide direct access to the water from their docks. Both can be good options depending on how much kayaking you want to do and where you want to kayak on your Charleston beach vacation.
3. Isle of Palms
Coastal Expeditions offers kayak rentals on Isle of Palms. According to the outfitter’s website, kayak rentals include gear fitting, paddling instruction, advice on tides and routes, and help getting on and off of the water. Single and double kayaks are available to put in at the Isle of Palms Marina on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Rentals start at three hours, which is plenty for most novice kayakers and families who are interested in spending a morning or afternoon paddling the inshore waters behind Isle of Palms.
4. Kiawah Island
There are a handful of options for renting a kayak for your Kiawah Island beach vacation as well. This includes options on Kiawah Island along with options at Bohicket Marina and along Bohicket Road on your way in. While some vacationers choose to paddle at the beach when the water is calm and the winds are blowing onshore, most people opt to paddle along the marshlands in the Kiawah River or on Bohicket Creek.
5. Shem Creek
Shem Creek is located in Mount Pleasant across the harbor from downtown Charleston. Vacationers can rent kayaks on the creek and explore its calm waters or head out into the mouth of the harbor toward Crab Bank. While Shem Creek is located away from the beach, it is still a popular location to rent kayaks when vacationing in Charleston because of the views of Charleston and the Ravenel Bridge, along with the relatively high likelihood that you will see a dolphin (or several) while paddling.
Where To Go in Your Rented Kayak
So, you’ve decided to rent a kayak on your vacation in Charleston. Where should you go to make the most of your time? Here are some tips for places to go when renting a kayak at each of the locations listed above:
- Edisto Island – If you are vacationing on Edisto Island, your best option is to put in on the back side of the island into Big Bay Creek. This inland waterway winds around for several miles, passing Edisto Beach State Park along the way. You can also head west from your put-in point toward the South Edisto Inlet and explore the banks of the South Edisto River, but just be mindful that the tide can prove challenging to manage on some days.
- Folly Island – If you rent a kayak on Folly Island, you will most likely be padding on King Flats Creek or the Folly River. You can also explore any of the numerous offshoots into the marsh along each of these waterways. If you have at least a few hours (and plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen), you can paddle north about five miles to stop at Morris Island and get an up-close view of Morris Island Lighthouse. Or, if you head in the opposite direction, you can make your turnaround point the beach at Folly Beach County Park on the southern tip of the island.
- Isle of Palms – If you rent a kayak at the Isle of Palms Marina, you will be paddling on the Intracoastal Waterway. You can either stay on the ICW and check out the waterfront homes on Isle of Palms and neighboring Goat Island, or you can head north instead. If you head north, you will feel a world away in about a mile as the waterfront homes and docks give way to undisturbed marshlands with expansive views.
- Kiawah Island – As we mentioned above, you can rent a kayak to take to the beach on Kiawah Island if you are comfortable doing so. However, the better option in our opinion is to rent a kayak on Bohicket Creek. The waters of Bohicket Creek are calm (except on windy days), and boat traffic is generally light. You can spend hours exploring the creek and its offshoots through the marsh, heading whichever direction from your put-in point you choose. For an extended paddling trip, head southwest on Bohicket Creek and then turn left to follow the north bank of the South Edisto River to Seabrook Island Beach. This is about 10 miles roundtrip.
- Shem Creek – If you choose to rent a kayak at Shem Creek, you will most likely spend your time exploring the creek itself. This isn’t a bad thing, as there is more than enough to see during a three-hour rental. You may also choose to take your kayak out of Shem Creek to Crab Bank. This is a seabird sanctuary (as designated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and it is only accessible to the public below the high water tidal line from October 16 through March 14.
While these are your primary options for kayaking on vacation in Charleston, they are by no means the only options available. When renting your kayak, you should feel free to ask the outfitter about places you can explore. Most are more than happy to help, and they can assist you with choosing a good turnaround point given the tides, water conditions, and weather conditions on the day of your rental.
First-Time Kayaking Safety Tips
Kayaking in the Charleston area’s inshore waterways is a great way to make unforgettable memories on your Charleston beach vacation. But, it is important to make sure you remember your paddling experience for the right reasons. With this in mind, here are some safety tips for first-time paddlers:*
- Check the Tides – All of the waters where you will be kayaking on vacation in Charleston are coastal. This means that you need to plan for the tides. To make your paddling excursion as easy as possible, plan to paddle in one direction until the tide turns, then ride the tide again on your way back.
- Wear Your Lifejacket – When you rent a kayak in Charleston, the outfitter should provide you with a lifejacket (it’s the law). Be sure to wear it. Modern lifejackets comfortable enough to wear for hours of paddling; and, if something happens to go wrong, it will be important for you to be prepared.
- Go with a Buddy (or Group) – It is always a good idea to go paddling with at least one other person. This way, just in case something goes wrong, you will have someone there who can help you deal with the situation.
- Plan a Route (and Stick to It) – Decide where you are going in advance. Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back, and then stick to your plan (or call to let them know that your plans have changed).
- Don’t Go Too Far – Paddling can be tiring if you aren’t used to it. With this in mind, it is a good idea not to go too far. The good news is that you don’t have to go far to enjoy your kayak rental. Within a mile (or less) of most put-in points, you will have more than enough views to make your trip well worth it.
*This list is not exhaustive. Paddle at your own risk, make smart decisions, and consider joining a paddling excursion if you aren’t comfortable paddling by yourself.
FAQs: Renting a Kayak on Vacation in Charleston
Can You Have a Kayak Delivered to Your Vacation Rental House?
Whether you can have a kayak delivered to your vacation rental house depends on where you are staying. There are outfitters on Folly Island and Kiawah Island that offer this option (as of January 2023). On Edisto Island, you can borrow the straps and pads you need to put your rented kayak in your truck or on your car or SUV’s roof. However, rather than kayaking on the beach, many people will choose to launch into the creeks or rivers on the back side of the island on which they are staying. If you choose this option, no transportation of your rented kayak is necessary.
How Long Should You Rent a Kayak?
Most outfitters in Charleston offer half-day (3-hour) and full-day kayak rentals. A half day will be enough for most people. Three hours is a long time to paddle if you aren’t used to sitting in a kayak, and you don’t want to be miserable by the end of your experience. With that said, if you are comfortable going out for a full day, there are some great places you can visit (like Morris Island from Folly Beach) even at a casual pace.
Where is the Best Place to Rent a Kayak in Charleston?
It’s hard to say which option for renting a kayak on vacation in Charleston is best, as each location offers calm waters (on fair weather days) and endless views. Each of the five main locations to rent a kayak (Edisto Island, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, and Shem Creek) provides access to inshore rivers and streams where you have a good chance of seeing dolphins, bald eagles, egrets, and other shore birds. If you are interested in paddling past waterfront homes, consider Isle of Palms or Shem Creek. If you want more of a get-away experience, head to Edisto Island or Kiawah Island.
Are There Guided Kayak Tours in Charleston?
Yes, in addition to kayak rentals, many outfitters in Charleston also offer guided kayak tours. Some of these leave from popular vacation destinations like Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, while others depart from boat landings that are farther away—but offer even more-outstanding Lowcountry views.
What is the Best Time to Kayak in Charleston?
Kayaking is a year-round activity in Charleston. If you are visiting Charleston on summer vacation, consider doing your half-day rental in the morning so that you can avoid the heat of the afternoon sun. If you are visiting in the offseason, you can either wait to go in the afternoon when the temperature should be just about perfect; or, if you can get your kayak early enough (or the day before), you can head out for a sunrise paddle. The water is often calmest in the morning as well, and paddling with reflections all around is a unique experience.