Looking for places to launch your kayak in Charleston, SC? Wondering what you need to know before you hit the water? Our guide to kayaking in Charleston includes launching points (and a map), along with some tips for staying safe on Charleston's coastal waters.
If you’re like me, kayaking is one of your favorite ways to spend time outdoors. Whether you live in Charleston, you are coming to the Holy City to paddle, or you are interested in taking a kayak out for a morning or afternoon on vacation, you have no shortage of options when it comes to where to kayak in Charleston, SC.
With that said, finding a place to launch your kayak can be somewhat challenging. There are some well-known launching points like Shem Creek and the Folly River Boat Ramp, but there are only so many places you can go from these locations and make it back in a day. Fortunately, there are lots of lesser-known launching points for kayaking in Charleston as well, and these launching points give you access to locations ranging from Bulls Bay and Cape Romain to the north to the ACE Basin south of Edisto Island.
- Where Can You Launch Your Kayak in Charleston?
- Our Map of Where to Kayak in Charleston (Kayak Launching Points)
- What To Know Before You Go Kayaking in Charleston
- Renting a Kayak in Charleston
- Kayaking Tours and Expeditions in Charleston
- FAQs: Where to Go Kayaking in Charleston, SC
Where Can You Launch Your Kayak in Charleston?
When deciding where to kayak in Charleston, a good place to start is to choose your launching point. Once you know where you will be leaving from, then you can check the tides (which is important here) and plan your route. Alternatively, you can pick a destination, and then you can look for the closest launching point nearby.
So, where can you launch your kayak in Charleston, SC? Organized from north to south, here is a list of kayak put-ins on Charleston’s sea islands, the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), and the area’s other inland waters:
Awendaw (Bulls Bay) Kayak Put-Ins
Awendaw is located north of Charleston, past Mount Pleasant. Launching your kayak here provides access to Bulls Bay, Bull Island, and Cape Romain.
- Buck Hall Recreation Area – 999 Buck Hall Landing Rd., McClellanville, SC
- Awendaw Creek Canoe Launch – 900 20 5 Mile Rd., Awendaw, SC
- Garris Landing Public Boat Ramp – State Highway S-10-1170, Awendaw, SC
- Paradise Island Public Boat Landing – Chandler Rd., Awendaw, SC
Isle of Palms Kayak Put-In
Isle of Palms is the Charleston area’s northernmost sea island that is accessible by car. While Isle of Palms is known for its beaches, kayakers can launch from the island’s inland side on the ICW.
- IOP Public Dock – 50 41st Avenue, Isle of Palms, SC
Mount Pleasant Kayak Put-Ins
Mount Pleasant is located across the Ravenel Bridge from downtown Charleston. The two main kayak launches in Mount Pleasant are located on the Cooper River, which opens up into the Charleston harbor just past Shem Creek.
- Shem Creek Boat Landing – 109 Simmons St., Mt. Pleasant, SC
- Remley’s Point Public Boat Landing – 112 2nd St., Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Downtown Charleston Kayak Put-In
If you want to launch your kayak on the peninsula, you can do so at Brittlebank Park. Located on the Ashley River, Brittlebank Park has a public dock and a large parking lot that has spaces available on all but the busiest days. Consider bringing your kayak caddy (if you have one), as you may need to walk a fair distance to the dock.
- Brittlebank Park – 185 Lockwood Dr., Charleston, SC
James Island Kayak Put-Ins
James Island is located across the Ashley River from downtown Charleston (on the other side of the peninsula from Mount Pleasant). It has multiple public boat landings and kayak launch points that provide access to the Stono River, Wappoo Creek, and Charleston harbor.
- Melton Peter Demetre Park – 640 Wampler Dr., Charleston, SC
- Riverland Terrace Public Boat Landing – 19-35 Plymouth Ave., Charleston, SC
Folly Island Kayak Put-Ins
Folly Island is another of the Charleston area’s most popular beach vacation destinations. But, it is a great place to paddle inland as well, whether you want to explore the marshes behind Folly Island or head toward the Morris Island Lighthouse.
- Sol Legare Public Boat Landing – 2599 Sol Legare Rd., Charleston, SC
- Folly River Boat Ramp – 97 Center St., Folly Beach, SC
West Ashley Kayak Put-Ins
West Ashley has several places to launch your kayak. This includes public boat landings and kayak put-ins on the Ashley River, Stono River, Wappoo Cut, and Rantowles Creek.
- Bulow Landing – Bulow Landing Rd, Ravenel, SC 29470 (drive to the end)
- Pierpoint Boat Landing – Cedar Ln, Charleston, SC (drive to the end)
- Wappoo Cut Boat Ramp – Tranquil Dr., Charleston, SC (drive to the end)
- O. Thomas, Jr. Boat Landing – 4354 Bridge View Dr., North Charleston, SC 29405
Johns Island Kayak Put-In
In terms of where to kayak in Charleston, Johns Island has one main public launching point, but its central location makes it a good put-in point for those seeking to explore the Stono River in either direction. The John P. Limehouse Landing also has a huge parking lot, making it a safe bet even on busy summer weekends.
- John P. Limehouse Landing – 495 Main Rd., Johns Island, SC
Wadmalaw Island Kayak Put-In
Wadmalaw Island also has one main public boat landing. But, as one of the few places to access Bohicket Creek and the North Edisto River, this is a popular put-in point for kayakers who are interested in exploring this area as well.
- Cherry Point Boat Landing – Boat Landing Alley, Wadmalaw, SC (drive to the end)
Edisto Island Kayak Put-Ins
Edisto Island (and the locations you pass through on the way to Edisto Island) provides several unique opportunities for kayaking in Charleston. These are some of the most remote areas you will find; and, from the southern tip of Edisto Island, you can head up the South Edisto River into the incredible ACE Basin.
- Toogoodoo Landing – 4528 Parishville Rd., Yonges Island, SC
- Dawhoo Boat Landing – Dawhoo Rd., Edisto Island, SC (first right after you cross over the ICW)
- Steamboat Landing – Steamboat Landing Rd., Edisto Island, SC (drive to the end)
- Live Oak (Big Bay Creek) Boat Landing – Oyster Row Ln., Edisto Island, SC (drive to the end)
- The Marina at Edisto Beach – 3702 Docksite Rd., Edisto Island, SC (you can also launch from the public beach access at the tip of Edisto Island if the marina’s parking lot is full)
Our Map of Where to Kayak in Charleston (Kayak Launching Points)
Here is a Google map that shows all of the kayak launching points listed above, along with some additional put-in options slightly farther away from downtown Charleston:
What To Know Before You Go Kayaking in Charleston
If you are not used to kayaking in Charleston, there are some things you need to know before you go. Kayaking in Charleston’s tidal waters is unlike paddling on a lake or on rivers or streams farther inshore. While strong paddlers will be able to fight the wind and the tide in most (but not all) conditions, going against the elements for an extended period of time can be both slow and tiring—and this can make it dangerous for inexperienced paddlers.
1. Respect the Tides
With this in mind, when deciding where to kayak in Charleston, it is important to plan your route carefully. Check the tides, and plan to ride the tide both ways if possible. For example, if you are heading toward a coastal destination like Morris Island, Capers Island, or Cape Romain, plan your trip so that you can ride the falling tide out, stay a while, and then ride the rising tide back in. If you are heading toward an inland Charleston kayaking destination like the historic plantation district, ride the rising tide on your way in and plan to turn around at slack tide.
In some locations, this can be tricky. For example, on the Stono River, the tide flows in and out from both ends. The middle point is roughly at Rantowles Creek. If you aren’t sure which way the tide will be flowing at a particular time in a particular location, download a tide app on your phone (which is a good idea anyway), and check the high and low tide times at several locations around your launching point. This should give you at least a rough idea of which way the water will be flowing.
The tide can also come into play when exploring the creeks and marshes off of the area’s main inland waterways. These creeks can get extremely shallow at low tide—and many even dry up entirely. While you won’t be stuck permanently, you could be stuck for an hour or more, unless you get out and try to work your way through the pluff mud back to navigable waters.
2. Check the Weather and Water Conditions Along Your Route
Along with checking the tides, it is also important to check the weather and water conditions along your route. When heading toward coastal areas in particular, both the weather and water conditions can change drastically within a fairly short distance.
Two of the most important things to check are the wind and the swell. Winds of more than about 12 knots can make paddling more challenging, and swells of even two feet can be disconcerting for inexperienced padders. When checking the swell, you should check the swell period as well—the longer the swell period, the calmer the water will be.
In terms of rain, the forecast along Charleston’s coast is notoriously unreliable. Oftentimes, rain forecast for the morning or afternoon will get pushed to later in the day, and many days it will never come. But, unexpected downpours can happen as well; so, rather than just checking the hourly forecast, it is best to monitor the radar throughout your trip. If a storm pops up or you see dark clouds headed your way, consider cutting your trip short and coming back another day.
3. There Will Be Boats
Almost irrespective of where you choose to kayak in Charleston, there is a good chance that you will encounter boats—and potentially several boats—during your paddle. To put it bluntly, some boaters are more conscientious than others. While some will slow down to reduce the size of their wake, others will not. Likewise, some boaters pay more attention to their surroundings than others. With this in mind, when kayaking in Charleston, you should take responsibility for your own safety. If you see a boat headed your direction, do not assume that its captain sees you or that he or she will slow down. Head toward the bank, get perpendicular to the wake, and let the boat pass.
These considerations, of course, are in addition to all of the other safety considerations involved with paddling on tidal and coastal waters. No matter where you kayak in Charleston, stay comfortably within your limits, wear your PFD, leave a float plan with someone you trust, and go with a buddy or group if possible.
Renting a Kayak in Charleston
If you don’t own a kayak and are interested in renting one to try it out, you have several options available. This is a good option for locals and vacationers alike. Several local outfitters offer half-day and full-day rentals, and many have locations where you can put in without having to transport your rented kayak. Alternatively, some outfitters will let you borrow (or rent) pads and straps to carry your rented kayak on your vehicle. If you are serious about buying a kayak, some local retailers will let you try out the kayaks in their showrooms as well.
For more information, you can read: Renting a Kayak on Vacation in Charleston.
Kayaking Tours and Expeditions in Charleston
If you are more comfortable paddling with a group or you are interested in taking a guided tour of Charleston’s inland waterways, several outfitters offer half-day and full-day excursions as well. Several of these excursions also go to uninhabited sea islands—like Morris Island, Capers Island, and Bulls Island. Just be mindful that you will need to sign up for your tour or excursion in advance, and many of the most popular options fill up quickly. If you can’t decide where to kayak in Charleston, taking a tour is a good option if you want to be sure (or at least as sure as you can be) that you will see something interesting during your paddling excursion.
FAQs: Where to Go Kayaking in Charleston, SC
Can You Kayak in Charleston, SC?
You can absolutely kayak in Charleston, SC. There are dozens of places to launch your kayak if you live here, and there are multiple options for renting a kayak or taking a guided kayaking tour if you are visiting Charleston on vacation. Your options for kayaking in Charleston range from exploring the inland rivers and marsh creeks to taking your kayak to Charleston’s uninhabited barrier islands.
Where Can I Go Kayaking in Charleston, SC?
There are tons of places to go kayaking in Charleston, SC. Shem Creek, the Folly River, and Isle of Palms are popular kayaking locations for vacationers; and, if you live here, you can put your kayak in the water at boat landings throughout the tri-county area. Our map of kayak launching points in Charleston includes landings and kayak launches that provide easy access to locations from Bulls Bay through downtown Charleston and all the way down to the ACE Basin south of Edisto Island.
Where Can I Launch My Kayak in Charleston?
Our map of kayak launch points in Charleston includes 20+ places where you can launch your kayak in Charleston. While some of these are popular boat landings where you may encounter a decent amount of boat traffic on summer weekends, many of them are in out-of-the-way locations that are much less frequently visited. Once you decide where you want to go, you can use our map to find the closest launching point to your destination.
Is It Safe to Kayak in Charleston?
It is safe to kayak in Charleston as long as you prioritize your own safety. Among other things, this means checking the conditions before you launch (including the weather, tide, and swell) and making sure you have a PFD and other basic safety equipment. Most boaters in Charleston are courteous to kayakers, though of course you should always take responsibility for your own safety. On calm days with relatively few boats on the water, kayaking in the Charleston Harbor, the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), or any of Charleston’s inland rivers or creeks is no different from kayaking anywhere else.
Can You Launch a Kayak from Anywhere?
No, you cannot launch your kayak from anywhere. Many would-be launching points are located in private neighborhoods and on private property, which means that they are off-limits for non-homeowners. If you are looking for a place to launch your kayak in Charleston, you can use our map of public launching points to find a spot where you can get on the water.
Do You Have to Register Your Kayak in Charleston, SC?
In South Carolina, registration is only required for watercraft that are propelled by mechanized means—either a gas engine or an electric trolling motor (as of January 2023). This means that you do not have to register your kayak in Charleston unless you are attaching a motor to it. While registration isn’t required under South Carolina law, personal floatation devices (PFDs) are, so you should have one with you on your kayak at all times.
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