Looking for one of the area’s best float trips? Check out the stretch of the Catawba River starting just below Mountain Island Lake in North Carolina and flowing to the border of South Carolina. You’ll paddle peaceful stretches of undeveloped shoreline and see foxes, deer, and wild turkeys in the forest. Hawks, heron, and bald eagles will be nesting in the trees, while turtles sun themselves on downed logs.
While the blueway feels remote, you’ll be passing right by some of the best parks, restaurants, and outdoor recreation in the region. As a matter of fact, you can eat breakfast near the launch in downtown Mount Holly, stop for lunch at the Whitewater Center, and catch the sunset at a craft brewery in Belmont. Combine a picnic lunch with a distillery tour, or camp under the stars at McDowell Nature Preserve. Mix and match to create your perfect paddle trip on the 27-mile Catawba River Blueway
1. River Street Park
Launch your boat on Dutchmans Creek at River Street Park in Mount Holly, where you can eat breakfast at Mount Holly Grill and get a coffee to go at Catawba Coffee Co. to start your day. The park has a walking trail, playground, fishing pier, and a disc golf course. It’s just a short paddle downstream to a right turn into the Catawba’s main channel to pick up the blueway.
2. Tailrace Marina
About two miles into your trip, an island divides the river into two channels. Paddle river right to pull out at Tailrace Marina for a sandwich or cocktails on the waterfront deck at J Peters Grill & Bar. If you don’t have your own boat, you can start out at the marina, where they rent single and tandem kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards.
3. U.S. National Whitewater Center
Across the river from Tailrace Marina, a second, narrower river channel leads to the dock at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Allow a few hours to pull out on the sandy shoreline, hike up the trail to the activity center and restaurant, and enjoy everything USNWC has to offer. Go rafting on the man-made whitewater river, or climbing, mountain biking, and ziplining on 1,300 acres of forested trails.
Need a break before you get back on the river? Relax on the lawn with a craft beer from the Pump House Biergarten and lunch from the River’s Edge Grill while you watch whitewater kayakers play in the class II-IV rapids. Another alternative to consider is planning your paddle trip around more than 50 races, concerts, outdoor films, and festivals that the center hosts throughout the year.
4. Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park
You can’t miss the pier and boat launch at Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park on river right as you paddle down the Catawba into the Town of Belmont. The playground and picnic shelters sit up on the top of a bluff overlooking the river as it widens and flows into Lake Wylie. There’s an ADA-accessible kayak and canoe launch at the park, and the pier is a great place to pull ashore and drop your fishing line from the floating dock.
5. Riverside Marina
Not only can you rent kayaks and SUP boards at Riverside Marina, but you can also take a distillery tour and sample Belmont’s craft beer scene while you’re there. Up the hill from the marina is the former Spectrum Dye Mill, which was renovated to house North Carolina’s first rum distillery, Muddy River Distillery. Sample their signature oak barrel-aged Queen Charlotte’s Reserve rum during your tour, then head around the corner for a pint of craft beer on the deck at York Chester Brewing Company.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with Gaston County Gov.