Not as well known and heavily traveled as the Catawba River, the South Fork River is an under-the-radar destination that you’ll want to keep all to yourself. Paddling the narrow South Fork River Blueway from Spencer Mountain to Cramerton is just the right amount of Class I-II whitewater to get the adrenaline pumping, but it’s mostly long and peaceful stretches of slow-moving flatwater without the boat traffic that you find on other lakes and rivers in the area.
Part of this blueway’s magic is the protected shoreline that runs almost the entire length of the route. The woods are home to white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, great blue heron, osprey, and bald eagles. Crumbling brick pillars below the Spencer Mountain put-in mark a former river crossing and remains of textile mills near McAdenville hint at the river’s industrial past.
Take a day to paddle the 8.4-mile route, stopping at the parks, towns, restaurants, and breweries along the way. (Note that there’s no shuttle service in the area, so you’ll need to park a car in advance to get you back to the start.) Here are the top spots to come ashore when you’re paddling the South Fork.
1. South Fork River Park
Depending on water levels, you’ll navigate two of the most challenging sections of whitewater between your launch at Spencer Mountain and South Fork River Park 3.5 miles downriver. Pull ashore on river left to grab a picnic table or bench and watch other paddlers float by. There’s a one-mile loop trail through the forest that you can hike before getting back on the river.
It’s another 2.5 miles to the R.Y. McAden Access on river right, just after you paddle under a soaring train trestle and busy highway bridge, the most visible signs of civilization you’ll come across during your trip. The launch is also the trailhead for the South Fork Trail that follows the South Fork for two miles to connect downtown McAdenville with the Town of Lowell. Along the trail, you’ll find remains of two textile mills that operated along the river in the mid-1800s.
Returning to your boat, you’ll immediately paddle river left to take out at the Adam Springs Portage Trail just 450 feet downriver. It’s a short portage around the McAdenville Dam on a well-marked trail to continue past downtown McAdenville to South Fork Village.
3. South Fork Village
Just over a mile from your last take-out, you’ll come to the South Fork Village launch on river left. Secure your boat at the launch and hike up the hill to District 8 Beer Company, where they stock close to 100 craft beers from all over the U.S. While the nearby Sun’s Up Scuba is a full service scuba shop for certification, guided trips, and the latest gear, it also offers boat rentals to get you out on the water at the South Fork Village launch. You can make this you’re point of entry for starting a paddling trip as well.
4. Downtown Cramerton and Goat Island Park
Paddle another mile downriver to the Town of Cramerton, the best spot along the blueway to grab a bite to eat. As you enter town, you’ll see a footbridge crossing over the South Fork and launches on both sides of the river. Take out on either side to explore downtown.
Across the footbridge from downtown is Goat Island Park, a public park on a small island that used to be maintained by goats that were released on the island back in the early 1900s by textile engineer Stuart Cramer to control vegetation. Now, the forest and natural habitat has returned, making this stretch of the blueway an ideal spot to launch. In the evening, you can listen to the owls hooting in the thick trees lining the river. Play a round of disc golf on Goat Island’s 18-hole course, walk the paved .7-mile greenway trail, or turn the kids loose at the playground. There’s a fitness pavilion, fenced dog park, and amphitheater where the town hosts concerts and special events.
Cross the bridge to downtown for a lunch stop at Mayworth’s Public House, a local favorite for salads, burgers, and tacos. A couple doors down, Doffer’s Canteen serves quesadillas, rice bowls, tacos, and sandwiches in portions you’ll probably struggle to finish. Even if you leave the restaurant full, make a stop at Floyd & Blackie’s down by the river for an ice cream cone on your way back to the launch. Floyd & Blackie’s is also home to The Floating Goat, the spot to rent a canoe or kayak if you don’t have your own gear.
5. Riverside Park
The final 1.5-mile stretch of the South Fork Greenway takes you to Riverside Park. Pull your boat out to walk the 1.2-mile greenway, or continue paddling to the blueway’s final access point at the foot of Cramer Mountain. This end of the blueway connects to some of Cramerton’s oldest neighborhoods, including the historic Baltimore community.
Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with Gaston County Gov.