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A Quick & Dirty Guide to the Best Paddling in Gaston County

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

When it comes to paddlesports, Gaston County is an under-the-radar destination that packs a powerful punch. Four-season paddling on flatwater, class I-IV whitewater, and more than 25 miles of blueways are packed into this scenic North Carolina location just west of Charlotte. Make the most of it with our guide to the top spots to get on the water in Gaston.

Catawba River Blueway

Gaston County’s longest blueway follows the Catawba River for 27 miles from River Street Park in Mt. Holly across the North Carolina/South Carolina state line to Nivens Creek in Tega Cay. Nine public access points on the wide and gentle Lake Wylie section of the Catawba River Blueway give you plenty of options for half-day to full-day trips along more than 300 miles of shoreline.

South Fork River Blueway

For a glimpse of what the North Carolina Piedmont looked like to early settlers, paddle the South Fork Catawba River Blueway. Herons, osprey, and bald eagles nest above while turtles sun themselves along eight miles of protected shoreline. Put in at Spencer Mountain to ride three sections of class I-II riffles over the river’s rocky shoals. At mile 5.5, portage around the McAdenville dam to continue to the take-out in downtown Cramerton. Nine launches along the way give beginners and families plenty of shorter paddles and calm sections to splash and play.

Rankin Lake Park

For a relaxing and beginner-friendly paddle, Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park is your destination. From March to November, you can rent or launch your own kayak or canoe (no SUP boards allowed) at the beach, ramp, or dock. A walking trail circles the lake, with shelters nearby for a post-paddle picnic.

U.S. National Whitewater Center

Get your adrenaline pumping on the man-made class II-IV rapids at the U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC). Guided rafting trips take you on multiple loops down the center’s three river channels for two hours of continuous thrills (and usually spills). If you have young kids, family rafting is a gentler option. For teens and thrill-seekers, rodeo rafting is the way to go.

Experienced whitewater kayakers and SUP boarders can run the rivers with their own gear, while private and small-group whitewater kayaking and SUP boarding instruction is an option for novices. Lessons focus on fundamentals like wet exit and roll to get you ready to run not only the USNWC channels but natural rivers as well.

The Whitewater Center dock, on a quiet cove off the Catawba River’s main channel, is a peaceful spot for families and beginners to try flatwater paddling for the first time. Launch one of their rental kayaks or SUP boards, or take a private or small-group lesson. All your gear is included.

Take your skills to the next level by registering for one of the paddling or multisport events in the Whitewater Race Series. From the flatwater Dry Tri (paddle/bike/run) and Catawba River Races (swim/kayak/SUP board) to the head-to-head whitewater kayak racing of Neptune’s Revenge, there are events every month, with multiple competitions during the summer months.

Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with Gaston County Gov.

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