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Lake Murray in South Carolina

Trip Overview

On May 23rd I awoke at 6:00 am to begin a first attempt at paddling the entire length of Lake Murray in one day. This included about two River miles where the Saluda River flows into the reservoir. I live very close to the dam and the drive to the put-in on Hwy 121 just a few miles south of Newberry took about 50 minutes. I have always wanted to do this but it took the perfect timing and circumstances before I would give it a try. The weather was forecast to be about 78* and light breezes with partly cloudy skies. About as perfect as possible. On Sunday my kayak got a new topside polish and I was feeling great. I began my journey at 7:55 am and it was a beautiful cool morning at 57 degrees and totally calm. The River was quite off-color due to recent rains and providing about 1-1.5 mph flow and I could feel the little boost of speed. There was immediately a Pileated Woodpecker above and a muskrat below as I began scanning for wildlife.

The upper stretch of 6.7 miles to the first bridge at Hwy 395 was really pretty and could qualify as a National Wildlife Refuge with all the backwaters and wildlife with no signs of civilization. At this bridge which I reached at 9:08, I took my first little 10 minute break at the nice Kempsons Bridge Access. The current from the river disappeared about halfway through this run. There was no breeze but the sun was rising and quickly warming the still air. Osprey are prolific on Lake Murray and I saw my first of 27 around this bridge. My next leg took me to Hwy 391 Blacks Bridge at the 11.4 mile point at 10:10. It is very developed here and for the next several miles are many homes. I found a little undeveloped spot and got out for a rest but I was greeted with the highest density of mosquitos I have ever seen in my life. Literally several hundred in an area about the size of a small bedroom.

My rest stop was a very short one and due to my very unpopular blood type (or diet) the mosquitos once again didn't give me one nibble. I am lucky in that regard that those little suckers just avoid me most every time. Off I went in search of an island to have a real rest as my map showed Simpson Island about 4 miles further. The River continued to gradually widen as expected and water clarity began improving. As I approached the island, I found a little landing which made for a perfect lunch stop at the 15.5 mile point at 11:00 am, almost the halfway point I thought. I spent about 30 minutes here which would be my longest break. I walked and stretched the whole time to get some blood circulation on my legs and this was my routine at each stop. Sitting down was the last thing I wanted to do. After a double-decker PBJ, two mandarin oranges, a blueberry cliff bar and a lot of Gatorade, I was off for the BIG section of the lake. Fettner Island was my next stop at the 20 mile point and after having used the same paddle all day, I took Geoffs advice and switched to my lightweight 51" wooden bent shaft "Camp" model canoe paddle. It was a great idea. I felt full of strength and no reduction in speed at all. At this point my GPS had my moving average at 4.5 mph with only a very little occasional breeze in my port (north) side. Fettner Island provided a nice break but probably only 12 minutes until I was paddling again.

Next stop would be at Twin Islands around the 25 mile point. The lake was still quite calm and since it was Monday, very little boat traffic. I have been to Twin Islands many times and it has a great high cliff campsite looking west. I always wanted to camp here and some day I will but NOT during Osprey nesting season. There was a very noisy Osprey that created a nest site exactly at the WRONG spot to enjoy this island. I didn't stay long and could barely see the dam about 8 miles east. Between is Bomb Island which was used as target practice by WWII bombers training to bomb Tokyo and is off limits because it WAS a major Purple Martin rookery. My mistake after leaving Twin Islands was that I decided to continue using my Canoe paddle.

I stiff breeze suddenly developed out of the NNE and little whitecaps started popping up. I was totally amazed at how quick a lake can go from quite calm to messy/choppy without any weather or change in sky conditions. This is the widest section of the lake and there was a seven mile fetch of open water towards the NE for the 15 mph wind to create some testy water. I needed to begin my SE jaunt to the landing on the south end of the dam and these annoying little "bathtub" waves were hitting me broadside and knocking my stern around. With a bent shaft canoe paddle, I was not well suited for this episode. I finally had to drop my rudder and get my boat back on course. I had one last opportunity to get a break at Spence Island and swap back to the kayak paddle. This was about the 29.7 mile point.

The last leg I was getting a little tired and my moving average suffered from the rougher waters and wind at my bean but at the finish on the Lexington "south" dam park, I completed the 33.18 miles with 4.3 mph average and six stops. Lisa gave great advice to take more quick rests to relieve the discomfort and Geoff for recommending the canoe paddle. I still want to develop some type of comfortable seat pad because that is the limiting factor in my endurance. BUT-ACHE! It was a really satisfying experience and the longest one-day paddle I have experienced since 1992 when I paddled 52 miles down the South Fork Snake River which was followed by a 43 mile bicycle shuttle. Crazy young and full of stamina.




Hwy 6 just north Of Lexington before the dam, access the SCE&G park on the southern side of the dam. This is the takeout and the put-in takes about 50 minutes to reach by the northern route via Interstate 26 and HWY 34 through Newberry or the Southern route via hwy 378 and 391 through Lexington and towards Prosperity to the Put-in on hwy 121 bridge.


Waterproof Lake Murray map and Garmin Dakota 20 GPS

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip