I had a chance to paddle Sparkleberry Swamp on Thursday, March 29, 2012, with Paul Ferguson, author of the paddling guide, "Paddling Eastern North Carolina". An article in the South Carolina Wildlife Magazine for Sep-Oct 2007 Issue describes Sparkleberry:
"Sparkleberry Swamp lies at the headwaters of Lake Marion, a part of the Upper Santee Swamp formed by the junction of two mighty river systems, the Wateree and the Congaree. Between them, these rivers drain more than 15,000 square miles of watershed. The Upper Santee extends southward to the Rimini-Lone Star railroad trestle and contains 16,000 public acres owned by the South Carolina Public Service Authority, better known as Santee Cooper."
The previous day we paddled the lower Congaree into the Santee and down to Low Falls Landing on Lake Marion. However after six miles in our journey, Tavern Creek is on the left side and enters Sparkleberry Swamp. We only went 1/2 mile into this creek. On Thursday, we left our cabin which we rented in Poinsett State Park about ten minutes to the Sparkleberry Landing. When we arrived there was a nice dirt parking lot of good size and two concrete boat ramps. Looking at the parking lot, I could tell there would be lots of motor boats on the swamp that day.
After taking our canoes off the truck and parking, we headed out in the swamp. Paul had done extensive research on the swamp looking at several articles and mapping out waypoints. We had ample water for this trip and since there is no gauging station in the swamp, probably the best gauge for water would probably be at Trezesvant gauging station on the Santee which is the closest, which read about 76.70 ft. Here is the gauging station:
When we put in, a fisherman told us earlier he had heard alligators bellowing which I was looking forward to seeing some of these creatures. I know, you have seen one alligator, you have seen them all, but they still amaze me. We followed the waypoints Paul had mapped out and also some of the trees have paint spots on them to follow, however it is advisable to carry a GPS in order to track back to the put in just in case you get turned around.
We weaved our way through the cypress and tupelo trees from narrow channels to wider channels, and after about 6 miles we ended up in Riser Lake. This lake is of good size and when you enter the lake, directly across where we entered are two areas of high ground with some homemade table, suitable for lunch and even camping, despite the trash there.
Before leaving the lake, Paul and I decided we would try and paddle north and find where he had turned around the previous day on Tavern Creek. We had the way points and made the mark, so turned around. We paddled through the swamp and came back out in Riser Lake and decided to paddle south on the lake and take a different route back. I could see the track on my GPS and we almost ran parallel to our track going out.
On our trip we passed by some motorboats, some passed us. The ones we passed were fishing or just sitting and drinking. The wildlife we saw included herons, ducks, egrets and other bird life. I was disappointed no sightings of alligators or snakes. We covered about 14 miles in the swamp and more could be covered.
This would be a nice day paddle but check the water level and make sure to bring a GPS. You could camp on Riser Lake but better be sure to be the first ones on the two areas or you will be sleeping in your canoe or in a hammock over the water. There were some other areas in the swamp for possible camping but they are not real high ground.
Hotels on I-95 or camp at Poinsett State Park which has nice campground and cabins to rent.
No fees for the landing. State Park charges fee for camping or cabin
From I-95 in South Carolina, exit number 119, take hwy 261 north, after passing Pinewood, SC turn left on SC SSR 51 or Camp Mac Boykin Rd, look for the signs Pubic Lake Access.
SC Delorme Atlas & SC Wildlife Magazine.