Friday, August 18, 2017

Landsford Canal State Park: Frogs, Lilies and an Old Canal

Someone recently asked me for my thoughts on Landsford Canal State Park. We hadn’t been – hadn’t heard of it, actually – so I put it at the top of the list for our next outing. And I’m glad we did. It was well worth the easy hour drive down I-77 and we were rewarded with a number of fun discoveries.

This South Carolina State Park is situated along the banks of the Catawba River. Directions are well marked once you get close, with a big welcoming sign at the entrance. There’s plenty of parking, along with bathroom facilities, a visitor center and gift shop. I’m sure it gets crowded on pretty weekends – or when the spider lilies are in bloom (more on that in a minute) – but we had the place almost to ourselves on a weekday summer morning.

There is an old-school playground just in front of the parking area, which was convenient for letting the kids get the car-ride wiggles out while I packed our hiking bag with water bottles, snacks and other necessities. 

The river is impressive from this vantage point – wide, but relatively shallow and dotted with huge boulders. There are three hiking trails: Canal Trail (1.5 miles one way), Nature Trail (0.6 miles one way) and Eagle Point Trail (0.2 miles one way). All are flat, natural-surface, easy trails. The biggest obstacle is a root here and there.

We chose to start on the Nature Trail, which hugs the river until it meets up with the Canal Trail about three-quarters of a mile in. We were impressed by 1) the number of frogs we saw (some as small as a fingernail to some as big as a baseball . . . and colors ranging from yellow to red to brown) and 2) the opportunity to climb down the banks in certain spots and rock-hop in the shallow water.
At the end of the Nature Trail is an overlook that allows for an impressive display of the largest known stand of the rocky shoals spider lily, a flower species found predominantly in the Southeast. Though they weren’t in bloom when we were there (peak bloom season is May and June), the waterscape was breathtaking.

After a quick break at the overlook, we joined up with the Canal Trail, so named because it follows the route of the Landsford Canal, which was built in the 19th century to bypass the rocky rapids of the Catawba River. Along the trail are well-preserved remains of the canal system that made the river commercially navigable from 1820 to 1835. It is fascinating to see the remnants – including bridge foundations, culverts and locks – up close, and to read the information boards explaining their functionality throughout the hike.

On the way back, we stuck to the Canal Trail to cover some different ground and give us the opportunity to see the canal remains we missed on the Nature Trail on the way out. With river playtime, frog-chasing and vine-swinging stops along the way, we spent a little over two hours on the trail.

We opted to eat the lunch I packed on the way home because we were hot and a little worn out, but I noted more than a dozen picnic tables, some under shelters, in the playground/parking area that would make for a fun extension to the day’s excursion.

Now I can report back to my friend that we found Landsford Canal State Park to be a fun trip worth taking!

How to get there:
Landsford Canal State Park is located at 2051 Park Dr., Catawba, SC, 29704. Take I-77 South to exit 77 onto US-21. Take a left on S. Anderson Rd. and go 10 miles. Turn left on Landsford Rd. You’ll see the park entrance signs just under two miles down the road.

Don’t forget to pack:

Cash: South Carolina state parks charge an entry fee for guests. You’ll need $5/adult, $3.25/S.C. senior, $3/children 6-15, and children under six are free. Bring cash for the self-serve envelope kiosk at the entrance. Just drop your money in the box and hang the punch-tag from your rear-view mirror.

Water bottle: A must-have for any hike. You don’t need to pack extra; you can refill at the visitor center when you finish your hike.

Snacks: Throw in a granola bar, trail mix or crackers. It buys you time on the trail when your tank starts running on empty.

Backpack or bag: Something lightweight and comfortable to carry your essentials.

Bug spray: We didn’t see many mosquitoes, but the gnats were relentless. Plus, ticks are always a threat.

Shoes: If you plan to do a little rock-hopping, consider Keen sandals or water shoes you can hike in. Otherwise, comfy sneakers will suffice.

Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: I pack ‘em everywhere we go, though the canopy was thick enough on this hike we didn’t need any of them.

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