The Southern Waterways of the United States are often rushed to in the summer months with the accompanying water sports and beach excursions relishing beneath a sweltering sun above, but as Fall slowly approaches, there’s been no better time to simply float on and relax on a paddleboat, as learned by Diamond Brand Outdoors’ list of the top 15 Southern waters to lay your paddle (and worries).
No matter the town, city, or state, every waterway in the Southern United States is full of unique character among its water, be it a river, creek, stream, or lake. As many of the waterways find their way down from the Appalachian Mountain Ranges, joining together and subsiding their active waters as they drop closer to sea level, the flattening of their waters is what makes it perfect for a variety of paddle sports.
Southerns know that in the autumn months, mild-temperatures, generous rainfall, and variety in location make the region a much-coveted destination for paddlers of all abilities, experience, and passions. Note, listings on this list are listed in an order descending in difficulty.
Novice paddlers are welcome to Florida as they can take advantage of many opportunities to explore both river-side caves and freshwater springs and find swamp wildlife as well as historical artifacts. Western Florida’s Chipola River is a part of the Dead Lakes State Recreation Area, which holds two sections: the 51-mile Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail and the 4.5-mile Upper Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail; both are fed by 63 springs, housing small rapids as well as shoal bass for beginner paddlers looking to see scenic views with little to no experience requires.
Share in the majesty of the Carolina countryside as you paddle and weave down 75 miles on the Wateree River Blue Trail’s several sections of flatwater and gentle rapids, making the calm waters a destination for relaxation. The waterway drains from a natural wooded floodplain, and it is observed as a haven for wildlife such as otters, kingfishers, and the American Bald Eagle. Additionally, this river basin is one of the few, precious places that remain in the Southeast where white shoals spider-lily populations thrive in decent numbers.
If you’re looking to advance from class I rapids to class II, then this Tennessee destination should be on your list, as the upper section of the river, located in the mountains for the Cherokee National Forest is where you can find these steep-appearing, yet not overtly difficult rapids. Once you make it past the town of Reliance, the river calms down and mellows out, allowing for a moment of absolute serenity as you float peacefully past towering trees atop cool water.
Nestled snugly between the North Carolina mountains just outside of Bryson City is Nantahala Gorge where the walls are so steep that sunlight only hits the valley floor at high noon. Nantahala is Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun,” so it’s both aptly-named and home to eight miles of mostly class II rapids, resulting in a finale of the class III Nantahala Falls, which is an optional portage. The cold, reliable waters of the area flow all year round from a nearby powerhouse, making this southern waterway particularly accessible and popular.
Cumberland Plateau’s northeastern edge opens to the towering cliffs and massive boulders that Big South Fork is known for in remote-Tennessee culture. This river is the centerpiece of a national recreation area with class III & IV rapids that challenge experienced paddlers by increasing in difficulty with rising water levels; though, these waters are exclusive to the summer months, so come prepared and early!
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