Kayaking the Combahee River

Nestled along the borders of Beaufort and Colleton County, just a stone’s throw south of Charleston and north of Beaufort is the Combahee River. This magnificent river is the spot where Revolutionary War hero Colonel John Laurens died, and Civil War hero Harriet Tubman led over 750 slaves to freedom. Paddling a kayak through this historic estuary is an experience to be savored. The trip is ripe with anticipation of the natural wonders that will be revealed around each bend. The sights, sounds and scents of this Lowcountry paradise never disappoint its visitors.

This image shows evidence of former rice fields along the Combahee River. These fields, dikes and trunk systems are still maintained by landowners to attract wildlife to the area.

This nature enthusiast’s paradise is a part of the ACE Basin, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries along the Atlantic Coast. The best way to see this blackwater river is in a kayak. Whether you like to explore the river on your own or as a part of a tour, the Combahee has options for you. If you are the adventurous type, know how to read the tides, and have your own kayaks, Cuckhold’s Creek is a great option. If you would rather go with a guide that does all the heavy lifting, Sugar Hill Creek is the place for you. Both creeks provide stunning views of wildlife and evidence of historic rice cultivation.

Beaufort Kayak Tours leads a 2.5-hour excursion from Sugar Hill Landing. This spot is surrounded by former rice plantations just off River Road, via Highway 17.  Guides provide a narrated natural and cultural history tour along the scenic waterway which passes rice trunks, and slave-dug canals that were used to flood rice fields. The guides provide everything you need to have a safe and enjoyable journey. Kayaks, paddles, and life jackets are waiting when visitors arrive.

The tour proceeds down the creek and into the Combahee River. Historic rice fields are pointed out. Rice fields, dikes and trunk systems that were first built in the early 1700s are still maintained and in use as wildlife management and conservation areas. The formerly cultivated fields are prime habitats to attract all forms of birds and other wildlife species.

If you are of a more adventurous type and like to kayak without a guide, Cuckhold’s Creek is the perfect spot for you! This peaceful creek is travelled by many who launch from Cuckhold’s Landing at the intersection of White Hall and Combahee Roads. If you head upstream, you will travel under a bridge used in the filming of Forrest Gump. This creek also shows signs of former rice plantation days. The creek habitat is home to many flowering plants and wildlife.

The very bravest of Lowcountry kayakers enjoy launching from Cuckhold’s Landing and travel into the Combahee, through the rice canals and end the trip at the Steel Bridge Landing. This is a very long trip and not for the faint at heart, especially if the tide changes. Have someone pick you and your gear up from the Steel Bridge.

Springtime trips down the Combahee will reward you with floral beauties, including pontederia and rare spider lilies. Butterflies are also drawn to the beautiful blooms along the banks. Water lilies fill the canals and tributaries that branch from the river. Osprey, anhingas and double-breasted cormorants can be spotted in the trees. Egrets and herons can be found wading along the riverbanks. It’s always a good idea to bring along a camera to capture wildlife images. Keep it stowed away in a ziplock bag until you need it. Also, plenty of water and bug spray are also good to pack for the journey.

As you travel down the Combahee River and its tributaries, it’s important to reflect on the history of the area. It’s also noteworthy to look for any straight waterways that can be found throughout the estuary. These canals were hand dug by slave labor to supply water to the ancient rice fields. The rice trunks control the flow of this water. Harriet Tubman was stationed in Beaufort with the Union Army for a time during the Civil War. Under the direction of Colonel James Montgomery, she led a scouting party of eight soldiers up the Combahee River to gain intelligence for the union. They burned plantations and liberated over 750 slaves along the river.

Pick your path to Kayak the Combahee River.

Directions for Kayaking Cuckhold’s Creek

The best time launch is on the early falling tide. The landing is accessible via Highway 17. In the Green Pond area, turn onto White Hall Road. Take the first left off White Hall. Launch your canoes then have someone pick you up at the Steel Bridge Landing (Harriet Tubman Bridge). Spring kayakers can get up close and personal with flowering plants, including white spider lilies. The creek travels through historic rice fields of the former Combahee Plantation.

Several bends into the trip, the creek seems to split into different directions. Keep to the right. Just after you pass the White Hall landing, (1.5 miles into trip) the creek splits and forms Folly Creek. Stay to the right to continue on Cuckold’s Creek. The creek will spill into the Combahee River. Stay to the left to continue downstream. The river winds through the marsh. The Steel Bridge Landing will be on the right, just before the Harriet Tubman Bridge.

Both landings can be accessed from Highway 17. Sugar Hill Landing is just off River Road. Cuckhold’s Landing can be found at the intersection of White Hall and Combahee Roads.