Soak up South Carolina’s nature and history at Landsford Canal State Park

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If you’re looking for a cool family road trip this summer, consider heading down to Landsford Canal State Park in Catawba, SC.

One of the most popular attractions at Landsford Canal State Park is the Canal Trail featuring remains of the 200-year-old canal system crucial for commercial navigation in the early 1800s.

One of thirty-seven state parks in the state of South Carolina, 448-acre Landsford Canal is home to several unique natural and historical features you won’t find at any other state park or historical site.

Located along a two-mile stretch of the Catawba River, Landsford Canal State Park sits on a fall line, an area where an upland region and a coastal plain meet.  The results is shoals and rapids that made the area un-navigable for 19th century merchants. The canal at “Land’s Ford” was part of a system of canals built along the Catawba and Wateree rivers that made the area commercially navigable from 1820 to 1835.  At one time, the canal was an important trading route between the foothills and the coastal plain.

Portions of the canal’s original stonework remain despite the passage of years and flooding.

The modern-day state park features the well-preserved remains of the canal including three sets of locks, a mill site, a miller’s house and a lockkeeper’s house in various states of decay.  Remnants of the 200-year-old original canal stonework and the “locks” that equalized the water can still be seen toward the south end of the 1.5-mile Canal Trail.

Remnants of the locks used to raise and lower boats from one level in the canal bed to another.

The ingenuity and craftsmanship that went into building the canal over two centuries ago are evident in portions of the canal that have survived the years relatively intact.  Much of the canal’s construction was completed by hand, including drilling holes to blast out bedrock, shaping rough field stones and stone cut out of the canal bed, placing stones and carrying or dragging out trees and excavated materials.  Larger stones were lifted into place using a system of timbers and pulleys.

Portions of the arched culvert walls used to avoid damage to the canal bed where the canal crossed natural streams flowing toward the Catawba River still remain today.

The exposed bedrock and elevation changes that necessitated the Landsford Canal also create a set of rapids suitable for canoeing or kayaking.  The rapids in this part of the river are usually class I or II but can become class III if the water flow is right. A drop off area near the park provides canoe access to the Catawba River.

The same conditions that made the river un-navigable for 19th century merchants make it ideal for canoeing and kayaking today.

Landsford Canal State Park is also home to a nesting pair of bald eagles.  Mates for life, the pair are permanent residents of the park, opting to take advantage of easy access to fish in the Catawba River in lieu of migrating as others do.  The female has laid eggs every February since the mid 1990s. Her fledglings learn to fly and leave the nest every year by late May, allowing park patrons to witness the birds in their nest from park trails for roughy six months of the year.  

The section of the Catawba River on which the park is situated is also home to one of the largest collections of rocky shoal spider lilies in the world.  Rocky shoal spider lilies are tough plants named for the shallow, rocky stretches of river they blanket in white every spring. Shoals such as the free-flowing stretch of the Catawba River where this large concentration of spider lilies flourishes have by and large been lost to the damming of rivers, endangering the future of these flowers.  Peak blooming season for rocky shoal spider lilies is typically in May and June.

In addition to the park’s unique features, Landsford Canal offers many of the amenities you would expect to see in a state park.  In addition to the popular 1.5 mile Canal Trail, the park also offers two short hikes: the Nature Trail along the banks of the Catawba River and the Eagle Point Trail, which ends at a bluff overlooking the river.  The park contains playgrounds, a rentable picnic shelter and several geocaches.

Although the 1.5-mile Canal Trail is the park’s main attraction, it also offers two other short nature trails.

Located about forty minutes from Waxhaw and a little over an hour from Charlotte’s Eastern suburbs, Landsford Canal State Park is a great way for your family to enjoy a day of outdoor fun and education this summer!

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