At Landsford Canal State Park – along the banks of the Catawba River, southeast of Rock Hill – nature and history walk arm-in-arm. Along with beautiful views of the river, you will see remnants of an early 19th-century aid to transportation while walking The Canal Trail.
What’s the draw?
The 448-acre park contains the best-preserved canal in the state. This man-made waterway was a vital link in South Carolina’s internal improvements program of the 1820s, enabling shallow-draught boats laden with goods to circumvent the rocky shoals which made navigation along this portion of the Catawba all but impossible.
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The Canal Trail, 3 miles roundtrip, is an easy, mostly-level walk with a few steps here and there along the way. Near its start, you will see the diversion dam, made of piles of loose stone that redirected both water and boats from the river into the canal. Also near the trailhead is the guard lock, used to limit the amount of water entering the canal when the water level of the river was high. Here, a horse or mule was tied to the boat to pull it through the canal.
At several places along the trail, other remnants of stone structures can be seen, including abutments that supported a wooden-truss footbridge and several culverts that allowed water from natural streams to flow under the canal. Last to be encountered on the trail are the lifting locks, the canal’s most important feature. Along the two-mile length of the canal, the river takes a 36-foot drop in elevation. Using 16th-century technology, the locks compensated for this change in elevation by providing the means to safely raise and lower the boats.
The 0.6-mile Nature Trail is a paved walk that hugs the Catawba River. A relaxing walk at any time of the year, it is especially rewarding in May and June, when the rocky shoals spider lilies are in bloom. The overlook at the end of the trail provides the perfect vantage point to enjoy the splendid floral display created by the delicate white blooms of the lilies. These plants require clean, free-flowing water with an uneven, rocky bottom: This small stretch of the Catawba includes the largest known stand along the entire waterway. The flowers are at their peak in late spring.
Eagle Point Trail is a mere 0.2-mile walk, ending at a bluff overlooking the river.
Other park activities include canoeing or kayaking the paddle trail. Fishing is permitted along the banks of the Catawba River (S.C. fishing license required). Anglers can try to land catfish, carp and bass. A spacious and shady picnic area and playground are near the parking lot. The park includes both a small museum and an interpretive center; each is open by appointment only.
A short drive north of Landsford Canal, the Andrew Jackson State Park is a recreational area honoring the nation’s seventh president. The site includes a picnic area with shelters, campground, boat dock, fishing pier and two nature trails. The Garden of the Waxhaws is a 1-mile loop of moderate difficulty. Attractions honoring the two-term president include an equestrian statue of Jackson as a boy growing up in the Carolina backcountry, a schoolhouse, plus a small museum with displays about Jackson’s military and political careers. Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. April-October. Museum hours: 1-5 p.m. weekends; the schoolhouse is open 1-5 p.m. Saturday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday (both are self-guided). Park admission: $2; 15 and younger, free. Info: 803-285-3344; www.southcarolinaparks.com.
Landsford Canal State Park hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission: $5; $3 for ages 6-15; 5 and younger, free. Info: 803-789-5800; www.southcarolinaparks.com.
Nearby: Rock Hill
Six miles north of downtown Rock Hill at the Museum of York County (www.chmuseums.org/myco), The Carolina Piedmont Hall contrasts the landscape of today with that of the 1400s. Displayed in the Elephant Hall are the “big boys” of the African plains – rhinos, hippos, elands (largest members of the antelope family), and, of course, an elephant. The Settlemyre Planetarium features full-dome digital projection and a surround-sound system. Admission charged.
Historic Brattonsville (www.chmuseums.org/brattonsville), just southwest of Rock Hill in McConnells, S.C., is a walk-through living-history complex that focuses on colonial and early 1800s life in the S.C. upcountry. Admission charged. Special events are scheduled frequently.
Rock Hill’s big celebration is the Come See Me Festival (www.comeseeme.org) – April 14-23 this year.