My father’s history with boats has been…interesting. Despite having served in the Navy during WWII, the boats he seemed to wind up with during later adulthood were quirky, at best. There was the time we went fishing and I wound up with battery acid eating through all of the life vests, as well as the jeans I was wearing. We didn’t catch anything. There was the time the passenger seat snapped loose, at speed. We didn’t catch anything that trip, either.
But what would life be like without these adventures, and the tall tales that they inspire? Some of my fondest memories are of exploring the north end of Lake Greenwood and the rivers that feed it. We took one boat far up the Reedy River, and another boat far up the Saluda. On one of these trips we watched a bobcat jump into the river and swim alongside the boat, terrified that it might take a notion to jump into the boat.
Saturday I was able to replicate one of those trips, this time from the relative safety of a kayak. I joined the Greenville Canoe and Kayak Meetup for a trip from Souls Harbor on Lake Greenwood up the Saluda River. Although there were no bobcats this time, it was still a 14 mile adventure.
I had never been to Souls Harbor, and the map made things a bit confusing. On Google Maps the point around the corner from my coordinates was labeled as “Donaldson AFB Recreation Center.” Donaldson AFB has LONG since been defunct, but I thought that might actually be the launch site, rather than the coordinates I had.
I tried to arrive early in case I had it wrong. At the actual coordinates there was a boat ramp, but no parking and there were already lots of kayaks launching. Some of these appeared to be with an outfitter group called “Calm Water Kayaking”, but there were others hanging around, too. I still wasn’t convinced this was the spot, so I decided to explore the area a bit.
The little loop around Souls Harbor circled through several mobile homes. There was a metal building with a cross and what appeared to be a ministries tour bus rusting out front. I guess that was where the “Souls Harbor” name originated. There was no lake access, and no sign of a recreation area, so I headed back to the boat ramp. The folks there confirmed I was in the right spot.
As we waited for the rest of the paddlers, I noticed a constant roar, or hum. I was told that I was hearing the 13 year cicadas. The noise was amazing, even in broad daylight. It sounded like the phasers from the old Star Trek series.
Others soon arrived, and we got our gear ready for launch. In all, 20 paddlers were there, with a variety of skill levels and equipment. We launched at about 10:15 for what was supposed to be a 6 mile out and back paddle.
When Laura first heard that I was paddling Lake Greenwood, her first response was, “Why on earth would you want to paddle there?” Our experiences on the lake are that the water is brown and dirty, and there are far too many boats whizzing by. My initial reaction upon launch was not far off of that mark. There was gunk floating on the brown water, and it didn’t look very appealing. Fortunantely, things improved as we paddled on up the narrower channel of the Saluda River.
The river was much as I remembered it from my previous journey. The channel width varies, but is mostly fairly wide for an upstate river. There was a slight current that gradually increased as we got further upstream. The forested banks were full of cicadas. A couple of channels led off right and left, but we didn’t explore. There weren’t many houses along this stretch.
Soon the forests gave way to open fields and farmland along the river. Before we knew it, we were pulling off into one cleared area for our lunch stop. I was surpised, because it didn’t seem like we had gone too far.
After lunch most of the group headed back to the put-in. Several of us wanted to continue on upstream. It seemed early to be heading back, and it didn’t seem like we had gone far at all. A good-sized group continued on upstream.
I like trips that have a goal, or a destination in mind. A trip that just goes out to some undefined point and then heads back is somehow unfulfilling to me. The bridge at highway 25 seemed like a good goal, so we asked one of the trip organizers, who lives in the area, how far that would be. He didn’t seem to think it possible to make it that far (despite the fact he had a fast carbon fiber boat.) The rest of the group turned back, but five of us continued on to see if we could make it to the bridge.
I had unfortunately put dead batteries in my GPS. We really didn’t have any idea how far we were from the bridge. I pulled over and got out my phone and was able to pull up Google Maps. Even though we were tired, it still looked doable, so we soldiered on.
The further upstream we paddled the stronger the current got. Soon we started seeing more promenint rocks and slip ripples in the river where small standing waves formed. Paddling was getting tough, even in a fairly fast, streamlined boat. Soon we came to the old Burnt Log Bridge. All that remained were abutments on either side of the river.
Eventually we came around a bend in the river and spotted the bridge.
We paddle to its other side just to say we had made our goal, but we really couldn’t go further. Just around the next bend was the start of the shoals from which Ware Shoals gets its name. It was time to head back.
Fortunately, we had the current with us this time. The miles clicked by fairly quickly, and we were able to just float for a bit.
Eventually we hit our lunch spot with its open fields. From this angle the high eroded bluffs were more stark. A lone charcoal grill sat out on the bank.
Beyond this point we had to start working again as the current slacked off. We came to a large island and went to the left. Apparently we had gone on its other side on the way out. This took us across one of the more open areas of the lake.
Soon Souls Harbor was in site. We had made it back. A man and his granddaughter had just pulled their boats out of the water, and invited us to come admire the catfish they caught.
Our total trip was 14.5 miles, well over twice as far as the rest of the group paddled.
I was happy we had made our goal. For the most part this was a quiet journey, with only a few boats coming by. However, I could see this getting very busy as the season progresses. It was an interesting paddle, and I’m glad to have done it.
4 thoughts on “Paddling Lake Greenwood from Souls Harbor”
Ran across this when googling the Donaldson AFB Rec center. Nice read, thanks!
any clue why this site is marked Donaldson AFB Rec Center? Maybe someone who served there marked it as it use to be, I never heard of it before and I grew up at the lake (more or less)
The best information I could find was a brief description on a Geocache…
“The area known as Souls Harbor at one time was the Donaldson Center Recreation Area, used by Army Air Force personnel stationed just north of here, along with trainees at the Coronaca Army Air Field which is now the Greenwood County Airport.”
Most of the other links were spammy generic links that just pull data from the GNIS database, with no real information about the area.
Thanks Tom, been reading your ramblings all afternoon, thanks for helping me goof off at work. Great pictures, some very familiar, some not so.
Hey y’all are chatting about my backyard! I love the river, don’t get on it much any more. Started skiing on it when i was about 15. We got away from all boats and this was before jet skis and sea doos. There was nothing but peace and quiet up the Saluda River. I am 47 now, lived on the Lake Greenwood all my life, am now trying to teach the grand kids to love and respect the water and woods as much as my wife and I have. This is a wonderful area to live in!