“You’ll be just in time to see the spider lilies!” This was the first thing I’d ever heard about Landsford Canal State Park, and I didn’t know what it meant. I’m not a fan of spiders, but spider lilies were something else entirely. A few days later, I arrived and discovered one of the most gorgeous natural displays I’d ever seen in a state park.
Landsford Canal State Park
Landsford Canal State Park preserves 19th-century history along the Catawba River about twenty minutes from Rock Hill, South Carolina. The shoals were the sight of many crossings during the Revolutionary War. Then later, a canal was built to allow river traffic to bypass those shoals.
I found a lot of outdoor fun and recreation in the small state park. I rolled into the park on a Monday to see the visitor center closed and parking lots empty, so if you want the place to yourself visit on a weekday. A more considerable parking lot beside the river had plenty of rooms for RVs. It included a launch for kayaks and canoes, a popular activity on the weekends.
The Ultimate Outsider stamp was located at an information board near the small parking lot beside the visitor center. There was also a stamp inside the visitor center for the times it is open.
Lily Viewing Area
I didn’t waste any time when I got to the park; I wanted to see the spider lilies! Within minutes I had my camera bag slung onto my back and began hiking to the Old Guard Lock, a remnant of the old canal I would learn more about later. I opted to take the Nature Trail at first, and within no time I was treated to scenic views of the Catawba River.
When that trail ended in about half a mile, I continued on the Canal Trail. The flat path was easy to walk as I trudged through the forest with the ever-present sound of rushing water nearby. It was like nature’s music to my ears and made the remaining hike to the Lily Viewing Area pass quickly.
The viewing area was a large wooden observation deck at the edge of the river with benches at the back and a low rail on the front. I walked over to the rail and caught my first sight of the blooming rocky shoals spider lilies. Hundreds of white blooms attached to vibrant green stems sat in clusters along the rocks protruding above the rushing water of the Catawba River. I had never seen anything like it before and could not contain my giddy laughter.
I sat on one of the benches, still with a great view of the spider lilies, and enjoyed the sound of tumbling water. No man-made sounds ever penetrated the peacefulness. It was a moment in nature that only required a thirty-minute walk along the river but demanded an hour of stillness to enjoy.
Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies
Only a couple of places in the country meet the particular requirements needed for rocky shoals spider lilies to thrive. The shallow water of the Catawba River along Landsford Canal State Park is the only place in South Carolina.
While the plants will thrive throughout the year, the best time to see the blooms is around mid-May through early-June. The state park’s website has a page dedicated to the Lily Watch Update where you can find daily updates with when the blooms are expected to reach their peak. During that time, thousands of brilliant white blooms spread across the Catawba River like a field of flowers.
Lily Fest is an annual event hosted at Landsford Canal State Park that typically coincides with the beginning of the blooming season for the rocky shoals spider lilies. The festival is usually the Sunday after Mother’s Day in May.
The state park has two hiking trails that make the park an excellent day trip destination from nearby Charlotte and Rock Hill. During my half-day visit in May, I hiked the trails and found both to be pleasant with gorgeous views.
The 1-mile Nature Trail is an out-and-back trail beginning at the Old Guard Lock about five minutes from the Visitor Center. The trail offers lots of great views of the Catawba River and takes about 30-minutes to hike both directions. Either end of the trail connects with the Canal Trail so I recommend using this as a half-mile portion of a loop.
The 3-mile Canal Trail was my favorite trail at the park, despite the views from the Nature Trail. The Canal Trail begins at the Old Guard Lock, a remnant of the 1800s canal that once cut through the forest alongside the Catawba River. The trail includes several markers along the way, explaining the history of the old Catawba Canal.
From the Old Guard Lock, the trail passes the historic site of an old culvert, site of an 1810 mill complex, and a few remaining locks. The trail continues past the Lily Viewing Area to the Lower Access Area, where you’ll find the Lockkeeper’s House.
Kayaking the Catawba River
The best way to see the rocky shoals spider lilies during peak bloom is also the most exciting outdoor recreation at the park: kayaking the Catawba River. The kayak launch at the state park is the perfect place to put into the water for a short and invigorating journey downriver.
On an average day, the rapids along the river are a calm Class I, but with enough water they can quickly become Class II or Class III rapids.
About 1.5 miles from the kayak launch is the Lower Access Area of the state park. It’s an excellent place to pull out of the river with a smooth return to the main entrance of the park. The spider lilies are about halfway along that journey on the river.
Most of Landsford Canal State Park is only moderately accessible. The Visitor Center and picnic area are accessible, but beyond that the trails are difficult at best.
The Nature Trail and Canal Trail, the only way to see the rocky shoals spider lilies, are gravel paths that would be difficult for most wheelchairs. However, the trails are wide and flat, so if you have an outdoor-rated wheelchair it should be accessible, but I can’t guarantee it.
Landsford Canal State Park is not remote, it’s only 20 minutes from a couple of exits along I-77, but there is no direct route. Here are two ways of getting to the state park.
If you’re northbound on I-77 take Exit 62 and turn right toward Richburg. Turn right again onto SC Highway 9 and continue a few miles to Fort Lawn. Turn left onto US Highway 21. Although your GPS device or app may suggest taking a shorter route, I recommend doing this because it is much easier and only five minutes longer. Once on US Highway 21, continue to Landsford Canal Road on the right; the park’s Main Entrance is located 2.4 miles down the road.
If you’re southbound on I-77 take Exit 77 and turn left onto US Highway 21. This is my preferred route to get to Landsford Canal State Park. From the interstate exit, it is only a 12-mile, 20-minute drive with no turns. Continue to Landsford Canal Road and turn left.
Where to Stay
I think Landsford Canal State Park is worth a two-day trip when the rocky shoals spider lilies are blooming. However, the park does not have a campground or cabins. So where can you stay?
My favorite hotel I always recommend in Rock Hill is Hampton Inn. Comfortable rooms, excellent service, and they have one of the best free hot breakfast spreads of any hotel I’ve ever visited.
Another great hotel is Holiday Inn. Along with comfortable rooms, this hotel has an indoor swimming pool, but you’ll have to fork over $20 for breakfast in the morning.
La Quinta is another hotel I always recommend in this area. Their comfortable rooms include a suite with either two queen beds or a king bed along with a sleeper sofa for traveling families. A pretty good breakfast is included, and they have an outdoor swimming pool.
Holiday Inn Express is located at Exit 65 is brand-new in 2019 and located beside the Olde English District Visitor Center. The hotel is more budget-friendly, features comfortable rooms and an outdoor swimming pool, and includes a free continental breakfast.
Landsford Canal State Park
2051 Park Drive, Catawba, SC