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Kerr Scott Reservoir is in Wilkes County just southwest of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro. The primary feed into it is the Yadkin River though Lewis’ Fork is a nice little stream as well. The lake is within easy reach of most of the Piedmont of NC. The Yadkin River Paddle trail officially begins below the dam.
Our day began early enough; my wife and I were joined by another couple, we put all the boats on our car and headed out. This was to be a day of following desires so we stopped from a good breakfast along the way. We also stopped once near the lake and got food “to go” for lunch on the lake somewhere, and the usual 2 hr drive time from Hillsborough was closer to 3 by the time we arrived. So we were finally on the water about 11 on a wonderful fall day.
The temps started out in the low 40s but were to climb to the lower 60s under a clear Carolina Tarheel Blue sky, nice typical fall kind of day. The lake was a little below normal stage around 1028 ft and the inflow was about 300 cfs. One of the impressive things about the water was its clarity. Even with several good rains earlier in the week the lake and the river were amazingly clear. That is one of the characteristics of both the Yadkin and Lewis’ Fork as they come out of the mountains into this lake. They can be very silty at times but they are not typically muddy streams.
We had come up US 421 heading west and just after the NC 268 exit and after it crosses the Yadkin River in Wilkesboro, there are a multitude of strip malls, big box stores and eating places. If you forgot something or want food ice, drinks, this is a good place to get it.
The north side of the lake and its various parks and ramps are reached by staying west on 421 North beyond this shopping area. We went back to NC 268 as the area we choose to launch from was along the south side. The lake there is closely bordered by NC 268. The Corps of Engineers operates a number of parks, campgrounds and day use areas around the lake. Check their website for the particulars (see below). We choose the Keowee one on the upper south side for our launch area.
There are many boat ramps around the lake so the traffic is spread out a bit and the ramps are usually just one or two lanes. Paved parking is nearby and often there is a grassy or sandy spot near the ramp that is an easy put in or take out. This lake remains somewhat more constant in level than say High Rock, Kerr or Jordon Lakes. There is a paddling launch area in the very upper reaches of the lake/river at Marley’s Ford that you can get to via 268 and then a side road. You can drive up close to it and unload, but parking is about 200 yds away. The put in at Marley’s Ford is into the flowing part of the Yadkin and consists of several steps leading down the steep bank to the river’s level. This is typical of some of the other put in places along the paddle trail.
The reason we chose Keowee was that it allowed easy access to several forks in the lake to explore, and that’s just what we did. This was a Saturday, and boat traffic was very light. There were some fishing boats around but being late October there were no skiers. As we paddled along some of the fingers you could seen the typical development of lake front property. Some coves we wanted to explore had been claimed by a fishing boat so we by passed those out of courtesy. However in the part of the lake where the river feeds in, most of the land is reserved for parks and wildlife areas. Thus you can easily move into a sense of more wilderness rather than lake suburbia.
In one place as we began our progress towards the river, we passed a un-used picnic shelter/group camp site atop a large hill overlooking the lake. This we decided was the place for lunch so we pulled up on shore, unloaded the grub and hiked the quarter mile up the hill. By now the temps were about 60 and the day peaceful and gorgeous.
After our relaxed lunch, we carried our trash back and loaded all back on the boats and paddled around the point and into the part of the lake that begins to define the Yadkin’s channel. Once in this part there is little building and generally thick woods coming down to the lake’s edge. The wind was light and the water still. It was a relaxing time of talking, paddling quietly, telling jokes, and just enjoying the day. All in all we paddled maybe two miles up the river here.
The current doesn’t become an issue at any point from where the river channel begins to Marley’s Ford put in. It does become noticeable after a mile or so and ripples are noticed as the water becomes shallower. In the last 1/4 mile before Marley's Ford you begin to have to pay attention to channels to avoid grounding on the shallow silt areas. By 1/4 mile above the Marley’s Ford put in, while the current is a force to paddle against, the real issue is finding enough of a channel and enough water to paddle in. The river is still about 75 ft wide here but shallow with a deep silt covered bottom. If the river inflow had been much below 300 and the lake much lower than 1028 it would have been difficult to get this far. The link for daily inflow rate and lake level is off the menu of the corps home page (see below)
Thus with the shallow water and time of day we turned around and headed back. No one looked at the time but the sun seemed about a hour or less above the ridge. We paddled, not hurriedly but a little less distractedly, to make sure we got back before dark. On the way back we saw more wildlife than before. This included heron, duck, geese, osprey, hawk, eagle and owl. At one point a small owl flew into a dark forested hollow that the sun had long since set on. Suddenly the hollow erupted with the familiar barking sound of many barred owls.
By the time we got back, put the boats on the car and changed into our traveling clothes the sun had set. We made a quick detour to the nearby Mountain View Road that makes its way across the hills at the top of the lake and then down to Marley's Ford. At the overlook was a good place to view the last glows of the sun. The hills to the east reflected the yellow red light against the changing trees down lake and the valley for the “isn’t this beautiful” comments. To the west, the purple outline of Grandfather mountain could just be made out 30 miles away. The end to a good day and time to do the ride home.
There are boat ramps, campgrounds and day use areas (many close mid October).
For food, supplies, lodging go back to US 421 and NC 268 junction and there are a wide range of things available in a 2 mile stretch west of 268. There are also some bed and breakfast and guides/outfitters in the area that you can find easy enough by an online search.
I have found both maps.yahoo.com and maps.goggle.com offer a nice aid in planning a trip with aerial views of an area.
PFD's (Life Jackets)
Full Size Sail Rig