The Lowcountry  is tailor-made for kayaking. An option in downtown Beaufort  is to put in at the public ramp at the Downtown Marina (1006 Bay St., 843/524-4422) and paddle along the peaceful Intracoastal Waterway, either north up the Beaufort River or south into the Sound.
A 10-minute drive away from Beaufort in little Port Royal  is The Sands public boat ramp into Battery Creek. You can also put in at the ramp at the Lady’s Island Marina (73 Sea Island Pkwy., 843/522-0430) just across the bridge from Beaufort. A good compendium of Beaufort-area landings is at www.beaufortusa.com/marinas.htm .
The catch here, as with all the Lowcountry, is to know your way around if you choose to leave the main waterways. It’s easy to get lost because of the sheer number of creeks, and they all seem to look the same once you get into them a good ways.
If you don’t feel comfortable with your navigation skills, it’s a good idea to contact Kim and David at Beaufort Kayak Tours (843/525-0810, www.beaufortkayaktours.com ), who rent kayaks and can guide you on a number of excellent tours of all three key areas. They charge about $40 for adults, $30 for children for a two-hour trip. A tour with Beaufort Kayak Tours is also the best (and nearly the only) way to access the historically significant ruins of the early British tabby Fort Frederick, now located on the grounds of the Beaufort Naval Hospital and inaccessible by car.
Hunting Island State Park  (2555 Sea Island Pkwy., 866/345-7275, www.huntingisland.com , daily 6 a.m.–6 p.m., until 9 p.m. DST, $4 adults, $1.50 children) has a wonderful inlet that is very popular with kayakers.
North and northeast of Beaufort  lies the ACE Basin  region, with about two dozen public ramps indicated by brown signs. Comprising hundreds of miles of creeks and tributaries in addition to its three eponymous rivers, the ACE Basin also features a fun paddling bonus: canals from the old rice plantations. A good service for rental and knowledgeable guided tours of the Basin is Outpost Moe’s (843/844-2514, www.geocities.com/outpostmoe ), where the basic 2.5-hour tour costs $40 per person, and an all-day extravaganza through the Basin is $80. Moe’s provides lunch for most of its tours.
Another premier local outfitter for ACE Basin tours is Carolina Heritage Outfitters (Hwy. 15 in Canadys, 843/563-5051, www.canoesc.com ), who focus on the Edisto River trail. In addition to guided tours and rentals, you can camp overnight in their cute treehouses along the kayak routes ($125). They load you up with your gear and drive you 22 miles upriver, then you paddle downriver to the treehouse for the evening. The next day you paddle yourself the rest of the way downriver back to home base.
To have a more dry experience of the ACE Basin from the deck of a larger vessel, try ACE Basin Tours (One Coosaw River Dr., 843/521-3099, www.acebasintours.com , Wed. and Sat. 10 a.m. Mar.–Nov., $35 adults, $15 children), which will take you on a three-hour tour in the 40-passenger Dixie Lady. To get to their dock, take Carteret Street over the bridge to St. Helena Island and then take a left on Highway 802 east (Sam’s Point Rd.). Continue until you cross Lucy Point Creek, and the ACE Basin Tours marina is on your immediate left after you cross the bridge.
If you prefer self-guided paddling, keep in mind that you can spend a lifetime learning your way around the ACE Basin . But the state of South Carolina has conveniently gathered some of the best self-guided kayak trips at www.acebasin.net/canoe.html .