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Enjoying the Outdoors in South Carolina

From hiking and rafting to beaches and forests, South Carolina offers plenty of outdoor fun.

By Cary Estes on January 29, 2020

South Carolina: Table Rock State Park
South Carolina / Recreation & Tourism

In terms of land size, South Carolina is one of the smaller states in the country, but oh, what land it is. When it comes to outdoor recreation, South Carolina delivers a powerful punch from this small package. In fact, there are so many picturesque options throughout the state that they can take your breath away both when viewing and trying to describe them all.

“We have lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests, beaches, coastal areas, barrier islands, rolling hills and the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains all within a day’s drive of each other,†says Dawn Dawson-House, corporate communications director for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. “We value our outdoor recreation sites and have preserved and protected much of them. We have invested in outdoor recreation to make sure our communities are able to thrive from it.”

On one side, there is the state’s 187-mile coastline, stretching from the charming port city of Charleston to the popular vacation spots of Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. On the other side, there sits the scenic Blue Ridge foothills, with numerous places for hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking. And in between, there are state parks galore – 47 in all – providing a diverse range of habitats.

“We have some phenomenal outdoor activities in South Carolina, with a great outdoor community that’s growing stronger all the time,†says Jerry Ellsworth, president of the Greenville Natural History Association Hiking Club.


Strolling and Rolling

Hiking and biking are two of the most popular outdoor activities in South Carolina. Ellsworth says his organization has approximately 750 active members and holds several events every week, ranging from relaxing short hikes to longer strenuous ones.

“There are just so many great hiking areas to choose from around here,†he says.

Ellsworth’s favorites include Paris Mountain State Park near Greenville (with 15 miles of trails over 1,540 acres), Croft State Park near Spartanburg (one of the largest parks in the state with 7,054 acres) and the 10,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. But Ellsworth says “the gem of hiking in South Carolina†is the nearly 77-mile Foothills Trail near the North Carolina border, linking Oconee and Table Rock state parks.

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“That’s a very special place,†Ellsworth says. “It passes many gorgeous waterfalls and has some beautiful views of Lake Jocassee. It also passes through a number of state parks that have other adjoining trails.”

Cyclists can enjoy many of these same trails as well as others designed specifically for mountain biking. Amy Johnson Ely, executive director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition, says one local favorite is the Forks Area Trail System, located in the Sumter National Forest near North Augusta. The system’s six individual loops make up 37 miles of trails, providing fast rides that are enjoyable for both beginning and experienced riders. 

South Carolina / Recreation & Tourism

“That trail is one of the most amazing things in our state,†Ely says. “It’s the crown jewel of the area trails.”

For road cyclists, Ely recommends Highway 11, also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, which has a 4-foot shoulder designed for bike riding. “It’s a gorgeous road that intersects with all these mountain biking, hiking and camping spots,†she says.

Other notable trails include the 425-mile Palmetto Trail, East Coast Greenway along the Atlantic, Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort, Doodle Rail Trail in Pickens and 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, which Ely says “has more daily bike traffic than some roads have cars.”

For those who need a place to stay after all this traveling, the state is home to numerous campgrounds and cabin rentals. And beginning in 2020, several state parks are offering pet-friendly cabins and villas.

“It’s important to people in South Carolina to balance their work life with enjoying the outdoors,†Ellsworth says. “That’s a very strong factor as to why people love living here.”

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