If you are looking for something to do outside, Upstate South Carolina is hard to beat.
From Oconee County to the North Carolina/South Carolina border and upper edges of Greenville County, the outdoors is replete with choices for hiking, biking, picnicking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, birdwatching or just enjoying the immense natural scenery visible during an everyday walk or drive.
And if you’re already making vacation, weekend or holiday plans for the spring, summer or autumn, the following 10 places are examples of how much fun the Upstate outdoors can be – during any season of the year.
Swamp Rabbit Trail
A relative newcomer to the Upstate, this 22-mile, multi-use trail opened in 2009 along a former railroad line, stretching from Greenville Technical College to just north of the Travelers Rest city limits. It’s been a hit ever since. The trail is now utilized by more than 500,000 walkers, runners and cyclists.
And with an extension of the trail coming soon as part of the new BridgeWay Station community in the nearby city of Mauldin, the number of people using the Swamp Rabbit Trail for outdoor fun and to maintain their health is only expected to keep increasing.
Paris Mountain State Park
Built in the 1930s in upper Greenville County, Paris Mountain State Park is a favorite among locals.
Encompassing four lakes, a campground and playground, 15 miles of hiking and biking trails and a swimming area complete with kayaks, canoes and pedal-boats for rent, Paris Mountain offers something for everyone.
Table Rock State Park
Created as a park in the 1930s, this 3,000+-acre park in northern Pickens County is not only one of the most picturesque places in the Upstate, it has long been a favorite destination for generations of visitors.
Whether it’s camping and lodging, wading through a mountain stream, paddling or fishing in one of the park’s two lakes, enjoying the “Music on the Mountain” bluegrass program each month or exploring and hiking to the top of Table Rock Mountain, the park offers something to do year-round.
You might have to look a long time to find a central Upstate resident who hasn’t been to Falls Park in Greenville at least once to see and walk across the 345-foot-long Liberty Bridge spanning the Reedy River Falls.
The bridge and the falls together are not only a signature downtown attraction, but the area where they meet is a hot spot for restaurants, sight-seeing and river wading for all ages.
Conestee Nature Preserve
Near the city of Mauldin in Greenville County, Conestee Nature Preserve is a conservation wonder, nearly hiding in plain sight.
But once inside this 406-acre wildlife sanctuary, you find a diverse birding refuge, the Lake Conestee Dam and vast habitats of deer, raccoons, beavers, foxes, river otters, salamanders, frogs, snakes and many other wildlife species.
Opened in 1960 on the eastern edge of downtown Greenville, the zoo has wowed children of all ages ever since with an impressive range of animals. On any given day, you can see exotics such as African lions, Masai giraffes, giant South American anteaters, ostriches and flamingos, alligators and a red panda, plus a farm exhibit and reptile house.
So pack a lunch – after seeing and learning about the animals, you can picnic on-site or in neighboring Cleveland Park.
Devils Fork State Park/Lake Jocassee
It is rumored to be the gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but one visit to Devils Fork State Park and you’ll be hard-pressed to continue any farther.
Nestled in the spectacular Jocassee Gorges just above the town of Salem, the park is a series of steep rock walls carrying dozens of mountain rivers down into the vast, 7,500-acre Lake Jocassee.
Constructed in 1973, the lake remains mostly undeveloped, and many of its waterfalls can be reached only by boat.
While you’re there, try your hand at some of the state’s best trout fishing, hiking, camping, canoeing and kayaking.
And whether you’ve experienced it once or 100 times, Devils Fork State Park and Lake Jocassee make you want to stay for a long time – no matter where else you might want to go.
Chattooga Wild and Scenic River
Synonymous with all things boating and water, the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River is the Upstate spot for whitewater rafting and kayaking.
Here at the edge of the Georgia and South Carolina border, you can take in thundering waterfalls, dense forests, pristine flora, a variety of animals, more than 100 types of fish and, of course, all the rapids that your sense of whitewater excitement can handle, whether you are a novice or a veteran.
Keowee-Toxaway State Park
Created in 1970 as part of a project to better utilize natural resources for energy, this 1,000-acre park is an Upstate haven for nature lovers. The lake contains a wealth of bass, bream, crappie and catfish.
If you’re a first-time visitor to the park, try hiking the 1.3-mile Natural Bridge Trail, which starts behind the park office.
Jones Gap State Park/Caesar’s Head
If one of these outdoor places isn’t enough, try two – as in the combination of Jones Gap State Park and the adjoining Caesar’s Head.
Here you can find 13,000 acres of unblemished mountain woodlands that are perfect for trout fishing anglers and hikers who can take in a breathtaking explosion of autumn color.
The site also features a living lab for the park’s hands-on ecology learning center.
And be sure and stop at Marci Jo’s Olde Mountain Store, situated at the fork of Highway 11 and Highway 276, for cakes, pound cakes, loads of frosting on both and all the breakfast you can handle.
Of course, these choices are by no means comprehensive. But if you are considering an outdoor activity and have never experienced the South Carolina Upstate or several nearby parts of North Carolina, these 10 are not only a good place to start, but, as many of the locals will likely tell you, they are about as good as it gets.
By L. C. Leach III