Great Season to Explore South Carolina

11/20/2009
outdoor adventures
MARC RAPPoRT

Late fall and winter is a great time to get out and play in South Carolina, for young and old and families of all shapes and sizes.

The Palmetto State’s outdoor offerings for those who like to go on foot range from rugged mountain trails, to flat, accessible walkways through peaceful maritime forests, at some of the state’s most popular beachfront parks.

 

And the weather’s great. Fall color dies late in South Carolina and winter itself is mild, with a bit of snow and freezing rain in the Upstate interspersing generally sunny skies and highs in the 40s to 60s, and even the occasional 70s along the southeast coast.

Forget ice skating here. How about driving to the top of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and admiring the view from Caesars Head State Park and devoting a couple hours to hiking down to 400-foot Raven Cliff Falls? Also nearby are Jones Gap State Park with its hiking and fishing in the pristine trout waters of the Middle Saluda River (the park also has a nature center) and iconic Table Rock State Park, with its namesake mountain, cabins and camping and some both dramatic and easy trails. Because this is where the mountains end suddenly, there are lots of waterfalls everywhere — to many an easy hike from the road.

 

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And for something completely different, and perhaps less physically challenging, check out Stumphouse Tunnel near Walhalla in scenic Oconee County. It’s a tunnel laboriously dug 1,600 feet into the side of a mountain before the Civil War, with dreams of a railroad in mind. That never happened, but now it’s a cool place to take a walk deep into history. And nearby is picturesque and legendary Issaqueena Falls.

Walhalla is in the middle of the historic Pendleton District, with small-town charm to spare in the cafes, museums, antique shops and general friendliness of the communities set among the scenic foothills in the area north of Clemson and west of Greenville.

Greenville itself offers lots of activities for families, including brand-new,The Children’s Museum of the Upstate. It’s at Heritage Green, a campus setting near downtown Greenville that also includes two outstanding art museums and the new Upcountry History Museum. Downtown Greenville itself is great for walking Main Street and checking out the shops and restaurants.The city’s Falls Park on the Reedy River is both picturesque and family friendly, and don’t miss a cool stroll over the unique 300-foot cantilevered bridge.

Central South Carolina

Central South Carolina also has plenty to do for wintertime activities. Walk the boardwalk at the state’s only national park. Congaree National Park near Columbia preserves one of the last stands of river-bottom forest of its kind left in the country. Winter’s a great time (no bugs) to check it out and admire the towering trees, cypress knees and to briefly stand silent among the twittering (the bird kind, not the computer) in the branches.

While in the capital city, make sure to check out one of the nation’s outstanding zoos — Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. In addition to the world-class collection of amazing creatures, work off some of that animal energy of your own by taking the tram across the Saluda River, admiring the Botanical Garden and then walking down the heavily wooded hillside and stroll along the river back to the zoo. It’s cool in the summer and mild in the winter, and very scenic, with rocks and rapids and even historical ruins of a pre-Civil War textile plant to admire.

For families visiting Columbia, check out the South Carolina State Museum with its historical and interactive science and nature exhibits. Adjacent is EdVenture Children’s Museum, billed as the South’s largest children’s museum and home to Eddie, the World’s Largest Child. You can’t miss him. He’s 42 feet and sitting down. Climbing down through him is a favorite for many young visitors.

Downtown Columbia, and its neighbors across the Congaree River (Cayce and West Columbia), also boast several miles of paved paths along the rivers, and fall and winter are perfect times to walk along the waterway.

Last but not least in our jog across South Carolina is Charleston, one of America’s most historical and favorite cities for walkers. That’s because everything is so close on the peninsula, forming the heart of the old city. You must take the ferry to visit Fort Sumter out in the harbor. Carriages are a great way to see the city. Don’t forget to check out Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. Archaeology, an interactive museum, re-enactors with real cannonry, a naturalistic zoo and walking trails tell the story of Charleston’s founding along the Ashley River. Those who don’t mind heights can walk over the new Ravenel Bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the country, over the Cooper River from Charleston to Mount Pleasant.

Not far from Charleston is Edisto Beach State Park and a bit farther south is Hunting Island State Park, near Beaufort. Both feature beaches, along with easy-to-walk trails through the maritime woods. Cabins and camping are available.

Accommodations are at off-season prices and the weather’s great. There’s no limit of family friendly and active things to do across South Carolina.

Begin the journey at www.DiscoverSouthCarolina.com. And here are Web sites for the small sampling you just allowed us to share with you:

For more information

  • South Carolina State Parks – www.southcarolinaparks.com
  • South Carolina’s waterfalls – www.sctrails.net
  • Stumphouse Tunnel/Issaqueena Falls – www.oconeecountry.
  • Historic Pendleton District – www.pendletondistrict.org
  • Greenville’s Heritage Green – www.heritagegreensc.com
  • Congaree National Park – www.nps.gov/cosw
  • Riverbanks Zoo & Garden – www.riverbanks.org
  • South Carolina State Museum – www.museum.state.sc.us
  • EdVenture Children’s Museum – www.edventure.org
  • Charleston – www.explorecharleston.com 
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