Home to the South Carolina State House and the University of South Carolina, Columbia is a hub of activity, offering visitors plenty to do in and around its bustling downtown. Along with shopping, dining and entertainment, the urban center features beautiful parks, miles of paved trails and three rivers for fishing, kayaking and tubing.
But don't miss the opportunity to venture out of the capital city and experience some of the other fun recreational offerings in South Carolina's Midlands.
Here are 5 awesome outdoor excursions within an hour's drive of Columbia:
1. Fish for Catfish in Lake Monticello
With little surrounding development and restrictions on water skiing and use of personal watercrafts, Lake Monticello is a 6,700-acre reservoir that offers a peaceful setting in which to wet your line. An abundance of foliage and bait fish make it prime waters for catching chunky catfish, including blues, channels and whites. The most productive spots are around the humps, long points and creek channels where the fish come up to feed before retreating to the protection of the deep water. Other popular game fish to be had include largemouth bass, black and white crappies and bream.
2. Explore Congaree National Park
One of the few remaining ecosystems of its kind, Congaree National Park is a 26,000-acre, old-growth bottomland forest boasting the largest concentration of champion trees in North America, among them a loblolly pine that towers 17 stories. You can explore the park by foot or boat. The 20-plus miles of hiking trails include a 2.4-mile boardwalk loop that winds through an ancient forest of bald cypress and water tupelos. Or paddle the black waters of Cedar Creek through the floodplain. Bring your own kayak, rent one from a local outfitter or take a guided canoe trip with a park ranger.
3. Hike in Harbison State Forest
Best known as a mountain biking destination, the 2,177 acres of Harbison State Forest are just as pleasurable to hike. With more than 20 miles of trails, there's a route for every skill level, from easy, mostly flat treks to hardy, calorie-burning climbs. Three of the most scenic trails-Stewardship, Midlands Mountain and Spider Woman II-lead to the Broad River. A short spur trail off the Midlands Mountain Trail offers a fantastic view of the river from the Harbison bluffs.
4. Stand-up Paddle Boarding on Lake Murray
A popular destination for all kinds of water sports, Lake Murray is a great spot to try this hot recreational craze. Cruise the reservoir's quiet coves or venture out in the big water. You don't need any experience to get in on the fun. Several outfitters offer beginner-friendly stand up paddleboards at various locations on the lake.
5. Bike the Peak to Prosperity Passage
Part of the cross-state Palmetto Trail, this 10.8-mile section called the Peak to Prosperity Passage takes cyclists along the old Norfolk Southern Railroad line through a piedmont forest in Dutch Fork, an area settled by German immigrants in the 1730s.
Along the way, you'll traverse 14 wooden trestles over Crims Creek and an impressive 1,100-foot span across the Broad River. If you have a smart phone, you can scan QR codes found on a dozen signs on the trail to learn about the history, cultcrure and wildlife in the area.