South Carolina’s beautiful beaches and stunning mountains have long attracted visitors to state parks like Hunting Island, Myrtle Beach and Table Rock. But in between the coast and the Blue Ridge Mountains is a diverse array of less-visited parks offering unique attractions, scenic hiking trails and quiet lakes and rivers for paddling—all without the crowds typically found in the popular state parks.
Ready to go explore? Here are eight of the most underrated state parks in South Carolina:
1 – Keowee-Toxaway
With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, Lake Keowee provides a breathtaking setting to fish, swim or paddle. While the 1,000-acre park overlooks the lake, the only boat access to the water is at the end of a half-mile trail, limiting its use to canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Two other trails take you to rock outcroppings with views of the lake and surrounding hillsides. The park also offers three secluded trailside camping sites near the water accessible by hiking the Raven Rock Trail or paddling from the canoe launch.
2 – Calhoun Falls
Located along several points extending into Lake Russell, Calhoun Falls is the only SC state park and one of just a few SC recreation areas on the picturesque lake. The smallest of three reservoirs in the upper reaches of the Savannah River Basin, Lake Russell is also the only one with minimal development along its shoreline, making it another great spot to fish or paddle in relative seclusion. If you’re into camping, you’ll love the many spacious campsites available along the water.
3 – Baker Creek
This park offers access to Lake Thurmond—the largest of the Savannah River reservoirs—but its location on the quiet Baker Creek sets it away from most of the heavy boat traffic. The park also features 10 miles of top-notch mountain biking trails that take riders through rolling oak and pine woodlands.
4 – Kings Mountain
More than 20 miles of wooded trails makes Kings Mountain a must-visit for hikers. The 5.8-mile Ridgeline Trail crosses through Kings Mountain National Military Park and continues to Crowder Mountain State Park in North Carolina. For those looking to backpack, there’s the 16-mile Kings Mountain National Recreation Trail, a loop that also traverses the military park, site of the first major Revolutionary War victory in the South. The quiet and woodsy park also features two fishing lakes and a replica of a 19th-century SC yeoman farm.
5 – Aiken
The big draw at Aiken is the South Fork of the Edisto River, which flows through the park. A canoe and kayak trail takes you 1.7 miles down the scenic river, the longest free-flowing blackwater stream in North America. If you don’t have your own boat, you can rent one from the park. On your visit, be sure to check out the three artesian wells located within the park. There also are four park lakes for fishing and an easy 3-mile trail through wetlands and a mixed pine and hardwood forest.
This little gem of a park features the undiscovered, but oh-so-lovely 3-mile Big Pine Tree Creek Canoe Trail, winding through an ancient cypress forest in the middle of a Civil War-era mill pond. It’s the perfect place to get off on your own and enjoy nature. Don’t have your own boat? Canoe and kayak rentals are available in the park. You can also fish for bass, bream and catfish in the 140-acre lake.
7 – Landsford Canal
In May and early June each year, visitors flock to Landsford Canal to see the phenomenal display of Rocky Shoal Spider Lilies blooming in the Catawba River. But there are plenty of reasons to visit the park other times of the year. It offers a beautiful setting for a picnic along the banks of the river. It’s also home to the well-preserved remains of a canal system that was commercially navigable from 1820 – 1835.
8 – Andrew Jackson
The presidential homeplace of the seventh U.S. president, this park features a museum with Revolutionary War artifacts and interactive exhibits that chronicle Andrew Jackson’s boyhood in the South Carolina backcountry. Also of note is a striking bronze statue of a young Jackson titled, “Boy of Waxhaws,” created by renowned sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington of Brookgreen Gardens fame.