Time to get packing for the quintessential American vacation—the family road trip. From the coastal plantations of the Lowcountry to the rolling farmlands of the Piedmont to the rugged mountains of the Upcountry, South Carolina offers an incredible array of vistas to enjoy from the comfort of your car seat.
One of the best ways to explore our beautiful and diverse landscape is by traveling South Carolina’s four national scenic byways. Not only will you be treated to some stunning scenery, you’ll have the opportunity to stop and visit historical sites, charming small towns and popular recreational areas.
Below are the four byways and some of their must-see attractions:
Ashley River Road
Running alongside the Ashley River on SC.61, this 11-mile, two-lane byway takes you under a canopy of ancient oaks, past some of the Lowcountry’s most beautiful plantations. Among the historic sites are:
Drayton Hall. Founded in 1738, it is oldest preserved plantation house in America still open to the public. The main house—a masterpiece of Georgian-Palladian architecture—is in near original condition, and its gardens are touted as “the most significant, undisturbed historic landscape in America.”
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. This 500-acre riverfront estate lays claim to the oldest public gardens in America. Among its botanical treasures is one of the finest camellia collections in the world.
Middleton Place. A National Historic Landmark, the 18th century rice plantation is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The 110-acre estate includes a house museum, an equestrian center offering guided horseback tours and plantation stable yards where costumed interpreters demonstrate the skills once performed by African slaves.
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site. Walk among the vestiges of Old Dorchester, a trading town established in 1697. Remnants of the colonial village include the brick bell tower of St. George’s Anglican Church, a cemetery and a tabby fort once used to store gunpowder.
Named after the Native Americans who once called the South Carolina foothills home, the SC 11 route spans 118 miles along the base of the majestic Blue Ridge escarpment. In the fall, the views of the mountains ablaze in color will take your breath away.
Cowpens National Battlefield. This Revolutionary War site commemorates an important victory for the patriots and what would become the turning point of the war in the South. Watch an 18-minute movie about the skirmish in the Cowpens Visitor Center, then walk the 1.25-mile loop trail around the open field where the battle was fought Jan. 17, 1781.
Wildcat Branch Falls. A pull-off, located five miles from SC 11’s junction with US 276 , allows you to view the 30-foot falls without getting out of your car. But take the opportunity to stretch your legs and walk the mile-long, out-and-back trail that offers a great view of the 100-foot upper falls.
Table Rock State Park. You can see the 350 million-year-old granite dome as you travel along the byway, but don’t miss the chance to stop and visit this popular park. Along with several fantastic hiking trails, including one to the top of the 3,100-foot rock, the park features lakes for swimming, fishing and canoeing and the fun Carrick Creek Falls with its kid-friendly wading pool.
This scenic stretch of highway winds through a more rural section of the Lowcountry, offering visitors a flavor of life on South Carolina’s quiet barrier islands. The 14-mile, two-lane route runs along SC 174, traversing salt marshes, creeks, maritime forests and farm fields.
Edisto Beach State Park. Located at the edge of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, the park features an interpretive center where you can learn about this important ecosystem and a trail through a maritime forest to a shell mound created by Edisto Indians in 2000 B.C.
Botany Bay Plantation. A self-guided driving tour through the 4,600-acre heritage preserve allows you to experience the beauty of the sea islands before they were developed. Be sure to walk the short trail to the hauntingly beautiful “bone yard beach."
Edisto Island Serpentarium. A fixture in the Lowcountry since 1999, this popular roadside attraction features every manner of slithering reptile in outdoor and indoor observatories. The menagerie includes alligators, crocodiles, caiman, rattlers, water moccasins, anacondas and a reticulated python.
*Be sure to check beforehand for any closures or access restrictions due to Hurricane Matthew.
Following the Savannah River along the western border of the state, this 100-mile byway is a lovely country drive through farmlands, forests and quaint small southern towns. Along the way, you’ll pass three major lakes and the densely wooded Sumter National Forest.
Hickory Knob State Resort Park. Overlooking Lake Thurmond, the 1,091-acre retreat is the primo place for outdoor fun. Its many recreational offerings include an 18-hole golf course, tennis, volleyball, basketball and croquet courts, 12 miles of hiking and biking trails, an archery and skeet shooting range, kayaking and canoe rentals and a swimming pool.
Abbeville. Settled in 1758 by a group of French Huguenots, this charming little town is worth the short drive off the byway. After browsing through its many antique shops, take a walking tour of its historic buildings, including the famed opera house, founded at the turn-of-the-century as a stopover for “road companies” traveling from NYC to Atlanta.
Swartzentruber’s Bakery. If you’re driving through the area Thursday, Friday or Saturday, stop at the old-fashioned Mennonite bakery located just outside of Abbeville on the Highway 28 Bypass. A word of warning: All of their desserts look and smell so good, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one.