Oconee State Park: An Old-Fashioned Mountain Getaway Today

By:Kerry Egan


Imagine a day spent splashing in paddleboats, fishing for trout, square dancing, and diving from a frighteningly tall diving board on a floating dock into the cold, clear water of mountain lake. At the end of the day, you paddle your canoe back to your rough-hewed, lakeside log cabin to the sound of million frogs chirping in the dusk and to a campfire crackling in the night.

Sounds like a family vacation from another, older, more idyllic time, doesn’t it?

Well, in some ways, it is. But it’s also possible right now, right here in South Carolina.

Oconee State Park , in Mountain Rest, SC, is one of the oldest state parks in South Carolina. Nestled in foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the farthest, most remote northwest corner of state, it was built in the 1930s by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, a federal program of the New Deal to help combat the widespread and crushing poverty of the Great Depression. Right in front of the park office, a bronze statue of a young man, ready to get to work, commemorates the beautiful gift they gave us. To this day, the cabins, recreation building, lake, and trails they built still stand. Families have been driving up the winding roads to this green and peaceful retreat at Oconee since it opened just before World War II.

Canoes, paddleboats, and jon boats line the bank of the lake, waiting for guests to take them out on the water. Guests who are staying in the cabins along the lake for the weekend or week are able to rent out a canoe or jon boat for the entire time they are staying in the park. There’s no need to walk or drive from your cabin over to the swimming area and diving board on the other side of the lake. Just take your boat.

If you’re looking for something a little more of a challenge, (and, yes, a little more modern!) rent out one of the park’s stand-up paddleboards for the day.

The lake is stocked with bass, brean, trout and catfish. The park has loaner tackle families can rent out to try their hand at catching their own dinner.

The swimming area by the rec hall has lifeguards on duty, and that diving board and floating dock. Along the edge of the swimming area, the bank of the lake was charmingly edged in stones from the area, making it easier to get in and out of the lake.

The park is home to six hiking trails, none too difficult for an exploring family. If you really want to go on an adventure, though, the park is also one of the terminuses for the 77-mile Foothills Trail the connects the park to Table Rock State Park.

Every Friday night in the summer, all visitors are welcome to brush off those square dancing skills from junior high. Guests gather in the recreation hall to do-si-do and promenade with their partners as park rangers call traditional square dances. It’s perhaps the oldest tradition in the park, and has been happening every summer since the 1940s. It might also be the most fun.

The park’s cabins were all built by the CCC, and retain the beauty of the natural materials the young men found in the mountains to build them. But they aren’t stuck in the 1930s—not at all. The cabins have been beautifully updated and now have central heating, air conditioning and modern kitchens, along with the massive stone fireplaces, screened-in porches and outdoor fire pits earlier visitors once counted on. It’s an old-fashioned family vacation with all the comforts of today.

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