Interstate 77 runs 90 miles in South Carolina from the North Carolina state line near Charlotte to the state capital of Columbia, crossing then running parallel to one of the state’s most beautiful rivers. The Catawba River is named for the Catawba Indians, the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina, who have a reservation in York County. The interstate ends in Columbia. Along the way, you will find adventures, natural beauty, art and history. Here are a few of our favorite places to stop.
One of the area’s biggest attractions is the Carowinds amusement park with its heart-stopping Fury 325 – a 30-story roller coaster that reaches speeds of 95 mph and boasts a nearly vertical – 81 degree – drop. Carowinds also has a fabulous water park with something for everyone -- slides as exciting as the park's thrill rides, wave pools, a lazy river and big toddler areas.
If you'd rather go shopping, try cruising over to the other side of the interstate for the Barnyard Flea Market, which is open on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 7 and 8 a.m., respectively. If it isn’t on sale here, it probably does not exist.
Located in a fabulously maintained old post office and courthouse, the Rock Hill Pottery Center features the work of local artisans who work right there in the building. The artists have a variety of styles, so there really is something for every taste. It’s like walking through a gallery where you can take home the stuff you really like. And the prices are very reasonable.
Rock Hill Pottery Center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. 201 E. Main St., 803.327.1294.
Landsford Canal State Park is about 10 miles east of the Interstate on the Catawba River. The park’s claim to fame is the rare rocky shoals spider lily—a delicate-looking but sturdy plant that hangs on to rocks in the swiftly moving Catawba River and blooms in a beautiful blanket of white in late May and early June. You can see the remains of the canal system that once made the river a route of commerce from Charlotte to Columbia. If you miss the lily blooming time, there is plenty of fishing, picnicking and nature-watching to be done. The park also tells the story of a Revolutionary War battle that gave the Patriots a much-needed victory, albeit a small one.
Lake Wateree State Park is a little further down the Catawba on the shores of Lake Wateree, which was formed in 1920 by the Wateree Dam to provide electricity and drinking water downstream. The lake here is noted for its fishing, but you also can put in and paddle or walk or bike along the Desportes Island Trail, which is a loop trail of less than a mile.
This exit also happens to coincide with the name of the road, SC 34. Take it about five miles toward the town of Winnsboro for the South Carolina Railroad Museum. Several exhibits are spread across a building and stationary train cars depicting a railroad executive’s car, a sleeper car, a US mail car and cargo car. The exhibits are free, but the real attraction is the hour-long train ride on a spur once used by a couple of industries and the now-closed granite quarry in Winnsboro. The museum and train are open summer Saturdays 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. with train runs at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tickets range from $12-$20 for adults with discounts for seniors and active military and for children in coach only. Try the open-air car to get a good view of the countryside.
Sesquicentennial State Park commemorates the 150th anniversary of the capital city. Activities here include boating, fishing and hiking, but the real bonus is a dog park. If you are traveling with your pup, bring your current vaccination records showing the dog has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. A daily permit is just $4 and Fido can enjoy two acres of free roaming.
Tucked away behind the National Guard Armory on Bluff Road, the South Carolina Military Museum tells the stories of South Carolina military service from Colonial battles with the Spanish and local Indians to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and today’s conflicts. The exhibits consist of the items both professional and personal that soldiers carried: from their uniforms, weapons and gunpowder sacks to diaries, letters and good luck charms. It’s best to tour the museum with a guide. Many of them are veterans and volunteer their time to help visitors understand the items collected there. Tours can easily be arranged in advance of your visit. The museum is free and open to the public, though donations are appreciated. A full tour should take about two hours. Open daily, except Sunday, holidays and University of South Carolina football game days (the stadium is next door).