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Out-of-the-Park Adventures: Baker Creek State Park

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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Got cabin fever? Hit the road with your own accommodations for a socially distanced vacation in a South Carolina state park campground. With 33 parks offering campsites for tents and RVs, you’re sure to find the perfect spot for an out-of-the-way getaway. Some parks even feature lodging for those who prefer to stay in a cabin or villa.                                                                               

Along with their many recreational amenities and beautiful settings, state parks offer visitors the opportunity to explore less-traveled areas of the state and discover small towns and communities with a rich history and unique attractions.

Ready to roll? Here’s a two-day, out-of-the-park itinerary for Baker Creek State Park:

Located on scenic Baker Creek and offering easy access to Lake Thurmond, this quiet park features two boat ramps, 10 miles of hiking and biking trails and a newly renovated campground with waterfront sites. The park operates seasonally from March 1 through Sept. 30, so if you you’re planning a visit to the area during the fall or winter, book a stay at Hickory Knob State Resort Park located just 7 miles up the road. Open year-round, it features 44 campsites, 16 one-bedroom cabins and 70 motel-style rooms, along with a wide array of recreational amenities, from an 18-hole golf course to skeet shooting.

Baker Creek State Park features:

  • 32 campsites with individual water and electrical hookups and convenient access to restrooms with hot showers
  • 2 tent sites

Day 1

Spend the morning exploring the nearby community of McCormick, named after American industrialist and inventor Cyrus McCormick, who is credited with the development of the mechanical reaper. In 1852, the second richest vein of gold in South Carolina was discovered in the area, leading to one of the most colorful chapters in the town’s history. The Dorn Gold Mine operated until the 1930s but visitors can still take a tour of the mine and pan for gold on the first and third Saturdays of the months between May and October.

Stop at the McCormick Visitor Center on Main Street to pick up a visitor’s guide with a map and list of historic attractions, restaurants and shops, as well as a Quilt Trail guide featuring information on 20 of the oversized quilt panels displayed on buildings throughout McCormick County.

As you walk along South Main Street, you’ll pass the Red Rooster Emporium, (a combination antique shop and art gallery), Historic McCormick Depot, the All Aboard Train House featuring model train exhibits, and the Artisan Guild Gift Shop sponsored by the McCormick Arts Council at Keturah (MACK). The charming shop, which showcases an array of artwork created by more than 35 local artists, is a great place to pick up unique gifts and mementos of your visit. MACK’s headquarters, also located on South Main Street, is housed in the old Hotel Keturah, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On the north end of Main Street is the Historic Dorn Complex, which includes a grist mill, cotton gin and weigh station.

When you’re ready for lunch, you’ve got several tasty choices within walking distance. Local favorites include Michelle’s Pizza and Little Italy Pizzeria.

After lunch, it’s time to enjoy some of McCormick’s beautiful outdoor spaces. Take a walk on the historic Savannah Valley Railroad Trail, which follows part of the route of a rail line that once connected McCormick and Anderson, South Carolina. This naturally scenic and shady trail runs a total of 9.3 miles with two sections connected by 2.5 miles of the paved Huguenot Parkway. The McCormick segment is the shorter section, making it perfect for an afternoon walk. You could also rent a bike from Earth Connection Outfitters (ECO) if you want to ride the entire length of the rustic trail.

Prefer a water excursion to one on dry land? Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from ECO and set off on the Little River Blueway, featuring 51 miles of diverse paddling trails. Surrounded by Sumter National Forest lands, one of the prettiest and most secluded sections runs along Long Cane Creek.

 

Day 2

Hit the road on the Little River Blueway Scenic Drive, a 50-mile loop following portions of the S.C. National Heritage Corridor and Savannah River Scenic Highway. As you drive through the picturesque countryside, you’ll pass several historic sites. Heading north from Baker Creek State Park, the first point of interest is the Badwell homesite and burial grounds of Pastor Jean Louis Gilbert, one of the Huguenots who settled in the area to form the New Brodeaux colony.  

Next up is the site of the Long Cane Massacre, where 23 settlers were slaughtered by the Cherokee Indians on Feb. 1, 1760. Shortly after crossing Calhoun Mill Steel Bridge, you’ll arrive in the community of Mt. Carmel, best known for its casual and friendly restaurant, Mount Carmel Café. Enjoy a scrumptious lunch on the covered porch and be sure to leave room for some of the homemade ice cream and cookies.

Then it’s off to the nearby community of Willington. It would be easy to drive past the town center, made up of a small complex of attached brick buildings. But if you’re any kind of bibliophile, this is one stop you won’t want to miss.

Four of the buildings are occupied by the Willington Book Shop, where you can pick up used books at bargain prices. With an inventory of more than 40,000 books, it boasts the largest collection of any bookshop in South Carolina. The shop is run by volunteers who meticulously file books to make it easy to find your genre of choice, including Southern writers, mysteries, thrillers, best sellers, biographies, self-help books and books on travel, art, cooking and religion. Best of all, the books range in price from just 50 cents to $3. The bookshop is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Also housed in the complex is the Willington History Center. It features historical dioramas and special collections, including vintage quilts, musical instruments, Time magazines from 1937-1952, African-American literature and an exhibit of items typical of those sold in Willington stores from 1897-1975.

In the breezeway of the complex is a mural with 12 panels celebrating Willington history. The colorful paintings were created by local artist Jeffery Callaham with the help of McCormick County students.

Across the street from the complex is the town’s former post office, a tiny building with the original post office boxes, vintage letters and other postal memorabilia, and a one-room African-American school house.

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.