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Out-of-the-Park Adventures: Calhoun Falls 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 Calhoun Falls State Park.

Set along the federally protected shoreline of Lake Russell, the park is just a short drive from historic Abbeville and Parsons Mountain where gold was discovered in the 1800s.

Park features:
- 86 standard campsites, many of them overlooking the lake, with individual water and electrical hookups and convenient access to restrooms with hot showers.
- 14 walk-in tent sites, 13 of them overlooking the lake, with tent pads, a shared water source, restroom and outdoor shower.

Day 1
Spend the day exploring the charming town of Abbeville and its National Historic District featuring an array of 19th-century buildings around a picturesque town square.

Start your morning by fueling up at Main Street Coffee Company where you’ll find a menu full of breakfast delights from apple praline smothered French toast to a house-made yogurt parfait.

The next stop should be the Visitor Center housed in the “Old Bank Building” built circa 1865. Inside are a series of 1922 paintings depicting a hundred years of Abbeville’s history, along with a changing exhibit of artwork created by members of the Abbeville Artist Guild. Here, you can also pick up a free walking tour map of the historic district.

Notable landmarks on the tour include:
- Abbeville Opera House, once host to great stage productions such as the Ziegfeld Follies. Restored in 1968, it continues to serve as the cultural center of the town with a full lineup of concerts and shows presented each year.
- Secession Hill, where on May 2, 1865, a public assembly voted unanimously to leave the Union.
- Trinity Episcopal Church and Cemetery, a Gothic Revival church built in 1859. Both Union and Confederate soldiers are laid to rest in the cemetery, hidden at the end of a grass alley accessed from the back corner of the church grounds.

As you make your way around town, pop into some of the locally owned boutiques and antique stores and be sure to walk through Court Square, featuring a Confederate monument, the original City Hall iron bell, and a pink granite fountain that once served as a watering trough for horses, mules and oxen.

Take a break for lunch at Talk of the Town Restaurant, a local favorite offering the traditional home-cooked meat-and-three, plus a daily soup, salads and sandwiches.

After lunch, take a tour of the Burt-Stark Mansion, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis held the last council of war, deciding to end the War Between the States. Built in the 1830s, the Greek Revival mansion is furnished with authentic antebellum pieces and features carefully maintained gardens. Tours are offered Fridays and Saturdays or call (864) 366-0166 to schedule a weekday tour.

Nearby is the McGowan-Barksdale-Bundy House, another historic home worth touring. The intricate architectural features of the home, along with three servant cabins and the Heritage Gardens, make it a standout in a town rich with historic buildings. Tours are offered Saturday afternoons from March through mid-December or by appointment by calling (864) 366-8193.

While you’re in the area, take a 15-minute drive through the countryside to the nearby town of Due West to see Erskine College, founded in 1839 by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The campus of the liberal arts school features a number of beautiful buildings, among them the Erskine Building and Euphemian Literary Society Hall, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For a special treat, stop by Mama’s Sweet Shoppe, specializing in one-of-a-kind sweet and savory donuts.

After such a busy day, you’ll want to skip a night of campfire cooking and enjoy a relaxing dinner at The Village Grill in Abbeville. This popular restaurant is known for its fresh, locally sourced dishes and friendly service.

Day 2
Pack a lunch and plenty of water for some awesome hiking in Sumter National Forest. Just 30 minutes from the park is Parsons Mountain Recreation Area featuring a moderately difficult four-mile loop trail that takes you around a 28-acre lake with a spur trail to a fire tower on the 832-foot summit of Parsons Mountain. As you make your way up the monadnock, you’ll pass Civil War-era gold mines dug in South Carolina’s Gold Rush days. The shafts are fenced and off-limits.

At the end of the hike, enjoy your lunch on picnic tables overlooking the scenic lake.

In the afternoon, drive to the Richard B. Russell Dam, built in 1983 to create Lake Russell. An overlook, located 7 miles south of the park on Russell Dam Overlook Road off S.C. Hwy 81, offers a fantastic view of the 210-foot-high structure. A short drive down the road from the overlook is a boat ramp and a pathway that leads to a jetty into Lake Thurmond.

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.