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Out-of-the-Park Adventures: Hamilton Branch 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 rich history and unique attractions.

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

Set on 731 wooded, rolling acres overlooking beautiful Lake Thurmond, Hamilton Branch State Park is a popular destination for kayaking, boating and fishing. The park also offers 12-plus miles of trails for hiking and biking. 

Park features:

  • 150 lakefront and 25 standard campsites with water and electrical hookups and convenient access to restrooms and hot showers.
  • 12 designated tent sites with water only
  • 6 rustic waterfront hike-in sites

Day 1

Less than 30 minutes from the park is the historic city of Edgefield, once a hotbed of political power in South Carolina. Billed as the “Home of Ten Governors,” Edgefield is proud to have sent an impressive number of native sons to the governor’s house, including Strom Thurmond, who went on to become the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate.

Along with its notable statesmen, the town also is known for its stoneware pottery, a unique folk-art tradition dating back 200 years. In addition, Edgefield serves as the headquarters of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Start your tour of Edgefield in Courthouse Square, a quintessential small-town center with a classic brick court house and picturesque village square. The heart of the downtown district, it has experienced little change since it was established more than 225 years ago. At the Welcome Center, located in the Tompkins Library, you can pick up a map with a self-guided walking tour of the town.

Just behind Tompkins Library is Old Edgefield Pottery, filled with the work of master potters who continue to turn pottery in the famous Edgefield tradition. Down the block is the Village Blacksmith, where you can view the town blacksmith working over a forge from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays.

Across the street and a block down the road is The House Next Door, an antique store with a whimsical collection of yard art. You’ll also want to make your way to Willowbrook Cemetery, the second-most historic cemetery in the state and the resting place of four South Carolina governors and two U.S. senators. Look for the flagpole with American and South Carolina flags to see Strom Thurmond’s imposing tombstone.

By this time, you’re probably famished. You’ve got two great choices in Courthouse Square. Park Row Market No. 1, housed in a 19-century general store, specializes in deli sandwiches, soups and barbecue. If you’re in the mood for a burger, the go-to spot in town is Edgefield Pool Room where a classic burger comes wrapped in red-checkered paper.

After lunch, take a walk around the square and check out the wide assortment of retail offerings, including TLC Confections, Ole Tavern Tiques and Carolina Moon Distillery. The center of the square is equally interesting. Here you’ll find a statute of Thurmond, an obelisk memorial to the Confederate soldiers of Edgefield and a stone monument with a list of 10 S.C. governors and five lieutenant governors who were natives or residents of Edgefield.

From Courthouse Square, it’s an easy walk along Main Street to the Discovery Center. Housed in a restored 1840s farmhouse, the museum features exhibits on the history, culture and natural resources of the region.

Before you finish your tour of the town, you’ll want to make two more stops. Take a leisurely stroll on the .9-mile Ten Governors Rail Trail, which winds along scenic Slade Lake. Then head to the National Wild Turkey Center’s Winchester Museum, offering an assortment of fun interactive experiences, from an oversized wild turkey call box to a virtual reality theater. 

If you want to have dinner in town, Old Edgefield Grill is a great choice. It offers fine dining in a 1906 Queen Victorian-style house. Whether you sit at the vintage bar or in the formal dining room, you’re in for a great meal.

Day 2

It’s a bit father to North Augusta, but certainly worth the drive. Overlooking the Savannah River, this dynamic Southern city has created a fantastic waterfront dining, shopping and entertainment district anchored by the state-of-the-art SRP Park, home of the Augusta GreenJackets minor league baseball team.

One of most popular amenities in town is the North Augusta Greeneway, a multipurpose, 7-mile rail-trail that winds past neighborhoods, through tunnels and along the river. If you have bicycles, bring them. Riding the flat, paved recreation trail will be one of the highlights of your trip.

You can’t get quite as far on foot, but it’s just as pleasurable walking the section along the river starting at SRP Park. Before you set out, wander across the street to Brick Pond Park, a 40-acre nature conservation area with trails through wildlife-rich wetlands. A pavilion on East Pond provides a shaded spot to look for some of the 111 species of birds found in the park.

From there, make your way back to the Greeneway and you’ll soon find yourself at Boeckh Park, a lovely gem of a green space with flowering plants and lush landscaping.

At this point, venture away from the river into Hammond’s Ferry to walk the sidewalks of this charming, newly developed neighborhood lined with beautifully crafted traditional homes. It’s just a couple of blocks from the river to Manuel’s Bread Café, a French bistro with a Southern twist. Menu items are made with fresh produce from Chef Manuel Verney-Carron’s own organic farm. Stop here for lunch and ask for an outside table to people-watch while you dine. The chef also operates The Larder at Hammond’s Ferry, a casual eatery offering small plates, salads and signature sandwiches.

Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Arts & Heritage Center, located in the North Augusta Municipal Building behind Brick Pond Park. It features three galleries and a gift shop filled with artwork and crafts created by regional artists. One of the galleries is dedicated to the history of the area, while the other two host rotating exhibits.

Before you head back to the campground, treat yourself to some mouthwatering barbecue from Southbound Smokehouse in the Riverside Village. Sit on the patio and order a cold drink and some munchies to share. Then dig into the menu featuring everything from stoned grits bowls and quesadillas to ribs and wings.

 

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.