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Out-of-the-Park Adventures: Keowee-Toxaway 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 Keowee-Toxaway State Park

Overlooking scenic Lake Keowee, Keowee-Toxaway State Park offers stunning views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and easy access to the pristine Jocassee Gorges wilderness.

Park features:

  • 10 paved campsites with individual water and electrical hookups and convenient access to restrooms with hot showers
  • 14 tent-only sites with central water and individual tent pads and fire rings
  • A three-bedroom lakefront cabin with private boat dock

Day 1

Plan to spend the day in Pickens enjoying its historic downtown and three of its most unique attractions. First stop is the historic Hagood Mill, home to the state’s oldest operational wooden, water-powered gristmill. On the third Saturday of each month, you can watch the 1845 mill grind grain into flour, cornmeal and grits as it did more than 170 years ago.

The once-a-month Americana Folk Festival includes demonstrations of a working cotton gin, blacksmith shop and moonshine still, artisans and craftsmen practicing an array of Southern traditions, food vendors and live musical entertainment.

If you’re not visiting on a festival day, you can still take a self-guided tour and check out the gristmill, restored log cabins and other historic structures on the property and walk the nature trail to Hagood Creek.

The site also is home to the Hagood Creek Petroglyph Site, where you can view more than two dozen drawings etched into a granite rock some 2,000 years ago. Now contained in a climate-controlled building, the rock face is lighted as part of an automated show with narration explaining several of the most interesting petroglyphs.

After you’ve explored the Hagood Mill Historic Site, head to downtown Pickens for lunch at Burning Brick Tavern, a local favorite offering burgers, sandwiches and wraps.

After your lunch break, walk along Main Street to check out the eclectic collection of historic shops and contemporary boutiques. Just around the corner from the main thoroughfare is Pickens County Museum of Art & History, located in the old Pickens County jail. Among its fascinating artifacts and exhibits is the noose used in the last execution in Pickens and dueling pistols that once belonged to American Revolutionary War militia leader Andrew Pickens.

Your last stop for the day is the overlook at Glassy Mountain Heritage Preserve. Drive to the top of the monadnock and walk just a short way on a trail to the dome face to enjoy a spectacular view of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Escarpment, including Table Rock and Caesars Head. 

If you’re not ready to return to the campground, stop back through town and enjoy a cold drink at the very cool Appalachian Ale House, a cozy speakeasy-style pub offering great beer on tap and a small menu of craft dishes that includes smoked wings, barbecue plates, mac and cheese and hummus boards.

Day 2

With the Jocassee Gorges Visitor Center located on the Keowee-Toxaway State Park grounds, it’s sure to whet your appetite to explore this unspoiled wilderness, named among “50 of the World’s Last Great Places” by National Geographic Magazine. Pack a lunch and snacks and get ready for a great day of hiking and sightseeing.

Start your day off with an easy, quarter-mile walk to the covered viewing platform for Twin Falls, a 75-foot waterfall that drops in two distinct cascades over huge granite rocks.

Then drive up the road to Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina at 3,553 feet. It’s a beautiful drive through the Jim Timmerman Natural Resources Area to the observation tower at the pinnacle of the mountain where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a 360-degree panorama of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Next, it’s off to the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve to experience more of the Jocassee Gorge’s stunning wilderness.

You’ll need to walk about a mile on the Foothills Trail to access the trailhead for the preserve. Then, it’s a 1.7-mile hike down the gorge to Eastatoe Creek. Find a spot on one the large rocks along the banks of the river to have your picnic lunch. As you head back on the trail, take the spur trail to the left to get to a wooden platform overlooking The Narrows. It’s the perfect grand finale before you make your way back to your car.

Reward yourself with dinner at the restaurant and bar in The Rock Golf Course & Resort. Known for its delicious burgers and signature Sam Patch Presidential Wheat Ale, the clubhouse cafe also offers sandwiches, wraps, quesadillas and salads, along with specialty drinks and draft beer.

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.