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Out-of-the-Park Adventures: Oconee 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 Oconee State Park.

Offering the classic mountain getaway, Oconee State Park has everything you need for a week of fun in the mountains, from an old-fashioned swimming hole complete with a diving board to a fishing pier, canoe rentals and hiking trails.

Park features:
- 139 standard campsites with individual water and electrical hookups and convenient access to restrooms with hot showers.
- 15 rustic tent sites
- 19 historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Day 1

Get an early start and make the easy, 17-minute drive to Main Street Walhalla, where you can reward yourself with a fresh-roasted, pour-over cup of coffee or espresso and a tasty sweet from Mountain Mocha. This coffee shop has a great small-town vibe and plenty of comfortable seating areas to enjoy your morning wake-me-up at your leisure.

Walhalla’s Main Street is lined with great little locally owned shops and cafes like Mountain Mocha, so, go exploring. Pop into antique stores like Warther’s OriginalsMiddle of Main Antiques and The Old Trading Post, filled with vintage housewares, furniture and interesting memorabilia.

After a full morning of shopping, you’ll be ready to refuel. A block and a half from E. Main Street is The Hungry Hiker, offering indoor and outdoor seating with a well-priced selection of salads, sandwiches, tacos and specials.

In the afternoon, hit some of the downtown district’s museums and galleries. Among the not-to-miss attractions is Oconee History Museum, chronicling life in the Upstate dating back to its first Native American inhabitants. There’s also the Museum of the Cherokee in South Carolina and the Oconee Military Museum at Patriots Hall. 

Head back to the park to relax and freshen up for a fabulous dinner at Dakota Grill, a small family-run restaurant known for its top-quality grilled steaks and seafood—and irresistible house-made desserts. All entrees come with a self-serve salad bar and freshly baked artisan breads.

Day 2

With so many waterfalls and hiking trails in the area, dedicate this day to checking out some of Mother Nature’s handiwork. Pack a lunch (and a flashlight—details to come) and start your discovery tour at Stumphouse Park where you’ll have your choice of a variety of outdoor diversions.

The headliner here is the Stumphouse Tunnel, an 1850s railroad project abandoned after just 1,617 feet had been excavated through the granite mountain. This is where the flashlight comes in. If you walk into the quarter-mile tunnel you’ll soon discover why it was once used to cure Clemson’s famed blue cheese. Dark and cold, it provides an ideal environment for creating the blue mold cheese—and a welcome break on a warm day.

Another park highlight is Issaqueena Falls. From the parking lot, it’s an easy, 4-mile walk to a platform that provides a fantastic view of the 100-foot waterfall. If you’re up for a longer hike, set off on the Blue Ridge Railroad Historic Trail. It takes you along the route of the Blue Ridge Railroad, past three tunnels that were left unfinished after the start of the Civil War.

One of the newest attractions in the park is Stumphouse Mountain Bike Park, offering 14-plus miles of trails for riders of every skill level.

When hunger pangs hit, break out your packed lunch and chow down at one of the shaded picnic tables in the park. Then it’s off to Oconee Station State Historic Site. In addition to learning about the military compound and trading post that operated on the land in the 18th and 19th centuries, you can hike a 1.5-mile trail to the 60-foot Station Cove Falls.

Before you call it a day, make the moderately difficult, but oh-so-worth-it, out-and-back hike to Yellow Branch Falls. It stretches 70 feet across a lush forest cove, tumbling over moss-covered ledges.

After all that exercise, you’ve earned a little libation. Stop at West & Co. Taproom for a cold craft beer on tap. Prefer the fruits of the vine? Partners in Wine offers wine by the glass, along with beer and cider. Whatever your drink of choice, raise a toast to an outstanding day outdoors.

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.