Want to experience Mother Nature's awesomeness? Venture into the woods where the wild things are.
South Carolina's Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests show off the state's fantastic diversity of natural landscapes, from the ancient bald cypress swamps of the Lowcountry to the Upstate's rugged mountains.
Spread across the state in four distinct districts, the forests provide more than 6,290,000 acres of habitat for wildlife, including endangered and threatened species like the red-cockaded woodpecker.
Against this stunning background, visitors are invited to enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities, from hunting and fishing to hiking and mountain biking to horseback riding and off-road four-wheeling. Below are 10 interesting places to visit and things to do in Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests:
1. Camp at Cherry Hill Campground in Mountain Rest, considered one of the best national forest campgrounds in the Southern Appalachians. A backwoods retreat with flush toilet and hot showers, it offers easy access to some great hiking trails, including Big Bend Falls, Winding Staircase and the iconic Foothills Trail.
2. Check out the Prehistoric Indian shell mound along the one-mile Sewee Shell Mound Interpretive Trail. The 4,000-year-old midden was created from oyster shells and other debris left behind by ancient inhabitants who lived along the South Carolina coast.
3. Go rafting on the National Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, made famous in the 1970s adventure thriller, "Deliverance." Wildwater Rafting and Nantahala Outdoor Center offer trips on Sections III and IV, touted among the best whitewater in the US.
4. Cast your line in the Chauga Scenic River. This backcountry tributary offers excellent fishing for trout, bluegill, catfish, largemouth and redeye bass in a beautiful mountain forest. Don't forget your SC fishing license.
5. Hike the East Fork Trail in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. This easy, five-mile trek takes you along the fast-moving east fork of the Chattooga River through a lush forest of hemlocks, mountain laurels and large white pines. At the junction with the Chattooga Trail, you can continue another two miles to famed Ellicott Rock, the point where South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia come together.
6. Mountain bike in the 32-mile Forks Area Trail System, awarded "Epic Ride" status by the International Bicycling Association. Affectionately known as FATS, this popular bike park is located in the Long Cane Ranger District of Sumter National Forest. It features six flow trails with all the swooping turns, banked contours and jumps and bumps you need for a rockin' ride.
7. Practice target shooting at one of nine rifle ranges located within the four ranger districts. Then go hunting in one of eight big game hunting areas. For a complete list of hunting regulations, visit dnr.sc.gov.
8. Take a kayak trip through the blackwater Wambaw Creek, under the shade of ancient cypress and tupelo trees, and learn the important role this waterway played during the heyday of rice culture in South Carolina. Coastal Expeditions offers trips to Wambaw, as well as Echaw Creek in Francis Marion National Forest.
9. Visit a Carolina Bay, a geological wetland wonder with mysterious origins. Some 25 of these oval depressions are protected in the Francis Marion National Forest. The fragile and unique ecosystems are home to a variety of interesting vegetation, including the carnivorous pitcher plants, sundews and Venus flytraps.
10. Stop by the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center and learn about the Lowcountry's rich heritage and unique forest and coastal ecosystems. The center features hands-on interpretive displays, freshwater ponds for fishing, a mile-long loop trail, butterfly garden, educational programs and a compound with two endangered red wolves.