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South Carolina Classic Summer Vacation in the Mountains

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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Lake Jocassee is best appreciated by boat.

Summer vacation in the mountains. For many families, it’s as much an annual tradition as burgers sizzling on the grill and watermelon chilling on ice.

With the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, South Carolina’s Upstate offers visitors a beautiful wilderness playground in which to hike, fish, mountain bike, swim, kayak and camp. The area is teeming with waterfalls, pristine rivers and overlooks where you can enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Ready to experience a classic South Carolina summer vacation in the mountains? Here’s a guide to get you started.

 

Where to Go

Across the northwestern corner of the state are three protected wilderness areas where you can enjoy an array of recreational activities or simply get away on your own.

The Chattooga River Gorge is home to the National Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, a Southeastern classic with 31 miles of white-knuckle whitewater. Featured in the adventure thriller “Deliverance,” the river sits at the bottom of densely forested mountain terrain preserved in its natural, rugged state. Several outfitters offer rafting trips through Sections III and IV, which feature class 3, 4 and 5 rapids like the famed Bull Sluice and Five Falls. Upstream is the Chattooga River Trail, a 15.5-mile footpath that runs along the river, offering panoramic views of the gorge. 

The Jocassee Gorges is another Upcountry jewel named among “50 of the World’s Last Great Places” by National Geographic Magazine. The 50,000 acres of lush forestlands are home to the highest concentration of waterfalls in the eastern United States, an impressive array of rare plants and the greatest number of salamanders found anywhere in the world. But it’s the dramatic landscape of the Blue Ridge Escarpment that gives the area its wow factor. Within the gorges is the highest point in the state—Sassafras Mountain—and the pristine Lake Jocassee, known for its trophy-size bass and trout.

Equally impressive is the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, 11,000 acres of protected hardwood forests, trout-filled streams and stunning waterfalls traversed by 50 miles of trails. Two state parks—Caesars Head and Jones Gap—offer access to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the wilderness, including the Middle Saluda River, South Carolina’s first designated scenic river, and the famed Caesars Head overlook, a 3,260-foot perch with phenomenal views of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

 

Set on a hill with stunning views of the mountains, Hotel Domestique is reminiscent of a French country chateau with contemporary furnishings and art.

Where to Stay

While there are few national chain hotels outside of the cities of Greenville and Travelers Rest, you’ll have your choice of vacation rental homes along with several charming inns and B&Bs, among them Sunrise Farm, Magnolia Manor and Hotel Domestique. Oconee, Table Rock, Devils Fork and Keowee-Toxaway state parks also offer accommodations, ranging from campsites with water and electric hookups to historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps to modern lakeside villas. Several private campgrounds also are located in the Upstate, accommodating both RV and tent campers.

 

Join the Music on the Mountain bluegrass jam session at the Table Rock Lodge.

What to Do

Wherever you choose to stay, you’ll find limitless opportunities for fun and adventure right outside your door. Hiking trails abound, offering both challenging mountain terrain and easy walks through the woods. Anglers packing their fly rods will have their choice of unspoiled rivers and streams to cast their line for prized brown, brook and rainbow trout. Or you can paddle a quiet mountain lake, raft the wild waters of the Chattooga River or go zip lining on a canopy tour. 

Here are a few suggestions to enhance your classic South Carolina mountain vacation:

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.