Located in the northwest corner of the state, Oconee boasts three beautiful lakes - Hartwell, Keowee and Jocassee - the National Wild & Scenic Chattooga River and more than 25 waterfalls. Adding to the picturesque landscape is Sumter National Forest and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north.
It didn't take a whole lot of coaxing to convince two of my friends to join me for a weekend of hiking in Oconee earlier this month. They were packed before I had finished making up our itinerary.
We stayed at Oconee State Park in one of the 19 historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Constructed of local materials to complement the natural surroundings, the cozy bungalows feature hand-hewn beams, wood floors and stone fireplaces, along with updated bathrooms and kitchens.
We had brought fixings for breakfast and lunch, but decided to venture into the nearby community of Walhalla for dinner.
Our first evening in town, we dined at the ever-popular Steak House Cafeteria, famous for its fried chicken. Yes, you read that right - fried chicken. A local resident standing in line ahead of us explained that the restaurant used to specialize in steaks some 40 years ago. When it was sold, the new owners decided to change the menu, but not the name.
Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, the "Arabian Rooster Fried Chicken" more than lived up to its culinary notoriety. I'm not sure which I enjoyed more - the main course or the Snickers cheesecake I woofed down for dessert.
On Saturday night, after hiking three different trails and visiting Oconee Station State Historic Site, we were ready for a hearty meal. Dakota Grill caught our eye. From the looks of the exterior of the building, we expected the usual burgers-and-fries fare.
Boy, were we mistaken. This little gem of a restaurant offered an amazing menu of entrees that included grilled filet mignon, mahi-mahi, Lowcountry-style crab cakes and blackened shrimp, along with an assortment of desserts you won't be able to resist. Owners Pam and Ron prepare everything themselves. He's the grill master and she's the dessert chef.