It's been the subject of best-selling novels, blockbuster movies and countless country songs. The Southern small town has long charmed city dwellers with its folksy hospitality and sleepy pace of life.
There's no better place to experience this geographic icon than along South Carolina's western lake coast. Towns like Abbeville, McCormick and Calhoun Falls offer visitors a slice of small-town culture with plenty of shopping, dining and recreational options for a fun family vacation.
A drive on the Savannah River National Scenic Byway will take you through these small Southern towns, on back roads lined with century-old clapboard houses and historic churches, past rolling farmland and scenic lakes. Along the way, you'll have the chance to swim, kayak, camp and bike or just kick back and enjoy life in the slow lane.
Start your vacation in McCormick, the gateway to the Little River Blueway Outdoor Adventure Area, a recreational wonderland boasting 51 miles of water trails, 136 miles of hiking and biking trails, two state parks, four golf courses and five campgrounds.
The centerpiece of the Blueway is Hickory Knob State Resort Park, a 1,091-acre retreat at the edge of Lake Thurmond, one of the largest and most popular recreational lakes in the Southeast. The park offers a wide range of accommodations, including 44 campsites (21 of them overlooking the lake), 76 lodge rooms, 18 fully furnished cabins and a restored historic French Huguenot house built circa 1770.
For breakfast, mosey on down to the park restaurant and try Grandma Betty's buttermilk pancakes with some country ham, sausage or bacon on the side.
After breakfast, you can rent a kayak or canoe and paddle some of the coves along the shoreline. If you want to try something different, arrange for Earth Connection Outfitters to deliver a stand-up paddleboard to the park.
Drive into McCormick for lunch at McCray House Tea Room. Diane's special is sure to be delicious, or try the quiche du jour.
If you've hauled your mountain bike along with you, spend the afternoon pedaling Hickory Knob's 7.2-mile Lakeview Loop Trail, an advanced trail with more dips and drops than a roller coaster. For the less adventurous, there's the 2.5-mile out-and-back Beaver Run Trail, an easy route along the lake shoreline with plenty of natural obstacles to ratchet up the excitement.
For dinner, enjoy one of the Southern specialties at the Hickory Knob Restaurant. If fried chicken is on the menu for the evening, get it! It's a favorite with locals and visitors.
End your evening with a stroll down to the lake and enjoy a fantastic view of the sunset over the water.
Check out from the resort park and drive back into McCormick for breakfast at Fannie Kate's Bistro and Coffee Shop. The menu includes a tasty selection of fresh-made pastries and gourmet grits.
After breakfast, set off on the Little River Blueway's 50-mile scenic drive loop and explore some of the historic sites along the National Heritage Corridor. Stop-worthy destinations include:
- The Huguenot Worship site on a peninsula of wooded land near the confluence of Cane Creek and the Little River
- Badwell Cemetery, the burial ground of the leader and founding pastor of the French Huguenot settlement in McCormick County
- John De La Howe School, founded in 1797 as a farm school for poor and orphaned children
You can pick up a map of the scenic drive for $5 at convenience stores and other shops in the area.
For lunch, stop at Michelle's Pizza in McCormick. Along with the namesake entrée, the restaurant is also known for its juicy burgers and fresh-cut fries.
After lunch, get back on the Savannah River National Scenic Byway and make your way north to Calhoun Falls State Park. Its out-of-the-way location on quiet Lake Russell offers visitors a peaceful setting to paddle, picnic, fish or swim. The park participates in the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' Tackle Loaner Program, so if you didn't bring your own fishing gear, you can borrow everything you need from the park office.
When you're ready for dinner, veer off the scenic byway and drive a short distance to historic Abbeville. You've got several great choices here, among them The Village Grill. It's known for its fabulous farm-to-table selection of sandwiches, salads, soups and entrees.
After dinner, check in to one Abbeville's top-rated hotels. The Belmont Inn and Bernibrooks Inn are both excellent choices.
Still up for a little fun? Head over to Natty's. Craft beer is Natty's staple, but it also has lots of libations from local wineries.
If you're staying at a bed and breakfast, the first meal of the day is on the house. If not, the Sunday brunch at the Belmont Inn is a great option.
Spend the rest of the morning exploring Abbeville. This beautiful little town, settled in 1758 by a group of French Huguenots, was a hotbed of activity during the Civil War. The first reading of the secession papers took place here. It's also where President Jefferson Davis and his war council disbanded the Confederate armies.
Start off with a walking tour of the town's historic sites. Among the highlights is the beautifully restored opera house, founded at the turn of the century as a stopover for "road companies" traveling from New York City to Atlanta.
You'll also want to visit Swartzentruber's Bakery, an old-fashioned Mennonite shop just outside of town on the Highway 28 Bypass. Their home-baked breads and desserts are worth the trip - and the calories! Be sure to save a little time for browsing Abbeville's many antique shops and boutiques.
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.