From the most leisurely of oceanside strolls to vigorous treks through the Blue Ridge Mountains, an entire spectrum of hikes awaits in the Palmetto State.
Its northern neighbor may receive plenty of well-deserved love from the outdoor enthusiast crowd, but South Carolina – home to 47 state parks, seven national parks and geographic wonders in between – should be at the top of any hiker’s southeastern US itinerary.
Hiking in South Carolina reveals an intimate and meaningful perspective of its most secluded and urban geographic staples – skylines clad in Georgian church steeples, towering oak forests, magnolia-lined paths and impressive waterfalls – all draped in Spanish moss.
If a hiking adventure in South Carolina is what you seek, check out these top five trails.
Table Rock Trail
Best difficult hike
7.2 miles (11.6km) round trip, 4-5 hours, difficult
Tucked in the state’s northwest corner and loaded with green mountain vistas, Table Rock State Park is the state’s best bet for hiking aficionados. The over 3,000-acre park is home to Pinnacle Mountain, South Carolina’s tallest mountain that soars over 3,400 ft.
There’s only one trail to the summit – the aptly named Table Rock Trail. Starting at the central Nature Center and quickly ascending into a rugged boulder and hickory-filled forest, this is a highly trafficked route where leashed dogs are always welcome.
Stop by the soothing Carrick Creek Falls for a breather or picnic lunch and Governor’s Rock – approximately one mile past the trail’s halfway shelter – for outstanding views of Pinnacle Mountain with plenty of flat rock space for lounging.
While loaded with oaks, pines and other lush greenery, Table Rock Trail is not overly shaded, so don’t under-pack on the sunscreen front.
Arthur Ravenel Junior Bridge Walk
Best urban hike
5.4 miles (8.7km) round trip, 2-3 hours, easy
Walking within the city of Charleston is a multisensory experience itself, with aromas of southern cooking, row after row of vivid colonial-era residences and a happening music and arts scene.
For a broader perspective of the Lowcountry city and to experience walking on one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, take a hike along the Arthur Ravenel Junior Bridge, which connects downtown Charleston with Mount Pleasant across the Cooper River.
Plan your hike around sunrise or sunset and begin at the historic Philip Simmons House. Head down Wonders’ Way, a spacious walkway and bike path that trails along Bay Street North and meets the connecting Septima Clark Parkway.
Be mindful of bikers as you stroll, but otherwise enjoy unparalleled vistas of the triangle-infused bridge, steeple-dotted Charleston skyline and the USS Yorktown docked at Patriots Point.
Before heading back into Charleston, take your pick of halfway points, including the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum or the Cold War Submarine Memorial just north of it.
Swamp Fox Passage
Best for primitive camping and biking
47 miles (76km) point-to-point, 21-22 hours, moderate
The Swamp Fox Passage is part of the broader Palmetto Trail that cuts through the entire state. There are three trailheads along Swamp Fox Passage for camping and outdoor adventures. Whether committing to a two-day jaunt or a multi-week retreat, this Lowcountry mega-trail is as flexible and secluded as it gets.
Starting approximately 45 minutes northeast of Charleston, winding through Francis Marion National Forest and concluding near the eastern shore of Lake Moultrie, the landscapes along the journey are diverse and plentiful.
Generally flat dirt and well-cleared, the trail begins in the swamplands and winds through the national forest’s lush pines. You’ll likely encounter some doves, raccoons and other wildlife.
Insider tip: Given the swampy nature of portions of the trail, keep your eye on the forecast for rain as some areas may flood. There are no major water crossings for bikers and plenty of wooden bridges along the way, making for a smooth ride.
Issaqueena Falls Trail
Best short hike for waterfall views (and a tunnel experience)
0.4 miles (0.6km) round trip, 10-15 minutes, easy
For a quick hike with a spectacular waterfall view, head to Issaqueena Falls in Stumphouse Park, approximately 50 miles west of Downtown Greenville (which has its own cascading beauty in the form of Falls Park).
This short hike involves climbing a well-kept trail adjacent to a 100-ft cascading waterfall and, upon reaching the top, taking in the rushing sounds from a convenient viewing platform.
Admission to the park is $5 per vehicle. It's well-equipped with bathrooms, a gazebo, several picnic tables and a large pavilion for gatherings.
No trip to the park is complete without taking a walk through the Stumphouse Tunnel, an incomplete, pre-Civil War railroad tunnel eerily built into the side of a mountain. Bring a flashlight and a jacket – it can get chilly in there – to properly explore.
For a longer hike, there are more than four miles of trails within Stumphouse Park – also part of the statewide Palmetto Trail.
Best family-friendly and wildlife trail
7.8 miles (12.6km) round trip, 2-3 hours, easy
Congaree National Park is South Carolina’s central outdoor utopia. Within the park, you’ll find multiple rivers for canoeing and kayaking adventures, primitive camping areas, a 50-mile paddle trail and educational programming focused on everything from the park's towering trees to forest-inspired yoga. There's a variety of activities for every member of the family and solo adventurers alike.
The park has 11 main trails, with the most dynamic option being Kingsnake Trail. Starting at the Cedar Creek Canoe Launch and winding southwest, the birds you may spot on a given day can run the spectrum, including ducks, wild turkey, hawks, owls and, during the summertime, ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Canopies of cherry-colored oaks tower over this swampy trail, and nearly-black water fills the sloughs between the boardwalk bridges. As tempting as it may be to take a dip, beware of these gator and snake-infested waters.