You could zigzag through South Carolina – and back again – taking in totally different landscapes and cultural facets with each route.
South Carolina is loaded with seamless road trip options; bustling and flat interstates, tree-draped scenic byways through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Atlantic coast-hugging routes are among its most memorable.
Hitting the road in South Carolina equates to experiencing its southern charm in its most raw and endearing form. While you may have a starting and end point to any intrastate road trip, the in-between makes a journey stand out.
So, don’t second-guess snagging a bite at that roadside pecan stand, taking a pitstop to admire the fall foliage or opting for an off-the-cuff detour to explore a quaint downtown.
Where life may zoom by in other states, things move and feel pleasantly slower in South Carolina. Here are the best road trips for making your own unique memories in the Palmetto State.
Best road trip to experience South Carolina’s cities
Spartanburg to Charleston, 213 miles (343km)
Resembling a diagonal line and running southeast through the state, I-26 showcases the entire spectrum of South Carolina’s geographic experiences. In addition to Upcountry mountain views and Lowcountry colonial architecture bliss in Charleston, you can experience the bulk of the Palmetto State’s cities along the way.
Stop in Spartanburg, where Hub City Bookstore and its Little River Coffee neighbor are a must for a fresh-roasted caffeine fix and chatting with locals. Don’t leave town without a stroll around its nearby squares, Morgan Square and Denny’s Plaza (named for being adjacent to Denny’s corporate headquarters).
Heading south, check out the Newberry Opera House with its elegant balconies and red velvet seats. It's a great place to enjoy a show if you happen to pass through the quaint town of Newberry at night.
Columbia is the capital city worthy of a few days to explore. It's home to the very green and accessible University of South Carolina campus and museums, including the South Carolina State Museum, South Carolina Military Museum and the city’s Museum of Art.
On the homestretch to Charleston, make a pit stop at Dukes Bar-B-Q in Orangeburg, which has become a regional phenomenon for its buffet-style offerings.
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Best road trip to off-the-beaten-path cities
Florence to Hardeeville, 162 miles (261km)
Beyond the endless billboards advertising the super-kitschy South of the Border and the newly opened mega-gas station Buc-ee’s in Florence, there are other places you’ll want to stop along I-95 as well.
In Florence, you'll find a marker recognizing the spot where an atomic bomb was accidentally dropped in the county in 1958, just off I-95 and US-301. Shards from the explosion are on display at the Florence County Museum alongside other fascinating pieces of history, art and science.
Save an appetite along your I-95 journey to stop in Santee for Lone Star Barbeque & Mercantile, a buffet-style establishment that's been around for over 25 years. Situated on the southern edge of Lake Marion, Santee is also popular for its fishing and golf facilities statewide.
Near South Carolina’s border with Georgia and just a 30-minute drive from Hilton Head Island, Hardeeville is the destination for recreation. The Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge is a 29,000-acre playground with a four-mile wildlife drive and more than 20 trails for taking in marsh and hardwood forest landscapes.
Best road trip for a gateway to unexpected cultural gems
Kings Mountain National Military Park to Fair Play, 103 miles (166km)
Yes, there’s a place named Fair Play in South Carolina. Rumor has it the town was named in the early 1800s following an altercation between two pioneers, which sparked someone watching to yell, “Play fair!”
Beyond the town's welcome sign ("Our name says it all"), this is where your I-85 journey in South Carolina should begin before driving northeast to the North Carolina line.
Easy stops along the way include Greenville, with the rapids of Falls Park on the Reedy flowing through the middle of town and arguably the best cup of coffee in the state at Methodical Coffee.
No trip to South Carolina is complete without a peach orchard excursion along I-85 – the Palmetto State produces more peaches than Georgia, contrary to popular belief.
Abbott Farms has multiple Upcountry outposts for a sweet treat, including one in Gaffney. While you’re there, snap a photo with the Peachoid, a 135-ft water tower resembling the beloved fuzzy fruit.
Best route for taking in ocean vistas
Sheldon to Little River, 182 miles (293km)
If you're looking to unwind on South Carolina’s white-sand beaches and meander around its oceanside towns, US-17 provides jumping-off points galore.
Once a principal route for north-to-south vacationers, it has taken a backseat to the more heavily trafficked I-95. Those seeking a multi-beach excursion will relish this slower, laid-back route with stoplights and intersections dotting the way.
To the south, the federal mansion-clad town of Beaufort, the historic inns of Charleston and the massive USS Yorktown docked in Mount Pleasant are easily accessible.
In some instances, US-17 is tucked away like the beaches themselves. Your best bet for seamless beach access is between Pawley’s Island and North Myrtle Beach, where you can hit the popular family-friendly destinations of Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach along the way.
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Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway
Best route to experience the Upcountry and fall foliage
Fair Play to Gaffney, 120 miles (193km)
Call it South Carolina Highway 11 or the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway – either way, it’s absolute bliss come autumn, decked out in spectacular fall foliage. From the south, you can access Route 11 from Fair Play as soon as you cross into South Carolina from Georgia.
For a quaint town with a nature-loving vibe, hit Walhalla. In addition to aptly named haunts like Mountain Mocha, Trailhead Tavern and The Hungry Hiker, it is home to the Museum of the Cherokee, where you can learn about the highway's namesake.
Heading northeast to Gaffney, you'll find it a nature-infused playground of wilderness areas and state parks, with highlights such as Table Rock's furnished cabins and Devils Fork adjacent to the trout-filled Foxaway River.
History buffs can’t skip out on a visit to Cowpens National Battlefield, approximately 10 miles north of Gaffney. A Revolutionary War site, its grounds have an auto loop that is open until 4:30pm daily.