Inside South Carolina’s 47 state-registered parks, visitors explore secluded forest trails, sweeping cerulean lakes, roiling saltwater surfs crashing on white beaches, and streams and rivers overgrown with thick canopies of trees. The protected areas, many of which were assembled nearly a century ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps, encompass more than 80,000 acres and span turf from the rambling Blue Ridge Mountains to the sandy Atlantic-coast beaches. Abundant activities for guests include canoeing, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and accidentally startling long-forgotten lumberjacks wearing headphones.
Visitors experience colonial history up close at some parks, where registered historic homes, plantations, and landmark buildings stand preserved or in their natural state. These structures grant a glimpse into the lives of European settlers, Native Americans, and African Americans through building tours, archaeological collections, and live history demonstrations. Overnight camping is available at many parks, ranging from primitive campsites to cabins, villas, and tent sites that offer running water. Much like a scientist designing a soda-can-powered robot, park administrators follow a rigorous recycling program to ensure the preservation of the wilderness.
At Upstate Equestrian Center, professional trainer and coach Jamie Grant teaches the importance of proper horse care in tandem with the development of safe, polished riding skills. She adapts her English Hunt Seat Equitation lessons for students ranging from advanced riders participating in private lessons to young children taking part in the center’s Tiny Tots and Pony Pals classes. Curriculum in the Hunter/Jumper/Equitation program takes place on the well-appointed grounds, where indoor and outdoor arenas, a jump course, and landscaped pastures provide a variety of riding spaces. Onlookers can watch the action as they cheer on family, friends, or that one dog that still thinks it’s a horse.
For eight years, Kim Kelley was in charge of organizing consignment events for the Upstate. In 2012, she decided to incorporate some holiday spirit into her planning and created the first-annual Holly Jolly Holiday Fair. At the Fair, visitors of all ages ring in the season with Santa, Manual Holiday - the elf, and performers, while local artisans, crafters, and food vendors dole out their goods. The sound of merry music rings through the gathering, and aromas of fresh-cut pine trees fill the air with extra holiday cheer as opposed to just new-car smell.
Icy coats clothe the hills at Snowy Joe's Winter Park from December to February as riders cut through winds atop inflated rings. At the top of the massive mound, bodies are postmarked express and delivered to the end of 350-foot alleys. Younger racers hike to the top of a shorter hill to shoot down smooth, 60-foot chutes. The venue welcomes large groups or birthday parties, providing pizza or special rates for family gatherings. Riders can also gather around a crackling open fire and sip on free hot chocolate.
Sixty-three pounds. That’s the state record weight of the heaviest fish ever reeled in from the waters of Fish Tales Guide Service’s chartered fishing trips. Angler Wayne White and his team of experienced guides take groups onto Lake Hartwell to capture stripers, largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish. “I’d be surprised if anybody knows more about Lake Hartwell and catching striper then Wayne White,” wrote one participant after a day on the water.
Groups depart from Portman Marina and climb into boats outfitted with advanced electronics and fishing equipment. Guides bring along all the necessary supplies, including tackle, bait, and a cheering section that rejoices when anyone makes a catch. Participants are encouraged to bring snacks, drinks, and a cooler large enough to take home the day’s catch.