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.
Amid the cracks of strikes and spares, Lumberton Bowling Center fetes twosomes with pin-annihilating festivities to enliven afternoons and evenings. Set up shop at one of the 24 smooth lanes, lacing up a functional pair of rented kicks before striking a fashionable pose with a selected three-holed orb. Couples keep score during the six-game stretch, sip on 16-ounce soft drinks, and attempt to execute challenging triple-axel throws.
From sporting events to arcade games to electronic trivia, the 30 HD screens at Hellas Restaurant & Sports Bar engage diners with a variety of diversions. When not watching TV, diners can cluster around tables to order from a menu that includes Greek cuisine made with olives and feta cheese, as well as grilled steaks and seafood.
The bar's specialty drinks bear the names of Greek gods, such as the Aphrodite, which includes a sweet blend of Malibu, Midori, and vanilla vodka. During late nights on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the music turns up and the lights go low as the eatery transforms into a nightclub, complete with a live DJ, flashing lights, and actual basilisks that take over the dance floor with their best renditions of the worm.
White-sand beaches flank a 6-acre manmade, sand-bottom lake at Fantasy Lake Water Park, a family-friendly destination offering attractions both in and out of the water. There are numerous water slides, including enclosed-tube slides, open slides with foam mats, and drop slides that unleash adrenaline by sending bodies freefalling to a splash landing. Visitors can also glide into the lake on swings or play games of volleyball or basketball waist deep in water. Pedal-boat rentals are included with admission, giving legs a chance to do some of the work after walking around on your hands all day. Kid-friendly ziplines and other attractions populate a children’s zone, and the savory scents of barbecue drift from charcoal grills in a picnic area.
Students at Fast Track High Performance Driving School don't need to prove that they can parallel park—they're more concerned about taking a turn at more than 100 miles per hour. Most of them have never even felt the rumble of a 600-horsepower engine before. After plenty of safety debriefing from expert instructors, however, they usually are no longer intimidated by its purr. They'll then hop into the vibrant shell of an ARCA-style stock car, a former racing vehicle that's still capable of rocketing down the track at a blur-inducing speed of 165 miles per hour.
Since 1989, the school has been fulfilling speed-demon fantasies with its courses and ride alongs at racetracks throughout the country. The staff meets with everyday fans and aspiring competitors alike to cover racing protocol, safety, and appropriate postrace dance moves. Depending on the depth of their lesson, pupils might take the wheel during a four-car passing exercise or simply sit back in the passenger seat as a professional flies through three–five laps.
For a few centuries, Carver’s Falls was closed to the public, and it's easy to see how much the area benefited from that solitude. The natural beauty of its forests and the waterfall at its heart have flourished. But today, the tree canopy has been transformed into an aerial playground. Wires cross the sky, connecting tree to tree. Every day, ZipQuest's guides lead birds-eye tours of the pristine landscape on their expansive zipline network or via the Swing Shot that pendulums vertiginously above Carver's Creek.
Whether the lighting comes from the sun or helmet-mounted lamps, no fewer than two experienced guides lead guests through Carver's Falls' 2.5-hour course. Adventurers fly down eight ziplines—each designed for a long, leisurely glide or an adrenaline-pumping plunge—while pointing out local flora and fauna. Groups pause only to disembark on high platforms anchored to centuries-old trees. Floating spiral staircases and sky bridges, the longest of which stretches 210 feet, interconnect the platforms. A suspension bridge carries explorers over the falls to a penultimate zipline that runs parallel to its creek. At the end of the run, guests catch their breath while looking through the pictures their camera-wielding guide took.