Happy Trails

Posted On September 8, 2020

Escape to the woods from close to home.

by Alison Moons

Columbia is only two hours from the mountains and two hours from the beach. But how many outdoor adventures are Columbians missing in their own backyards? With the capital city established directly along the convergence of three rivers – the Broad, Saluda, and Congaree – nature is abundant for all to enjoy. In addition to the scenic beauty of the city’s waterways, there are also many escapes to the woods not too far from residents’ front doors. While social distancing to stay healthy, consider seeking out these unique trails to stay happy! Be mindful to keep a six-foot distance from others and leave only footprints behind. Beat the heat by starting in the early morning and don’t forget lots of water, bug spray and a cell phone for emergencies and photo-op. These featured trails are pet friendly if they are leashed.

Three Rivers Greenway
Access Points:
West Columbia Riverwalk and Amphitheater
Address: 109 Alexander Rd, West Columbia
Length and Difficulty: 1 mile | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain

Cayce Riverwalk:
Address: 201 Naples Ave, Cayce
Length and Difficulty: 8 miles | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain, covered picnic tables

Riverfront Park & Historic Columbia Canal
Address: South access, Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park: 312 Laurel St, Columbia
Restrooms, water fountain
North Access, Broad River Canal Riverfront Park: 4120 River Dr, Columbia
Length and Difficulty: 4 miles | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain

Saluda Riverwalk
Address: Candi Ln, Columbia
Length and Difficulty: 7.3 miles | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain | opening soon

Granby Park
Address: 100 Catawba Cir, Columbia
Length and Difficulty: 2 miles | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain

With multiple access points, miles of easy strolling on paved and boardwalk trails await hikers on the riverbanks. Walkers, runners, and cyclists can connect to nature just steps from downtown while winding through the lush landscape and watching blue herons sweep across the water. The Riverwalk, as the greenway is commonly referred, is a popular place for locals to walk their four-legged friends (there have even been pet goat sightings) and is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. Take in views of the diversion dam, historic canal, and riverfront as well as a section at Granby Park in Columbia.

The newest section on the Saluda is opening soon near Riverbanks Zoo & Garden and will give visitors a view of Millrace, the largest class of rapids in the area. The lit boardwalk goes from I-26 to Boyd Island Sanctuary, where Spanish moss sways over whitewater.

The West Columbia Riverwalk starts at the foot of the iconic Gervais Street Bridge. Go upstream for a shorter stroll, or downstream to connect to the Cayce Riverwalk where hikers will find local artist Wade Geddings’ hand-carved animal sculptures in downed trees. All along the river are opportunities to watch a variety of wildlife including herons, egrets, turtles, snakes, and for the lucky – a glimpse of river otters.

Guignard Clay Quarry Loop
Address: 634 Old State Rd, Cayce
Length and Difficulty: 3.25 mile Loop Trail/ Shortcut trail available | Easy-Moderate
Amenities: Primitive (no restrooms, water fountains, or trash cans)
Note: Foot traffic only

Located in the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve, this peaceful unpaved trail is close to downtown but feels like another world away. Hike around the long-forgotten clay quarry, which once supplied the bricks that built Columbia and now dot the scenery as ponds. Hikers may wander through wetlands filled with lily pads, wildlife, and posted warnings of alligators. Woodpeckers and owls hidden in the treetops can be heard from above as the sun filters through onto the forest path.

It’s common to see and hear white-tailed deer running along the outskirts of the preserve and along the creek. Because it’s in a floodplain, sections may be impassible after rain, but hikers can complete the loop through a shortcut.

Sandhills Hiking Trail at Sesquicentennial State Park
Address: 9564 Two Notch Rd, Columbia
Length and Difficulty: 1.9 Miles roundtrip | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain
Note: Admission fee required

Circling the large lake, hikers quickly forget how close they are to Two Notch Rd. This easygoing trail passes over a few boardwalks to cross wet areas and a waterfall is visible from Jackson Creek, where adventurers can also connect to an additional .5-mile nature trail. Sesquicentennial State Park, affectionately referred to by locals as “Sesqui,” offers more trails, including mountain bike trails, and a fenced-in dog park where man’s best friend can run off-leash with a special permit. Finish the day by cooling off in a splash pad.

Boardwalk Trail at Congaree National Park
Address: 100 National Park Rd, Hopkins
Length and Difficulty: 2.6 miles roundtrip | Easy
Amenities: Restrooms, water fountain
Note: Foot traffic only/ADA

Step back in time at South Carolina’s only National Park, just outside of Columbia. The over 20,000 acres of biodiverse landscape is home to the largest expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast, according to the national park service’s website. Starting at the visitors’ center and leading to Westin Lake, the Boardwalk is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.  

A variety of trees can be seen at the park including bald cypress, pine, maple, and tupelo — including state and national champion trees fed by the naturally occurring floods. It is likely to see the presence of white-tailed deer and wild hogs from their tracks in the mud. In addition, a variety of snakes and birds can be seen here, but perhaps the most infamous are the synchronized fireflies. Add the annual Firefly Festival to your bucket list and witness the magical show presented by the fireflies searching for a mate.

Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve
Address: 883 Peachtree Rock Rd, Lexington
Length and Difficulty: 7.5 miles | Easy-Moderate
Amenities: Primitive (no restrooms, water fountains, or trash cans)
Note: Foot traffic only

A waterfall, layered sandstone formations speckled with marine fossils and native longleaf pines make this Midlands trail unique. The now toppled Peachtree Rock took the shape of an inverted pyramid and was created as the ocean receded in prehistoric times, according to The Nature Conservancy.

The on-its-side big rock is a short walk from the first parking lot and a little further ahead is the only naturally occurring waterfall in the Midlands, taking a 20-ft splash into a small creek. Further ahead are longleaf pine groves, white sandy landscapes, and Tall Rock (aka “Little Peachtree Rock”). Take a photo of the network trails before heading in, because there are a few route options.

Peak to Prosperity Passage of the Palmetto Trail
Alston Trailhead: State Rd S-20-35, Little Mountain
Hope Station Trailhead: 1317 Hope Station Rd, Pomaria
Pomaria Trailhead: Palmetto Trail, Pomaria (has a water fountain)
Length and Difficulty: 10.7 miles | Easy
Amenities: Primitive (no restrooms or trash cans)

The over 1,000-foot-long Alston trestle bridge provides spectacular views of the Broad River. On this moderately flat, former train trestle trail visitors can hike and bike through forests and along Crims Creek. Executive Director of the Palmetto Trail, Mary Roe’s favorite way to enjoy this passage is to ride her bike from the Pomaria trailhead to Alston and back. “We have made significant improvements to the trail with the railroad track rocks that once made riding a bike bumpy,” Roe says. A burger at Wilson’s Grocery a few yards from the Pomaria trailhead is a satisfying way to end the day. Yearning for more? The Palmetto Trail currently has 29 passages to explore, working its way to connect statewide from mountains to coast. “Peak to Prosperity is my local favorite but my all-time favorite passage is the Awendaw Passage, it hugs the Awendaw Creek and the birds and wildlife are simply beautiful,” says Roe.

40 Acre Rock
Address: 2207 Conservancy Rd, Kershaw
Length and Difficulty: 2 miles | Moderate
Amenities: Primitive (no restrooms, water fountains, or trash cans)
Note: Foot traffic only

While standing on the vast granite open face rock it sure does feel like it’s 40 acres, even if it is actually around 14. Visitors take in the expansive view and explore the diverse ecosystems of this out and back trail by parking in the lower lot. The hike up to the beautiful view boasts high grasses, a water lily-filled beaver pond and dense forests. The climb up reveals a small waterfall and follows along creeks.

Once hikers reach the top, they explore and observe the mosses, lichen, sedum, and endangered pool sprite which make homes in the depressions of the rock. A hidden gem for a reason – rare, endangered, and threatened plants and wildlife are protected in the reserve, according to DNR, and unfortunately parts of the rock have been defaced with spray paint. From the top parking lot, it is just .6 miles to this ‘top of the world’ view.

Looking for more trails a little closer to home? Check out Harbison State Forest and Saluda Shoals Park as excellent options.