Explore the Great Outdoors in South Carolina’s Upcountry

by Janean Flowe
A family looking over a scenic overlook at Ceasar's Head State Park

The six-county region of Upcountry South Carolina is packed with historic battlefields, cultural events, art galleries, farms and more. However, the outdoor recreation alone is worth a look.

From all-level hiking and impressive waterfalls to scenic lakes and gorgeous gardens, Upcountry South Carolina — made up of Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Spartanburg counties — has an outdoor experience ready to wow everyone in your crew.

Issaqueena water fall in South Carolina

Issaqueena Falls

Feel the Rush

Admire rushing cascades from 40 to 700 feet when you trek to over 100 public-access waterfalls in South Carolina’s Upcountry. While some are quite easy to reach, others, which call for traversing arduous, rugged terrain, require a bit more heft. Whichever level you seek, a wow-worthy waterfall reward awaits.

Raven Cliff water fall South Carolina

Raven Cliff Falls

In Stumphouse Tunnel Park, Issaqueena Falls drops roughly 200 feet and is a popular draw, especially given its relative ease of access. Opt for the short, 10-minute hike that guides you to the top of the falls for a dramatic overlook, or take the alternative path, which offers a photo-worthy full panorama. This whole protected preserve contains important Cherokee history; impressive, if incomplete, railroad tunnels; and gorgeous forest trails. Tired already? Pack a lunch: Picnic facilities are also available, so you can make a full day of it.

Raven Cliff Falls in Greenville County’s Mountain Bridge Wilderness and Recreation Area offers a show-stopping 420-foot cascade, one of the most noteworthy waterfalls in the state. Near Salem, Whitewater Falls comprises two falls that drop close to 700 feet over roughly a half-mile into Lake Jocassee, boasting the highest falls series in the eastern US.

A person kayaking on Lake Jocasse

Lake Jocasse

Make a Splash

Whether fishing, kayaking, or simply spending a lazy day on the lake, it’s no problem in South Carolina’s Upcountry. In Oconee and Pickens Counties, Lake Keowee may be manmade, but it’s off-set by its scenic mountainous backdrop, which is especially impressive during fall foliage. Boat ramps are available at several public access areas at the Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area, packed with natural bridges, walking and hiking trails and fishing (bass, crappie and catfish all make cameos here). Canoe more your speed? No problem. Lake Keowee has a canoe and kayak access points, too.

A leisurely boat trip along the Broad Scenic River unveils a riparian forest, home to an impressive plant and animal life. Be sure to bring your binoculars: It’s common to spot eagles, ospreys and other birds soaring overhead or perched in high nests.

Pick a Park

Named for a Revolutionary War general, the Andrew Pickens Ranger District in Sumter National Forest (Mountain Rest) has it all — incredibly scenic views, tons of trails, campsites, hunting, fishing and even whitewater floating. Horse lovers, in particular, will want to hit up the Rocky Gap Trail, which contains some of the most scenic riding trails (they’re also open to hikers) in the southern stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Up for a longer haul? This roughly 12-mile trail also links up with Georgia’s Willis Knob Horse Trail, offering a total of 26 miles along the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River.

a group of Revolutionary War re-enactors gathered together

Kings Mountain National Military Park

Near Blacksburg, there’s more than Revolutionary War history going down at Kings Mountain National Military Park. This natural area commemorates the turning point of the Revolutionary War and hosts special events. Life skills, such as leatherworking, blacksmithing and woodworking, are also on display, just as it would have been in the 18th century. Along the mile-and-a-half Battlefield Trail, you’ll find wayside exhibits and monuments that highlight important historic events, including the Centennial Monument and Ferguson’s Grave. The Park Loop Trail is a full-day, 16-mile commitment, while the Browns Mountain and Clarks Creek trails offer shorter hikes through the park.

a man trout fishing in the river

Trout fishing in the Chattooga River

Reel ’Em In

Cast your line from a boat, while standing along the lakeshore, or while wading in the river, and you’re sure to hook an impressive catch year-round while fishing in the dozens of Upcountry waters. Lake Bowen and Lake Blalock in Spartanburg are two popular options, along with Chau Ram County Park in Westminster and High Falls County Park in Seneca, among many others. Here, you’ll lure brown, brook, and rainbow trout; bass; crappie; catfish and more — they’re all stocked in area waters by the regional fish hatchery. Looking for pointers on where to drop your line? Hit up an area tackle shop, such as Mike’s Bait & Tackle in Inman — the locals always know where the biting’s best.

a couple walking a path in the South Carolina Botanical Garden

South Carolina Botanical Garden

Smell the Roses

The Upcountry is home to hundreds of acres of noteworthy gardens, including the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson, which offers several different forests and habitats, each featuring rotating blooms annually. At the Asia Garden at Furman University, travel into a Asian-inspired sanctuary packed with bamboo, special Japanese irises mingling with native pines and more. A former Buddhist temple, the Place of Peace overlooks the garden and is a popular meditation spot for area students and residents. In Spartanburg, Hatcher Garden offers walking paths, ponds, waterfalls, plus thousands of flowers, trees and shrubs, so there’s never a shortage of interest.

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