There is a lot to love about the Upstate but its natural beauty has to be at the top of the list. Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we are never further than somewhere between a stone’s throw and an easy drive to a spectacular outdoor experience. From mountain top views, waterfalls, and historic landmarks, there is a little something for everyone to enjoy.
Destinations like Paris Mountain State Park and Lake Conestee are just minutes from Downtown Greenville and offer easy escapes from life’s daily stresses. Others, like Table Rock and Jones Gap State Parks, offer miles of serious hiking trails and breathtaking views. If you prefer some wheels under you, there is the paved path of the Swamp Rabbit Trail or mountain biking at Pleasant Ridge Park. There is so much, in fact, that limiting the list to only 10 is a challenge but, at a minimum, this list is a great place to start your outdoor adventures.
In far less enlightened times, Pleasant Ridge Park was built as the African American counterpart to the whites-only Paris Mountain State Park in the 1940s. Thankfully, all of us now have the ability to enjoy both, regardless of ethnicity. Today the park is the home of a roller coaster of a six-mile mountain bike and hiking loop, a mountain lake which might be the closest place to Greenville to snag a cold water-loving mountain trout, and hiking trails that feature the remains of long-abandoned mountain moonshine operations. Even better, the Pleasant Ridge Camp and Retreat Center is home to a program that offers camping and outdoor experiences for youth and adults with special needs and other disabilities as well as children battling cancer.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Pleasant Ridge Park is the home of a fantastic mountain biking experience, trout fishing, and some truly good causes.
Brett’s expert tip: Keep an eye on the weather – due to a strict dedication to trail maintenance, the trails may be closed or restricted after heavy rains.
Aside from the waterfall at Falls Park in the heart of Downtown Greenville, the Reedy River struggles to impress. It is just shallow and narrow enough to question if it is qualified to identify as a river, rather than a large creek or stream. Downstream from Greenville, however, the Reedy puts that question to rest at Cedar Falls Park. There, it widens to 200′ over boulders and remnants of dams for power plants and grist mills of long-gone generations. As you walk its banks, it is hard to imagine that this is the same water that flows through our city’s center and it is nothing short of mind blowing when you first lay eyes on it. Paved and natural hiking trails and a short jaunt to Happy Cow Creamery make the whole experience all the more satisfying.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Cedar Falls is an eye-opening sight that lets you know that Downtown Greenville’s meandering Reedy River grows up to be a powerful force just downstream.
Brett’s expert tip: Blink and you will miss your turn to the park. If you cross the bridge over the river, you have gone too far – a lesson it has taken me a half dozen times to fully process.
The covered bridge was a practical invention as the siding and roof would allow a wooden bridge to last a century, versus less than 20 years in the days before steel was readily available. While covered bridges were once a common sight across the globe, Campbell’s Covered Bridge is the only one of its kind still standing in South Carolina. Built in 1909, the bridge has been restored twice and is now the centerpiece of a park managed by Greenville Rec. The park invites visitors to picnic, tour the bridge and the remnants of a grist mill that once stood on the property, and cool your toes in Beaverdam Creek which the bridge spans over.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The only standing covered bridge in South Carolina is a trip to another era in Upstate history.
Brett’s expert tip: This is the perfect place for a picnic next to a mountain stream and the only standing covered bridge in South Carolina.
On the list of things that make the Poinsett Bridge significant, one has to wonder where to even begin. It is the oldest bridge in South Carolina and, quite possibly, the Southeast as a whole. Built in 1820 as part of a road connecting Charleston to Tennessee, it was named after Joel Poinsett, a prominent Greenville resident and eventual US ambassador to Mexico. Perhaps most notable is the fact that its architect was Robert Mills who went on to be the architect for a little thing known as the Washington Monument. There is so much history here that it should be a legal requirement for Upstate residents to walk across this bridge at least once in their lives.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: More than just a bridge, this is a significant piece of local and national history as its architect went on to design the Washington Monument.
Brett’s expert tip: As long as you are in the neighborhood, nearby Restaurant 17 at Hotel Domestique is worth a visit. Watching the sun set with a seasonal cocktail at the restaurant’s bar is the perfect end to your adventure.
On a clear day, you can see Greenville from the overlook at Caesar’s Head State Park, an impressive view considering you are almost in North Carolina. An even bigger attraction, however, is Raven Cliff Falls – a 420′ waterfall that captures all of nature’s untamed beauty in a single plunge. An easy four-mile round trip hike takes you to an overlook to view the falls while a slightly longer 6.6-mile trip puts you on a suspension bridge right over the top of it. Another route gets you there by way of the Dismal Trail which is every bit as imposing as the name suggests.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Caesar’s Head is home to some great hiking trails, not the least of which is the one that takes you to the 420′ Raven Cliff Falls.
Brett’s expert tip: Visit in the fall for some serious bird watching as thousands of hawks migrate directly through the park each year.
The bald rock face of Table Rock Mountain is unmistakable and, even if it is only South Carolina’s third tallest peak, it is it’s most recognizable. The park that houses it offers everything you want from a state park â” swimming, boating, fishing, camping and hiking. Really, though, it is the hike to the summit of Table Rock that brings the most traffic. The view of Greenville’s secluded (and well guarded) reservoir from the mountain’s pinnacle is not just impressive but also illustrates why Greenville’s water quality is some of the best on Earth. After the hike, do not miss the chance for a glass of wine and a sandwich at Victoria Valley Vineyards just a couple of miles from the park’s entrance.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Table Rock is an iconic Upstate landmark and few views are better than the one from its summit.
Brett’s expert tip: If your child conquers the Table Rock summit for the first time, take them to the ranger station for an official certificate to commemorate the occasion.
There might be no easier way to take in the true beauty of life in the Upstate than a ride on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The former railway turned recreational trail connects the hotbed of Downtown Greenville with its neighbor to the north, Travelers Rest. Between these two bustling communities, you will find Furman University, the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery, residential neighborhoods, and woodlands all along 22 miles of the historic rail bed. Two breweries (Swamp Rabbit Brewery and Birds Fly South Ale Project) are both a stone’s throw from the trail because, really, who doesn’t enjoy a cold craft beer after a ride?
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This is one of the most user-friendly features around as it connects Greenville with Travelers Rest in a way that’s easily accessible for everyone.
Brett’s expert tip: When the weather is nice, be prepared for a crowded trail, especially closer to Greenville and Travelers Rest. There are plenty of access points outside of the city centers where traffic will be lighter as you get started.
For serious hiking enthusiasts, Jones Gap State Park is the place to go. More than 60 miles of trails guide you through 13,000 acres of wilderness and some truly spectacular scenery. The park is home to arguably the most rugged trail in the Upstate (the Rim of the Gap) and the prettiest waterfall (Rainbow Falls). Each requires strong legs and lung capacity as they are not for the inexperienced hiker. Families and others looking for a more relaxing day in the woods will still enjoy the rocky path that is the Jones Gap Trail and Jones Gap Falls, each easily accessible from the parking area, picnic tables, and fish hatchery.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This is the largest park and network of trails in the Upstate with some remarkable views and waterfalls.
Brett’s expert tip: When the weather is nice, there might be a wait at the gate for parking but, in my experience, it never takes as long as the ranger prepares you for.
Once a polluted, toxic wasteland, Lake Conestee Nature Park is one of the most impressive nature reclamation projects you will ever see. Located just behind the old Greenville Braves stadium, you will find miles of paved, natural, and boardwalk trails around Lake Conestee and the Reedy River. The marshy edge of the lake is a scene reminiscent of a coastal park right here in the Upstate, making this one of the most unique parks in our area. Wildlife abounds with the National Audobon Society designating the park as an Important Bird Area of Global Significance with more than 200 different species being reported there. Take it all in with the aid of viewing towers looking out over the lake, beaver dams, and (on a good day) more birds than you have ever seen in one place.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Another park close to Downtown, Lake Conestee Nature Park offers some really unique natural habitats that you might not expect to find in the Upstate.
Brett’s expert tip: Keep a picture of the trail map handy as there are so many spur and connector trails that it is surprisingly easy to get lost. An easy fix is just to snap a pic of the map at the trail heads to keep on your phone while you explore.
Paris Mountain State Park is one of the true gems of the Upstate. Just minutes from Downtown Greenville, it is never far in the horizon reminding us of its presence. Once there, you will find miles of hiking trails suitable for all ages and abilities. The mile loop around Lake Placid at the base of the park is perfect for those looking for an easy stroll in the woods while sections of the Sulphur Springs Loop are as challenging as you will find anywhere in the Upstate. Mountain biking, boating, swimming, and camping options are all available making Paris Mountain one-stop shopping for all of its visitors.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Miles of trails this close to Downtown Greenville makes Paris Mountain the perfect refuge just minutes from the daily grind.
Brett’s expert tip: It is so close to town you are going to want to visit a lot, which makes the SC State Park Pass a wise investment.