For some the fall season means cuddling up in a blanket with a hot cup of coffee while enjoying the cool, crisp mornings. For others it means it’s time to dust off the boots, put on a fleece and hit the trail to take in all the colors. It’s time for the crunch of dry leaves under your feet, crossing waterfalls off your list and chasing golden evening light down a country road. If you’re in the latter category, like I am, you might already know that the 47 South Carolina State Parks are great places to explore. If you're a beginner you might not know where to start. I recently explored some new spots, and I think they’ll be perfect hikes for beginning hikers this season. Now that October is here, it won’t be long until leaves are at their peak.
Station Cove Falls Trail at Oconee Station State Historic Site- A hike with history
A couple of winding roads off scenic Highway 11 in Upstate South Carolina sits the Oconee Station State Historic site. Originally a military compound and later a trading post, Oconee Station offers both recreational opportunities and a unique look at 18th and 19th century South Carolina. After a quick stop by the park office for a history lesson, hit the Station Cove Falls trail and take in a 1.5 mile hike to Station Cove Falls. The trail is canopied by rhododendron, tall oaks and poplars. You’ll cross into the Sumter National Forest where the trail flattens and ends at the photogenic Station Cove Falls. Bring a snack and rest on one of the large rocks at the base of the falls while viewing the scenery. My dog enjoyed splashing in the pool at the bottom of the falls so if you have "Fido" along, there's spot for him to cool off and grab a drink. Trees hug the edges of the falls so when the leaves are bright red, yellow and orange you might not find a better view. If you have a small tripod that you can trek in, this would be a good waterfall to get a long exposure with some nice color.
Lake Placid Trail at Paris Mountain State Park- So nice you’ll hike it twice
Paris Mountain State Park is a gem for the city dwellers of Greenville, like myself. Just outside of the bustling city is a quiet .7 mile hike looping around tree lined Lake Placid. Rest easy on this trail. Take your time and experience all fall has to offer. It’s perfect for a lunch break, post-work reprieve or a walk with the dog. I walked this trail during “golden-hour,” a time in the evening when the light was low and bright causing the leaves that already started to turn to burst with color. There are several benches on the banks of the lake to watch ducks paddle by and leaves blow in the breeze. The stillness of the lake causes the trees and the sky to reflect like glass, which make for great photo opportunities. The west side of the trail offered the best views for photos. There’s also a dam on the east side of the lake where water cascades over a wall. For the selfie-inclined folks, this may be your spot.
Sandhills Trail at Sesquicentennial Park- Hard to pronounce, easy to enjoy
To change it up from my usual mountain retreats I decided to head south for a different view. If you live in the Midlands or Piedmont and just can’t make it to the mountains this fall, don’t fret. Take a trip to the outskirts of Columbia, SC to Sesquicentennial Park and hop on the Sandhills Trail. Made up of towering pines and sprawling oaks, this two-mile trek loops around Sesquicentennial Lake. It feels very tucked in, which is something I look for in a trail. If you want to start your hike with a lake view, hang a right at the trail head. If you’re ready to disappear into nature, start to the left. Wildlife is frequent on this trail and it’s easy to spot turtles, lizards, fish and several types of birds. I spotted a small turtle shortly after starting this trail. A few younger hikers who were on the trail enjoyed getting a chance to see it in the wild. This will be a great spot for a family retreat. If you still have energy after the hike and want to view the park in a different way, hop in a canoe or buddy-up on a pedal boat. I had my dog with me, and she’s not so fond of wobbly boats, so we enjoyed the view from dry land; however, I could see how it would be a great way to see the fall colors and access parts of the park that you can’t get to on foot.
*Travel Tip: State Park hiking trails are pet friendly! Pets must be under physical restraint or on a leash no longer than six feet.