Camping In South Carolina: Explore Historic Sites & Beautiful Landscapes
South Carolina is proof that good things come in small packages. This charming state has amazing landscapes that range from mountain highlands to coastal beaches. Rich in history, there are numerous Revolutionary and Civil War battlegrounds to explore. Blue lakes and blackwater rivers are located throughout the state, and there is no shortage of southern charm and friendly residents.
There are plenty of places to go camping in South Carolina no matter what your camping style or budget is. A quick search on RV LIFE Campground Reviews or RV LIFE Trip Wizard will help you find the perfect site for your vacation.
Driving in South Carolina
South Carolina has five interstates that connect to neighboring states and major cities. Although South Carolina ranks 40th in land size, it has the fourth largest state-funded highway system in the country, with around 41,500 miles of highways and interstates.
- Interstate 20: This interstate, also known as the Strom Thurmond Freeway, runs east/west across most of South Carolina. The South Carolina segment of this interstate is near the border at Augusta, Georgia and crosses the Savannah River. It continues on to the state capital of Columbia and crosses the Saluda and Broad rivers before heading to Florence. The interstate ends right before Florence at Interstate 95.
- Interstate 26: Crossing in from North Carolina just northeast of Landrum, this interstate is designated as an east/west freeway, but runs mainly in a southeasterly direction until it reaches Charleston. Covering over 200 miles, this freeway mostly traverses rural areas but also runs through Columbia. This road is a hurricane evacuation route, so lane reversals will occur if there is threatening weather.
- Interstate 77: Running just over 90 miles into South Carolina, this highway was designed by the state as a Blue Star Memorial Highway. It flows north/south from the North Carolina line near Rock Hill to outside Columbia. The highway has different names in and around Columbia: It is the Veterans Memorial Freeway (from I-26 to the Congaree River), the William Earle Berne Beltway (from I-20 to the river), and the Charles F. Bolden Freeway (from the dividing line of Richland and Fairfield counties to where it meets I-20).
- Interstate 85: Cutting through upstate South Carolina, Interstate 85 connects Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. Running northeast-southwest, it crosses into South Carolina from Georgia on the Vandiver Bridge in the Tugaloo River/Lake Hartwell area. It travels through Greenville and Spartanburg before crossing the border near Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
- Interstate 95: This north-south interstate connects South Florida to Canada and runs almost 200 miles through South Carolina. Its time in South Carolina starts when crossing the Savannah River from Georgia. It follows the coastal region for a while, passing through Hardeeville before heading inland and running through Darlington. This freeway will take you past forests, blackwater swamps, and farms. It continues north until it crosses into North Carolina just past Dillon. You can’t miss the state border because the “South of the Border” Mexican-themed restaurant and gift shop complex sits right on the state line.
Scenic drives in South Carolina
Falling Waters Scenic Byway (SC 107)
While it’s only 13 miles long, you could easily spend an entire day exploring this area and taking in the gorgeous mountain vistas. Located inside Sumter National Forest, this rural stretch of road has been dubbed South Carolina’s “Loneliest Road.”
In addition to multiple scenic overlooks, you can also hike trails, like the one that leads to the Chattooga River. Spring is a particularly beautiful time to visit, as wildflowers are in full bloom. Running north/south, the scenic route begins near its intersection with SC 28 outside Walhalla and continues to the North Carolina line.
Plantersville Scenic Byway
Located in Georgetown County in the northeastern region of South Carolina, this scenic byway is a history buff’s dream. The byway’s 12-mile route is home to 10 Colonial-era plantations and numerous landmarks that predate the Civil War – churches, slave quarters, mansions, and the ruins of Prince Frederick’s Chapel.
Additionally, keep an eye out for wildlife, as the Dirleton Plantation-Samworth Wildlife Management Area is part of the byway. Be sure to stop at the Plantersville Cultural Center, just north of the Black River Bridge on Highway 701. These folks can help you plan your day and can rent you a bike if you don’t have one. Bicycling is an amazing way to view the area and get some fresh air.
Edisto Island National Scenic Byway
This two-lane road on the southernmost stretch of State Highway 174 meanders through the lowcountry of South Carolina. It runs past numerous creeks, salt marshes, and forests as it winds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway.
As you travel along the 17-mile byway, you will also see a handful of historic churches and roadside markets offering fresh produce and seafood. There are lots of photo opportunities here, so be sure to pull off the road every now and then to savor the view.
Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway
This 115-mile highway runs the length of the state, from Georgia to North Carolina. As you travel through rolling hills, you’ll see stunning vistas, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, called “Great Blue Hills of God” by the area’s native Cherokee.
There are plenty of rivers, lakes, and peach orchards, but the area’s historical sites take center stage. Be sure and check out Hagood Mill, a historic gristmill that features the state’s largest working waterwheel. The Cherokee County History and Arts Museum features exhibits that focus on the Revolutionary War, Native American life, and geology.
Savannah River National Scenic Byway
Running over 100 miles along Western South Carolina, this byway takes you past forests, charming towns, and acres of farmland. Along the way, you’ll pass three lakes and drive through four counties. Beautiful historic churches are located all along the drive, as well as Civil War historical sites.
Adjacent to the byway are 100+ sites with campgrounds, welcome centers, boat ramps, and numerous state parks. There are tons of great experiences waiting for you just off the road: You can enjoy camping and fishing at the Savannah River and the J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake, or go antiquing in quaint Abbeville, home to outstanding dining and shopping opportunities.
Western York Scenic Byway
With so much to see on this 66-mile drive through York County, you may end up making a weekend of it. As you pass through the region’s rolling hills, you’ll come across charming little towns with big personalities. You can spend some time in York’s historical downtown area (one of the largest in the country), stop and enjoy the town of Sharon (where most of the downtown buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings), and visit Clover, a town with a 5,000 gallon water tank that was built to serve the area’s local steam engines.
Old Sheldon Church Road Scenic Byway
This seven-mile byway has no shortage of tree canopies draped with Spanish moss. Located about 15 miles north of Beaufort, this road leads to the Old Sheldon Church ruins (formerly known as Prince William’s Parish Church).
While there is some debate as to whether the church burned down or was simply “gutted” to make room for new homes, everyone agrees about the site’s beauty. It is one of the most photographed places in the area and is host to numerous weddings each year. They also hold an annual Sunday service two weeks after Easter.
National Parks in South Carolina
Congaree National Park
Located less than 20 miles outside the capital city of Columbia, this national park sprawls over 41 square miles (26,000+ acres) – half which are labeled as “wilderness area.” There is plenty to see and do in this UNESCO biosphere reserve, including hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. In addition, the park is popular with bird watchers. and in the summer months, visitors can enjoy a light show delivered by fireflies.
Numerous hiking trails are available, including the Bluff Trail, Oakridge Trail, and King Snake Trail. In total, there are more than 25 miles of hiking trails and nearly two-and-a-half miles of boardwalk. Hikers will often see tracks left by deer, raccoons, and bobcats. Congaree River and Cedar Creek both run through the park, and canoers can enjoy the 20-mile marked trail on the creek. Camping is limited to tents and hammocks, but there are numerous RV campgrounds in nearby Columbia.
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
This 28-acre site is the former Snee Farm, owned by one of this country’s founding fathers, Charles Pinckney. Just a few miles outside Charleston, the farm once grew rice and indigo for local and international markets. Today, a cottage built in 1828 houses the site’s visitor center and a museum that features Pinckney’s life story and his role in framing the U.S. Constitution.
The cottage also depicts everyday life for both free and enslaved people living on an 18th century plantation. Beautiful gardens and tall oaks adorned with Spanish moss can be found on the grounds near the main house. Further out on the eastern and western sections of the property, you’ll find swampy, wooded areas. Here, you can spend a leisurely afternoon enjoying a picnic, walking the grounds, or exploring the nature trail.
Cowpens National Battlefield
History buffs will love this battlefield found east of Chesnee. This is where the Battle of Cowpens was fought, with Brigadier General Daniel Morgan defeating Britain’s Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarlton on January 17, 1781.
Be sure and check out the Visitor Center, which features a museum that’s chock full of American Revolution exhibits in general and the Battle of Cowpens in particular. You’ll also find a map that charts the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War.
While exploring the grounds, you will discover the reconstructed log cabin of Robert Scruggs who farmed the land before it became federally protected in the late 1920s. Hiking and biking are available on the Cowpens National Battlefield Loop Road and Battlefield Trail. For those who prefer to drive, there is a road that circles the battlefield and features short walking trails to the Green River Road and picnic areas.
Fort Sumter And Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
Charleston Harbor is protected by two forts that provide insight into the city’s Civil War past. While Fort Sumter is only accessible by boat, the Visitor Education Center is located in Liberty Square by the Cooper River. Numerous exhibits in the center’s museum focus on Fort Sumter’s role in the Civil War, including its major players and the politics behind the war.
Plantation life, including exhibits about slavery, can be viewed as well. The tour boat that takes you to the actual fort departs from the Visitor Center. The Fort Moultrie Visitor Center is located on Sullivan’s Island. In addition to guided tours, you can check out a film and exhibits that depict the history of the two forts and learn how the coastal area defended itself, from the beginning of the 19th century through the mid-20th century. You can enjoy various outdoor pursuits, including nature walks, wildlife viewing, birding, fishing – or simply watch the boats in the harbor.
Kings Mountain National Military Park
Outside Blacksburg, near the border of South Carolina and North Carolina, is an incredible national military park. It honors the Battle of Kings Mountain (October 7, 1780) and was an important victory by the American Patriots over the Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said the battle was “the turn of the tide of success.” You can stand on the battlefield where this pivotal battle occurred and stroll along a mile-and-a-half paved trail with exhibits that showcase important battle events.
In the Visitor Center, you can watch a short film that provides an overview of the battle, and check out the museum and its rare original Ferguson rifle. There are three back-country hiking trails to choose from, as well as horse trails. No RV camping is available in the park, but there are campgrounds nearby, including the highly-rated Iron City Campground.
Ninety Six National Historic Site
About an hour south of Greenville, you will find the Ninety Six National Historic Site, a couple of miles from the town of Ninety Six. The park – also referred to as Old Ninety Six and Star Fort – is situated on more than 1,000 acres of preserved land.
While staying here, you can join guided tours and check out a visitor center and museum that displays oil paintings and local artifacts. There is also a one-mile paved trail where you can view the remains of Star Fort and the original site of the town. In addition, numerous primitive hiking and horse trails are available. You can also spend a relaxing day fishing, enjoying a picnic lunch, or bird watching.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
Spanning four states (North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) and more than 300 miles, this trail follows the path the Patriots used when fighting the Kings Mountain Battle in 1780.
For those wanting to drive the route, the roads run parallel to state highways and are marked with the trail logo. If you prefer a good walk, there are almost 90 miles of hiking paths available. The South Carolina Segment is the shortest area and ends just across the border from North Carolina at Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Reconstruction Era National Historical Park
Beaufort, South Carolina is home to four structures that make up the monument in this park: Darrah Hall at Penn Center (a school for recently freed slaves); Brick Baptist Church (built by slaves and taken back when they were free); The Old Beaufort Firehouse (converted into a visitor center); and the Camp Saxton site (where the Emancipation Proclamation was read to thousands of slaves in 1863, and where former slaves signed up for the military). A variety of ranger-led outdoor activities are available to shed light on how the country changed after the Civil War.
State Parks in South Carolina
Whether your ideal vacation is in the mountains or at the beach (or anywhere in between), South Carolina has almost 50 state parks (covering over 90,000 acres of land) with a variety of landscapes to enjoy. Below are some of the most popular parks in the state.
Lake Wateree State Park
Tucked away on Desportes Island, this park sits on the shores of Lake Wateree. Spanning almost 300 acres, the park has everything you need for a great weekend. As one of the oldest lakes in the state, it boasts a surface area of more than 13,000 acres and around 250 miles of shoreline. Fishermen flock to this lake for its excellent crappie, catfish, and bass fishing. New to fishing? The park staff will loan you a rod and reel so you can try fishing for yourself. There is also a swimming area, a playground, and a hiking/biking trail.
The park has 100 paved campsites – 72 with electric and water hook-ups and 28 that also include sewer hook-ups. There is also an on-site dump station. All sites include a picnic table and are close to restrooms and hot showers.
Calhoun Falls State Park
Located on the shores of Lake Russell, this Abbeville County park is the perfect place for spending time on the water. The lake itself is over 26,000 acres and is great for fishing, boating, and swimming. Catch crappie, Walleye, and catfish from the shoreline or the fishing pier. This pet-friendly park also includes a basketball court, tennis courts, and a playground for the kids.
There are 86 RV sites – some which can accommodate a 40-foot RV – spread over three campgrounds. All sites have electric and water hook-ups and a dump station is available. If you want to get out and enjoy the outdoors on land, hike along the Cedar Bluff Nature Trail. The moderately-difficult loop trail, which runs the perimeter of the lake, covers 1.75 miles and wanders through a forest of hardwoods and pine trees.
Dreher Island State Park
Just a few miles outside of Columbia, Dreher Island State Park is home to summer water sports and world-class fishing. Named for its previous owner, Billy Dreher, the park takes up residence on the largest island in the 50,000-acre Lake Murray.
While the lake is known for its Bass fishing (both Largemouth and Striped) there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy. There are three playgrounds for the kids and three hiking trails of varying difficulty. The Billy Dreher Trail is an easy .25 mile path that takes you past the ruins of Billy’s former home.
Keep your eyes open for ducks, geese, and turtles while walking near the shoreline. The Bicycle Bypass Trail is also an easy .3 mile walk/bike ride where you can cross from the campground to the shop area without walking on the road. For those wanting a more difficult hike, Little Gap Trail fits the bill. At just over two miles long, this trail will take you through the forest. Be on the lookout for bald eagle nests.
The park offers almost 100 paved campsites with water and electric hookups. Each site has a picnic table and is close to the restroom and hot shower facilities. For your convenience, there is an on-site dump station. Tent camping and five lakeside villas are available as well.
Santee State Park
With easy to access to Interstate 95 and the town of Santee, this park is a fisherman’s paradise. In addition to record-breaking Largemouth Bass, Lake Marion is also chock-full of channel catfish, trout, perch, crappie, bream, and white bass. The lake is also perfect for boating, kayaking, and canoeing. The park is a great place for birdwatching, as great blue heron, painted buntings, and osprey call it home.
Sprawling over 2,500 acres, the park has two playgrounds, a tennis court, and geocaching. Six hiking/biking trails provide over 10 miles of paths around the park. Five of the “easy” trails are less than a mile in length while the 7.5 mile hiking trail is considered “moderate” due to its length.
The park includes two campgrounds with a total of nearly 150 sites. You can choose from the Cypress View Campground on the park’s western side or the larger Lakeshore Campground on the east side. While all sites have water and 30-amp electric hook-ups, almost 50 of the sites have 50-amp service.
Camping in South Carolina cities
Myrtle Beach, located in the northeastern part of the state, is a beautiful coastal area with over 60 miles of beaches –nicknamed “The Grand Strand.” The town is also known for great golfing as there are almost 90 golf courses in the area. Countless shopping opportunities abound with everything from tiny gift shops to shopping complexes like Broadway at the Beach, Tanger Outlet Mall, and Barefoot Landing.
There are plenty of RV campgrounds that you can call home during your vacation. Two of the most highly rated options are Barefoot RV Resort and North Myrtle Beach RV Resort and Dry Dock Marina. Both offer sites with full hook-ups, golf cart rentals, cornhole games, a swimming pool, indoor shower facilities, free Wi-Fi, and cable television.
Located on the coast, Charleston is a city rich in culture and history, as it was the site of the first Civil War battle. Numerous historic mansions can be toured in Charleston – including Middleton Place (former home of Arthur Middleton, one of the Constitution’s signers), Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall.
Spend a relaxing day at the Gibbes Museum of Art and then watch a show produced by the 34 West Theater Company. Learn about the city by taking a walking, carriage-driven, or bus tour showcasing the best attractions. The South Carolina Aquarium and Charleston City Market are great rainy-day activities.
No trip to Charleston would be complete without a visit to the beach. There are five beaches in the area: Isle of Palms Beach, Kiawah Island Beach, Seabrook Island Beach, Folly Beach, and Edisto Beach.
Centrally located between the beaches and the western border of the state, the capital city of Columbia is a great mixture of new and old. Take a guided tour of the house and garden district to learn more about the history and culture of the area or spend an afternoon strolling through the Columbia Museum of Art or the South Carolina State Museum.
The kids will love the zoo or watching the Fireflies (affiliate team of the KC Royals) play baseball. There are several great shopping opportunities, such as the Divine District, Five Points, and The Vista. After a fun day in the capital city, consider staying at the River Bottom Farms Family Campground or Mr. Z’s RV Park.
Tucked away in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this upstate town is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. The area is home to five lakes (Bowen, Blalock, Silver, Lyman, and Berry Shoals Pond) that offer fishing, swimming, boating, and kayaking. The town also has numerous walking paths and hiking trails for all levels of experience.
Take a moment to learn about the town’s past at the Spartanburg Regional History Museum and Walnut Grove Plantation. Stroll through downtown Spartanburg and check out the thriving cultural center. Music venues, breweries, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries line the streets and street musicians can be found showcasing their talent. Nearby RV campgrounds include Pine Ridge Campground and Iron City Campground – wonderful places to spend a relaxing evening.
Hilton Head Island
Nestled into the southeastern corner of the state, this lowcountry island has a charm all its own. With over a dozen public beaches, you are sure to find the perfect spot to soak up the sun or splash in the surf.
Golfers flock to the island to play on one (or more) of the nearly 20 courses on the island, including the Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III, the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Golf Course, and Harbour Town Golf Links designed by Pete Dye.
The southernmost point of the state, Hilton Head Island is home to world-class dining and shopping. After a fun day exploring the island, consider watching the sunset from your ‘home for the night’ at the Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort and Marina or the Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort. For a great tour of Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort and the town of Hilton Head Island, check out this video:
The landscape in South Carolina may be ever-changing, but the charm of the state and its southern hospitality remain constant. From upstate towns to the lowcountry region, you’ll find beautiful places and welcoming people while camping in South Carolina.
Tammy Grey has been a freelancer writer for just over ten years. She has been published in regional and national publications, such as USA Today and Silver Sage Magazine. While her main focus is writing travel-related articles, she also writes human interest pieces.
Tammy is a Marine Corps brat from Parris Island, South Carolina. After many years spent in the Midwest, she currently resides in southeast Georgia, in a small Navy town just north of Jacksonville, Florida.