In 2018, my husband J.L. and I published a guidebook to all the fifty-six parks in Tennessee. We had such a wonderful time visiting and exploring state parks for two years before this guide published—and enjoying seeing it become a Best Books Award Finalist in Nonfiction: Guidebooks in the 2019 American Book Fest Awards—that we were soon hungry for another adventure. Because I’d started a trilogy of novels set on the coast of South Carolina, we began to receive encouragement from new fans in South Carolina to do a guidebook for their state. One reason that we wrote our DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS guidebook was because we couldn’t find a single guide to the wonderful parks in our home state. … Surprisingly, we now found the same thing to be true in South Carolina, one of our favorite states to vacation in. There was no guidebook to their state parks either.
The push to write a South Carolina guidebook continued while we were in coastal South Carolina this August 2019, where I did five bookstore signings and events for my new book CLAIRE AT EDISTO while on tour. “We don’t have anything like that,” one of the managers at Barnes & Noble in Charleston told us. “You need to write a guidebook about our parks in South Carolina like you did for Tennessee.” Considering the idea more seriously now, we decided to visit Edisto Beach State Park since we were staying at Edisto. To start our first visit, we drove down a quiet side road to find the park’s environmental education and visitor center—only to learn that to explore any park in South Carolina you had to pay an entrance fee. This was a big surprise to us as in Tennessee all the state parks are free. The ranger told us if we planned to visit multiple parks we might want to buy a park passport, good for a year of free park visits… so we looked at each other, smiled, and decided to bite the bullet and do just that. “Well, we’re committed now,” J.L. said, but it has proved to be a good commitment!!
As I write this blog, we have now visited 27 parks—or half—of the 54 parks on our list. The state of South Carolina has 47 state parks and 7 small national parks that we decided to combine for our new guidebook. To start our book we visited the Edisto park and drove down to Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort on another day before returning home from vacation…. Back at home, we began to plan our future journeys and trips to the remaining parks in the state. While working on our Tennessee book, we could drive to most parks in one day and easily return home to sleep in our own bed that night. But South Carolina’s parks are all further away from our home in Knoxville, TN, so this time we knew we would need to explore multiple parks over several days, spending a couple of nights in towns near the parks we planned to visit.
Tennessee has three clear divisions—East, Middle, and West Tennessee, but South Carolina classified its regions in a few different ways, depending on the websites we examined. We decided to classify the parks in our new guidebook into the four regions you see on the colorful bulletin board map above—Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee, and Lowcountry. We started our first block of park visits in the Upstate area and now have visited all the Upstate parks and many in the Midlands region as well. As in our Tennessee book, we will give directions to each park, tell about all the interesting things to do and see in each, detail some of the trails we hiked and historic spots we saw, and provide a multitude of color photos with each park to accompany the text.
On our first visit to South Carolina in September we visited eight parks in three days in the Upstate area of the state. I tend to think of South Carolina more in terms of the flatter, lowland areas of the state, but this part of South Carolina along the border of the mountains looks much like the high country areas around East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. Our journey began traveling down SC Highway #11 in the far northwest corner of the state on the border of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The first park we visited was Jones Gap State Park at one end of the 13,000-acre wilderness area, where we enjoyed especially hiking along mountain creeks to several water falls, followed by Caesars Head State Park at the other end of the wilderness area. At Caesars Head, we were blown away by the incredible views at Casear’s Head Overlook and enjoyed walking through the Devil’s Kitchen crevice in the huge granite rocks piled there.
We spent the night in nearby Greenville and the next day visited more parks along Highway #11—Table Rock, Keowee-Toxaway, and Devil’s Fork parks. The highlight at Table Rock was the giant mountain the park is named for rising above Pinnacle Lake. Keowee-Toxaway and Devil’s Fork parks both centered around lakes, too, and we enjoyed beautiful scenes at both along with seeing gorgeous campgrounds and exploring several fine hiking trails. We returned to Greenville to explore Paris Mountain state park before spending the night. Paris Mountain, on the outskirts of Greenville, offered us the chance to hike two nice trails, one around Lake Placid to the spillway dam. And then on our last day we journeyed further down Highway #11 to Oconee Station, a small park with historic sites and then on to Oconee State Park, with fine campgrounds and a wonderful old waterwheel by the dam at the end of Oconee Lake. Then we drove home over the mountains back to Tennessee.
Our next three-day trip in October followed a similar pattern, and we visited eight parks, most along the beautiful lakes on the border between South Carolina and Georgia. If I owned an RV or camping gear, and loved to boat or fish, I’d head to one of these parks for a weekend visit as most had lovely campgrounds looking out over stunning lakeside views. The lake parks we visited included Baker Creek, Calhoun Falls, Hamilton Branch, Lake Greenwood, Hickory Knob, Lake Hartwell, and Sadlers Creek. On this trip we also enjoyed exploring the interesting Ninety Six National Historic Site where a pivotal battle of the Revolutionary War was fought
In November we took our final 2019 trip to South Carolina—this time traveling to nine parks in our three-day journey. This trip took us to a greater diversity of state parks, to historic parks like Cowpens, the Kings Mountain parks, Andrew Jackson, Landsford Canal, and Musgrove Hill State Historic Site, on to family parks like Chester State Park and Croft State Park, and even to a beautiful old antellebum home at Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site. We especially enjoyed Cowpens and Kings Mountain, their museums and battlefield trails, learning about the history of the Revolutionary Battles fought there. Chester State Park, centered around a 160-acres lake, was especially scenic and Croft Park had delightful trails leading to scenic creekside scenes, old bridges, lakes and springs. This park is especially known for its equestrian show ring and many fine horse trails, and we ran into many riders while there, even on a weekday.
This spring, when the trees green up again, when the weather grows fairer and the days longer, we’ll travel further into the Midlands and Pee Dee regions of South Carolina to explore more parks and then down to the coastal regions to the Lowcountry parks. South Carolina is topographically diverse and we’re enjoying traveling around its backgrounds to see all its picturesque parks and sights. J.L. and I hope before next year to complete our SC guidebook and to see it published.
Stop back by my blog in February and March and I’ll talk about our new books publishing at the first of April, what inspired them and photos from each.
Stay warm this winter!
[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]