Parks and Gardens
Here’s another thing to love about Columbia's outdoor recreation: Not only do parks and gardens dot the city and surrounding suburbs, but with a quick 30-minute drive from downtown, you can be in the thick of full-on wilderness. Congaree National Park, for instance, is home to 27,000 acres of beautiful, old-growth bottomland forest and offers kayakers, hikers, and campers the perfect spot to savor a few hours of solitude and serenity.
For sandy beaches, quiet coves, and hiking trails, head to Dreher Island State Park on Lake Murray. Or, try biking or hiking the hilly trails at Harbison State Forest, which also has a put-in for boaters and paddlers along the Broad River. If you want to try your hand at paddleboarding, get to Sesquicentennial State Park, where you can rent boards to use on the calm lake.
You don't have to travel far when you're in need of fresh air and wide-open spaces, because there are plenty of nearby pockets of nature as well. In the heart of downtown, river trails and boardwalks skirt the banks of the Congaree so closely that, if you’re quiet, you can sneak up on the river otters that play in the deep shady pools. Experience it for yourself right across the river at Cayce Riverwalk Park. With 12 miles ADA-accessible pathway that overlook the Congaree, you'll want to keep an eye out for the hand-carved wooden animal sculptures that call this riverwalk home. If the weather’s too hot, you can always head to Saluda Shoals to rent a canoe or kayak and jump into the Saluda River to cool off—it stays close to 65 degrees all summer long.
Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden isn’t just an award-winning zoological park. There’s a splash pad for the kids called Waterfall Junction, a paved pathway that leads past historic ruins, and of course, the 70-acre Botanical Garden that's separated into themed garden rooms. And while it’s not officially a park, take the time to stroll through the University of South Carolina’s Horseshoe, where 200-year-old buildings hem magnificent magnolias, historic statues, and a deep green lawn.
If the kids need to burn off some extra energy and a playground is what you seek, don't worry, there are plenty in Columbia to choose from. The community park in Irmo offers not one, but three different playground areas and walking trails for exploration. On a hot day, you'll want to visit Saluda Shoals Park for its shaded play area and splash pad to beat the heat while having a rollicking good time. Earlewood Park is just north of downtown, and between the playground, baseball fields, and basketball courts, countless hours of fun and be spent at this spot.
A sunny afternoon playing in the heart of SC is accessible to everyone at Carraway Park at the Riverwalk in West Columbia. This state-of-the-art, all-inclusive play park offers a place for children of all abilities to gather and have fun enjoying the variety of sensory play areas together. Saluda Shoals Park has an impressive inclusive park of its own, Leo's Landing, with a crawling tunnel, various slides, and Sound Garden featuring chimes, drums, and other musical elements.