Parks and Gardens
Here’s another thing to love about Columbia: not only do parks and gardens dot the city and close-in suburbs, but in about 30 minutes you can be surrounded by full-on wilderness. At Congaree National Park, for instance, rangers and work crews can’t use power tools of any kind outside of the boardwalk area, ensuring that the park’s 27,000 acres of old-growth bottomland forest sounds as natural as it looks. Kayakers, hikers and campers would never guess they’re just 20 miles from the city.
Visit Dreher Island State Park’s sandy beaches, quiet coves and hiking trails and you’ll swear you’re in the middle of nowhere.
There are plenty of close-in sources of greenspace as well. 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. Right across the river from downtown, the Cayce Riverwalk Park offers 12 miles ADA accessible pathway that overlook the Congaree. As you stroll, keep an eye out for the hand-carved wooden animal sculptures that call this riverwalk home. If the weather’s hot, 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.
Hikers and mountain bikers flock to the hilly trails at Harbison State Forest, which also has a put-in for boaters and paddlers along the Broad River, and Sesquicentennial State Park, where you can rent stand-up paddleboards to use on the calm lake.
Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden isn’t just an award-winning zoological park. The 70-acre Botanical Garden is separated in themed garden rooms; there’s also a splashpad for kids and a paved pathway that leads past historic ruins. 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.