Ultimate Outside Update
A few weeks ago I wrote about our quest to visit all 47 South Carolina State Parks in an effort to get a FREE T-shirt as part of the Ultimate Outsider Challenge. We had done 1-1/2 parks at that point.
In case you, or my wife, forgot what it takes to FULLY qualify (by my rules), we must visit the park, walk SOMEWHERE in it, take our photo in front of the park sign, and get an ink stamp in our official park service book. To date, we are at 9-1/2 official parks. (At this point, we still need to return to Devil’s Fork for the photo.)
A couple weeks ago we made a plan to visit five parks in the middle of the state. We ended up checking SEVEN off in a matter of three days and learned a lot about our state and ourselves in the process. We did all this while traveling in our converted cargo van named Wanda.
Blessed with some pleasant temperatures, we headed to the Midlands early one morning. Before entering the first state park we visited the only National Park in the state: Congaree National Park. If you haven’t been, you really should. First, it’s free. Second, it has to have the friendliest rangers we’ve ever met—the kind that would have remembered your name at the end of the day if you had told them when you first got there. But it’s main draw would be the endless miles of swamps and old growth loblolly pine and cypress trees. These trees are humongous. We highly recommend a visit before (or after) the height of mosquito season.
Congaree is just below Columbia. From there it was a short drive to Poinsett State Park where the main attraction was a fishing lake and some old mill ruins which made for good photography practice. As I opened Wanda’s sliding door, a woman two spaces down cleared her cigarette crusted voice and said “I know what you’re doing!” I was busted, but for what? “You’re vanlifers!”. Whew. I gave her a tour and now she’s in South Florida dreaming of her own camper van. I put this park on my list of places I would return.
Santee State Park was next on the list and where we were spending one night there. Now the official state website will tell you they have two-night camping minimums, but if you check the availability and call the park directly you can usually get a spot for one night. The main attraction at Santee is a fishing lake (Lake Marion). Our campsite was very pleasant (and flat) and the sunset that evening was as exceptional as anything in the Upstate. One of the more humorous things we saw was a neighbor camper who rode an adult tricycle and had an electric fan blowing in the middle of his outdoor campsite.
Because we don’t fish, own a boat, and haven’t kayaked in ten years we knew we could add another park to the next day’s agenda so we threw in Colleton State Park. It’s a good thing we hadn’t planned more time there. I left Wanda running while I stepped in the ranger station to get my book stamped. Mr. Ranger was having trouble with his point-of-sale machine and closing a transaction for the camper in front of me. He told me I could have used the stamp in the small wooden box outside, but y’all know I feel about that. Fifteen minutes later I had my stamp. We drove through the rest of the park (which was a small camping loop on the Edisto River) and were back at the station in five minutes. That’s where the trailhead for a 0.3-mile trail began. Jenni, Annie the dog, and I headed down the trail. Ten yards in we realized all that green luscious growth was poison ivy so I tip-toed to the river and they turned back. Luckily we survived without a closer encounter and fortunately we didn’t leave anything behind because there is no need to ever go back!
A few backroads later and we arrived at Rivers Bridge State Historic Site around noon. We are not quite sure why a “Historic Site” gets the same Ultimate Outsider treatment as a “State Park” but we are going to go with the flow. Tip #1 for this place: Know your next leg of the journey before you get here because we had to travel several miles before we had cell service. We ate lunch there and walked a Civil War battlefield situated on the banks of the Salkehatchie River that was fairly well preserved. Then it was on to Barnhill State Park. (Keep in mind that when you see a town’s name in a state park it doesn’t necessarily mean you are close to that town.) Barnhill’s main attraction is a fishing lake. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?). It has a beautiful spillway but the water was not high enough to be doing so. We were now ready for our fourth park that day and where we would spend the night—Aiken State Park. It has THREE fishing ponds.
Aiken was a very peaceful place to camp and hats off to Aaron who displayed incredible hospitality by booking us for one night AND calling the morning of our arrival to explain the details once more. Our assigned spot backed up to the woods but there was a stream we could hear during the night. They do need to improve their maps a bit since we looked at three different maps provided to us and after two attempts still couldn’t find the trailhead to the 2-mile ‘Jungle Trail’. A very friendly ranger (probably Aaron) was driving by our campsite so we stopped him and asked about it. He pointed to the opening in the woods right behind us (ten feet from Wanda) and said “That’s it.” Perhaps that in itself should have been an omen. We followed his directions to “go into the woods and turn left”. We intended to only hike half the trail and then take a road back to camp. Even though we were definitely on a trail, two hours later we had NO CLUE where we were on the map I was carrying. The second time we crossed over a paved road we decided to just follow it back to camp. Jenni has NOT put this hike on her repeat list.
The next morning we were headed home and knew we could afford to stop at one more park. Somewhere during the journey, a highway sign said Lake Greenwood State Park was only 12 miles away so that seemed the logical choice. Lake Greenwood is known for its …… lake. It also has a golf course which is another thing we don’t do. We hiked a very short trail since the wind was blowing and it was quite cold. As I mentioned before, the town namesakes are not always close but we drove the 20-30 minutes to Greenwood and enjoyed a delicious lunch before heading home.
We needed to get home to rest for the next day. Our son and daughter-in-law were taking us out on the lake to teach us things we could actually be doing on our park trips!