In Columbia, typically the chilly weather doesn’t last long into the spring, and soon warm weather will be calling for days spent in the sun. Columbia offers many outdoor activities within a short driving distance to escape the busyness of downtown and campus life for a few hours.
The only national park in South Carolina is located 30 minutes from downtown Columbia. Congaree National Park is known for its bottomland forests with surrounding wetlands that cover 27,000 acres, making it the largest forest of its kind in the Southeast. There are several walking trails that weave throughout the forest, ranging from less than one mile to almost 12. The national park accommodates other outdoor activities with its campgrounds, boat landings and fishing areas.
Harbison State Forest is a 20-minute drive from downtown Columbia and is one of the largest parks inside city limits of a metropolitan area in the Southeast, according to its website. The 18 miles of trails are designed for walking or biking and include a range of difficulties. There’s also a boat landing that enters the Broad River for kayaks and canoes.
Sesquicentennial State Park, nicknamed "Sesqui," is another park that’s convenient to downtown Columbia within a 20-minute drive. Day activities include hiking and biking trails, picnic areas and fishing. There's a fenced in dog park for furry friends to roam free with a permit, but leashed dogs are allowed throughout the park. The park has a retreat center for groups to stay overnight and several camping sites.
Columbia's surrounding rivers provide relief from the city's famously hot temperatures. Known as the Three Rivers Region, the Saluda and Broad rivers converge into the Congaree River. River tubing or kayaking can be accessed at several locations, such as the Palmetto Outdoor Center at the West Columbia Riverwalk Park, Saluda Shoals Park and Adventure Carolina in Cayce. For a less-adventurous outing, there are several walking trails near the river, including Riverfront Park and West Columbia Riverwalk Park.
If walking through forests or floating down the river doesn’t sound appealing, there are other ways to explore Columbia in the springtime.
The South Carolina State Farmers Market sells local, in-season produce every day of the week. The vendors and farmers are available to answer questions about the produce and current agricultural trends.
Wingard’s Market is a year-round garden center in Lexington that sells seasonal flowers, trees and some fruit. There's also a fresh produce market with products from local farms, including seafood, vegetables, eggs and cheese. Most local farmers markets don’t open until at least April.
Mural hopping is a way to spend time exploring Columbia without leaving downtown. Public art has been popping up in several areas, including Five Points, the Vista, Devine Street and Main Street. One of Columbia's most well-known murals is "Tunnelvision," created by Blue Sky in 1975. It's located on Hampton Street, in the same parking lot as the world's largest fire hydrant. A new mural on Gervais Street unveiled this past spring, "Lady Vista," was created by Caitlyn Maloney and includes an upside-down face with sunglasses and colorful shapes surrounding the image.