When you hear the word “hike,” what image comes to mind? Is it a backpacker with a tall stick in hand, ready to conquer a great, untamed wilderness? Or is it someone walking along a paved path through the woods? Either option is valid. So, while the Midlands is not exactly known for its great, untamed wilderness, it still has an abundance of trails for any skill level.
Congaree National Park
While the Boardwalk Loop Trail is probably Congaree’s most well-known trail, it is certainly not the park’s only offering. Congaree National Park is home to ten other hiking trails that are rated “easy,” “moderate” or “difficult” based on factors such as their length and how difficult they are to navigate. Because Congaree is a swamp, the trails do not have much variation in elevation, but that does not mean their trails are a mere “walk in the park.” Certain trails – such as the Oakridge Trail – are perfect for those times when you want to imagine yourself in an action movie: fighting your way through dense vegetation and occasionally losing sight of the path.
A tip for hiking at Congaree National Park? The park is first and foremost a swamp, so bug spray is a necessity. They even have a “Mosquito Meter” in the visitor’s center that tells you how bad they are on any given day. The scale goes from 1 to 6, with 1 being “All Clear” and six being “War Zone.”
The Palmetto Trail - Capital City Passage
The Palmetto Trail connects the upstate to the low-country through one continuous hiking/biking trail. The plan was established in 1994, and over 370 of the 500 miles have been completed thus far. Fortunately, one of the completed passages runs right through campus.
The Capital City Passage is the first urban passage on the Palmetto Trail. While it is not “in the wilderness,” the trail takes you through major sections of the capital city. At one point, it even passes by the Horseshoe.
It's important to note that the trail is not a loop, so make sure to plan ahead for your return trip, whether you want to walk back or have a car waiting for you at the end.
Cayce/West Columbia Riverwalk Park
The Riverwalk Park contains over 20 miles of trails that are stretched out along the Congaree River. The Riverwalk offers stunning views of the river, and it passes below two of Columbia’s bridges. It is also a paved trail, making it accessible for most hikers.
Make sure to bring water if you're walking these trails, but do not litter. One of the major problems the Riverwalk Park faces is littering.
Harbison State Forest
The Harbison State Forest is home to multiple hiking and biking trails. The trails are interconnected so hikers are free to switch things up mid-hike. Firebreak is the main trail that provides access to the rest of the trails. If you want something that is a bit more of a climb, choose the Midlands Mountain Trail. However, it must be noted that you do have to pay a $5 daily or $25 annual fee for parking.
If you're hiking through this forest, call ahead to check on trail openings. Trails might be closed temporarily due to upcoming timber harvests or wet weather. However, the Harbison State Forest does not include this information on its website. If you want to check on the trail status before you make the drive, you need to call and confirm.