By Lori Blalock
With an endless supply of warm sunshine, cool lake breezes and the sounds of water gently lapping the shore, the Old 96 District is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s the ideal location for a fun outdoor weekend.
Here, in western South Carolina, where the Savannah River forms the border with Georgia, three incredible lakes make up the boundary between the states in what’s commonly referred to as South Carolina’s freshwater coast – and a gateway to outdoor adventure. Visitors to the Old 96 District will find a number of state parks, historical sites, biking and hiking trails and an abundance of water to paddle, fish and boat on.
Outdoor Weekend Itinerary
Kick off the weekend adventure by overnighting at Hickory Knob State Park and Resort near McCormick, on the banks of the Strom Thurmond Reservoir. While this park has all the usual amenities of a state park, it’s one of a kind in South Carolina.
As a full-service resort, the property boasts more than 70 lodge rooms with lake views, family cabins, a restaurant, a swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course. Many of the accommodations and outdoor spaces are pet friendly so bringing a four-legged friend along is easy.
How to Spend Saturday Outdoors
Saturday Morning – After a hearty breakfast in the park restaurant, it’s time to get busy. Take advantage of some of the activities that Hickory Knob offers and try something new. A little skeet shooting and archery are the perfect way to start the day. The park has classes for novices and provides all the necessary equipment. All you have to do is bring the muscle.
Saturday Afternoon – Following an active morning and lunch, take a relaxing drive and explore the area a bit more. The closest town, McCormick, is less than 12 miles away. Spend the afternoon discovering the history of this charming little city that was built on the second richest vein of gold in South Carolina. Heritage Gold Mine Park, home of the Dorn mine and on the National Register of Historic Places, is open to the public for tours of the original mine. See firsthand one of the excavation trenches and a horizontal tunnel from the original strike. The park also allows visitors to pan for gold. You even get to keep what you find.
Saturday Night – For dinner, grab a bite to eat in McCormick at one of the restaurants in the area. For pizza and pub food, Michelle’s fits the bill, serving up tasty appetizers and classic mains such as pizza, burgers and salads. Make sure to save room for dessert. The restaurant’s menu offers a variety of homemade cakes, cannolis and the ever-popular banana pudding.
Upon returning to Hickory Knob State Park, enjoy a game of pool or ping pong or just relax by the huge fireplace in the Great Room at the lodge. There couldn’t be a better way to end an amazing first day of your outdoor weekend in the Old 96 District.
Sunday in the Old 96 District
Sunday Morning – The lake is calling and Hickory Knob has the answer. It’s time to get out on the water and take a turn or two around the beautiful lake. The park has canoe, kayak and paddle boards available for half-day and all-day rentals. There should be just enough time to get in a few paddles before check out. Additionally, Earth Connection Outfitters, located less than 10 miles from Hickory Knob State Park, rents watercraft as well.
Sunday Afternoon – After working up an appetite on the water, it’s almost time to say farewell to Hickory Knob State Park but not before a delicious lunch. The park restaurant knows that traditionally, Sundays in the south means a proper family lunch – or Sunday dinner – as it’s commonly referred to around here. How does a plateful of southern fried chicken and all the fixings sound?
Following an exceptional lunch, finish up the outdoor weekend in the Old 96 District by visiting a few of the many unique historical places and cultural landmarks in McCormick County.
Hidden in the Sumter National Forest, down a small county road, is New Bordeaux, one of the last of seven French Huguenot colonies founded in South Carolina before the American Revolution. A Maltese cross marks the spot of their important but simple log church. Also nearby is the Badwell Cemetery – the last resting place of some of the Huguenot families in the area.
Both of these interesting sites can be reached by car or by walking the Savannah Valley Railroad Trail. This historic trail is the unused railroad bed that once connected this area of the Old 96 District with Anderson, South Carolina. It’s been repurposed into almost 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, full of wildlife, vegetation and impressive trees that provide a welcome shade from the southern sun. From the trail, there’s also the opportunity to catch an occasional glimpse of the Savannah River.
Enjoy the Outdoors in the Old 96 District
In addition to these locations, an outdoor weekend in the Old 96 District could also include a visit to the Ninety-Six National Historic Site and the Benjamin Mays Historic Site near Greenwood or a stop in quaint Abbeville to see its famous Opera House and Historic Downtown. With an array of intriguing sites to choose from, you’ll be planning your next visit to the Old 96 District on the ride home.
Lori Blalock is the writer and creator of Southerner Says, a Georgia-based website that focuses on travel and road trips in North America. Lori enjoys visiting national parks, small towns and discovering the perfect campsite. When she’s not on the road you can find her chatting about road trips on #RoadTripChat, Monday nights on Twitter. Lori can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.