Let the adventure begin at majestic Table Rock State Park (Greenville weekend fun outdoor activities)

So much to see, so much to do at Table Rock State Park the undisputed jewel of the South Carolina mountains. The park is at the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment off of scenic highway 11, relative short drive from Greenville and little over an hour drive from Charlotte. Table Rock Visitors Center photo Table Rock mountain has a spectacular granite outcropping which at 3124 feet is a stark contrast to the heavily wooded forests below.

The first white men moved in the Oolenoy Valley soon after the Cherokee treaty at a place called Pumpkintown. In 1840 the Keith and Sutherland families built a hotel that soon became a popular area attraction. A second hotel was built in 1899 at present White Oak Picnic Shelters site then moved in 1920 to Saluda Valley to become a summer lodge.

Things to know before you go at Table Rock and Caesar’s Head parks

1. Carrick Creek is the only recommended hiking trail for young kids at the Table Rock state park. It starts at the Nature Center and about 2 miles it takes an hour to complete. It weaves around Carrick Creek and rewards hikers with dozens of gorgeous, refreshing and easy accessible mini waterfalls. It gets better at the end (or beginning!) when you and your brave little ones can goof around at the swimming area.
Rock sliding Nature Center at Table Rock Park photo

Here are all Table Rock hiking trails. Hikers are encouraged to register at the trail head kiosk and be off trails at least one hour before sunset. No overnight camping on trails. Foothills Trail hikers need to purchase a parking permit at the Visitors Welcome Center.
• Pinnacle Mt. 8.4 miles 6-7 hours
• Table Rock 7.2 miles 5-6 hours
• Mill Creek 5.8 miles 5-6 hours
• Carrick Creek (kid friendly) 1.9 miles 1 hour
Hiking on Carrick Creek trail photo

2. There is a big playground near Pinnacle Lake with plenty of age appropriate equipment in a nicely shaded place. Beware of the geese wandering throughout the parking lot and the picnic area. They are mean, mean, mean and will harass you as soon as they sense the food. My 4 years old and I had to take refuge on top of the picnic table. No kidding! I finally braved to chase them away using some stick musketeer style.
Young kid on Carrick Creek trail photo

3. Caesar’s Head State Park has the “take it with you, no trace left behind” policy. There are no trash canes or restrooms along the park. The welcome center has restrooms and vending machines. I encourage you to replenish there and use the facilities.
Caesars Head overlook photo

4. The trail to Raven Cliff Falls from Caesar’s Head is about 5 miles long so plan ahead. If there is not much time left you can still enjoy incredible vistas of Campbell, Paris, Table Rock, Raven Cliff and Glassy mountains and the immaculate Table Rock reservoir (it supplies the city of Greenville with fresh water) at the Caesar’s Head overlook. From there you can hike the short and moderate Devil’s Kitchen trail. Caesar Head park photo
Be mindful this park is frequented by black bears.

5. If waterfall viewing “it’s on the menu” drive to Dupont Forest State Park (couple miles after crossing the NC border off of hwy 276; here are driving directions to and map of Hooker Falls Access Area). It provides easy hiking and quick access to some of North Carolina most beautiful waterfalls: Triple Falls, High Falls and Grassy Creek Falls. There is a $12 map you can purchase at Caesar’s Head welcome center. Here are some great Dupont Foreast park hike trails details, an interactive map and waterfall photos.

Table Rock Admission, Lodging and Rental Prices

Admission fee: $2 per person; $15 per bus; $1.25 SC senior citizen. Annual passport $50 (good at all SC State Parks); Palmetto Passport $25 (for SC seniors or disabled citizens). Tip: if you got a permit or day pass from another SC park you can use it at Table Rock (and any other state park) as long as the permit / pass are still valid.
Lake Oolenoy Table Rock State park photo

Cabins: There are 14 cabins (8 with 1 BR, 5 with 2 BR and 1 with 3 BR) that can accommodate 4-10 persons. They range in price from $75 to $120 per night. Check in 4 PM, check out time 10 AM. Tip: rent Sunday thru Thursday to save $15-20 per night. Cabins 5, 6, 7 and 8 are right by Pinnacle Lake and have the best views. You can reserve a cabin up to 11 months in advance. Call 1-866-345-7275 or go online www.southcarolinaparks.com.

There are 96 camping sites at the White Oaks campground equipped with showers and a recreation building. Price is about $20 per night (including tax); again is cheaper during the week.

Equipment Rentals: Spring thru fall, Tuesday to Sunday from 11 AM till 5 PM (weather permitting).
• Pedal boats – 2 person $5 per half hour; 4 person boat $7 per half hour
• Kayaks and canoes – $5 per half hour; $15 per day
• Fishing boat – $15 per day; $35 per day for boats with trolling motor (3 person maximum). Note that no private boats are allowed on Pinnacle Lake however you can use them at Lake Oolenoy across Hwy 11.
Table Rock swimming area photo
Swimming: June till mid-August Tuesday to Sunday from 11 AM till 5 PM; August 16 thru Labor Day weekends only. Adults $2, children 4-12 years $1.50, free for kids 3 years and under.

Enjoy the beauty of the South Carolina Upcountry parks!

What kids, adults and even pets love to do at Oconee State Park (a fun and affordable family vacation in SC)

Recently I spent an extraordinary week with my 4 years old at the Oconee State Park in beautiful Carolina Upcountry. If you wonder about what to do, where to go and what places to visit while vacationing in the South Carolina mountains then read along.

Free activities
• Hike the easygoing 1 mile loop trail to enjoy gorgeous views around the lake. Lassie in the canoe!
Serious trekkers are rewarded with the start of the famous 80 mile Foothills Trail.
• Stop by the playground where little ones can run around and you can picnic, volleyball and relax by the lake.
• Visit the interpretive room to learn about the very rare chestnut and the versatile hickory trees. Centuries ago chestnut trees graced our forests from northern Appalachian Mountains all the way to Mississippi. The wood was resistant to rot and easy to split thus it was used for building fences and railroads. Legend has it a 20 foot rail could be split with a single wedge! Chestnut was a valuable source to produce the acid used for tanning leather. Back then, entire communities depended on the “acid” factories. In 1904 people in New York started to see trees being killed by blight and by 1930s all the trees were almost extinct.

Teen jumping in the lake At Oconee you can still spot stumps of this once majestic tree. Hickory, a truly American tree (there is only one other specy in eastern China), is quite abundant, with four varieties thriving at the Oconee park. Its wood has an unequal combination of strength, elasticity and toughness making it the major raw material for producing sporting goods. Hickory it’s also used to flavor barbecue.
• Swim Fri to Sun(11 AM to 5 PM). Lifeguards on duty. Bring some flotation device to keep little kids entertained. Older kids keep themselves busy at the diving platform
• Chase geese and ducks around. May not seem like much to you but trust me little ones never get tired of it. Don’t worry; no animals get harmed…when they had enough they just take off.

Activities under $5 and $10
• Putt-putt golf: $1.50 per game
• Pedal boats: $5 / hour (go with #7 the red sparkling one)
• Boating and fishing, canoeing or kayaking. Like paradise at Oconee lake

The sign says $10 / half-day or $20 / whole day. I paid $3 for an hour of kayaking. Cabin renters can get a “John” boat for the whole week for $50. Beware private boats are not allowed on the park lake, only rental fishing boats.You need a SC fishing license. The lake has excellent bass, bream, catfish and trout fishing.
• Friday night Square Dancing at the Barn: $2 for adults and $1 for children.

Tips to know before you go
1. There are 2 things you MUST bring along to keep little ones entertained in the evenings: a portable or car DVD player and a flashlight.

2. There is no TV and the cell signal is almost null. Those of you who can’t survive without the world wide web, the Chick-fill-A in Seneca has free Wifi Internet and an awesone indoor playground.

3. Take advantage of the fire pit and grill and try to have a fire every night. It’s priceless. You don’t have to cook much; hot-dogs followed by marshmallows will do just fine. You can get a stack of wood cheaply from the stands along Hwy 28 that leads to the park.

4. Go to Ingles in Walhalla for grocery shopping and to Wal-Mart in Seneca for anything else…

Area Attractions
Here are some suggestions on things to do while vacationing at Oconee. Check and print this custom Google Map with all the attractions listed below. Everything is less than an hour drive and most of them are FREE to attend.
Walhalla Trout Fish Hatchery – see the life stages of, feed and even fish three species of trout
• Visit the centuries old Oconee Historic Station and Hagood Mill the oldest continuous operating grist mill in the Carolina.
• Learn how electricity is made and nuclear reactors works at Duke’s World of Energy museum.
• See the legendary Issaqueena and the breathtaking Whitewater waterfalls (highest in the East).
• Go to Lake Jocassee at Devils Fork State Park for year around swimming, boating and even scuba-diving. This is the finest fishing place in the Southeast.
• Mine for rubies, sapphires and even gold in Franklin, NC. Make sure to stop near Cullahasa Falls on Hwy 64 (between Highlands and Franklin) for some awesome rock-sliding in the river.
• Admire country largest collection of nature-based sculptures and hundreds of exotic ornamental plants at the SC Botanical Garden (located on the Clemson University campus).
• Journey back in time and shop for incredible antiques at historic Pendleton, the Charleston of the Upstate! Check out Farmer’s Hall, Hunter’s Store, Ashtabula, Woodburn and Old Stone Church.

Lake Jocassee, a mini “Caribbean” vacation in the South Carolina Upcountry (family almost free things to do)

The Buzz
As soon as you step on the beach at Lake Jocassee inside Devils Fork State Park you feel like you’re in one of the fanciful Caribbean islands travel posters: Lake Jocassee beach entrance crystal clear blue waters bordered by spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains covered in lush green forests and a sun-kissed beach with a pinkish “sand” to tickle your toes.

All for just $2 daily admission or even free with a SC State Park pass.

That’s a paradise weekend gateway on the cheap (pardon me…”at a huge discount”) worth shouting about! 🙂

Tips to know before you go
1. Use your State Park guest tag (the one you hang on the rear-view mirror of your car) to any other State Parks as long as it’s still valid. During our week stay at Oconee State Park I used the tag to get in for free at Table Rock, Keowee and Devils Fork.

2. Bring life jackets, especially if you have young kids. The water has a very narrow portion to stand up safely. Only 10 feet from the shore there is a steep drop and you can no longer touch the ground.

Best to have at least 2 adults keeping constant watch on the children. With no lifeguard on the beach you’re pretty much on your on.

3. Wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen. If possible bring an umbrella. There is no shade on the beach and the sun gets scorching in the summer.

4. It takes quite a hike through some big rocks to walk to and from the beach, so wear something comfortable and sturdy. If you’re not in a mood for exercising best to bring a cooler along with all the necessary refreshments.
Boys having fun at Lake Jocassee
5. At the top of the stairs there is a snacks stand, an equipment rental office, restrooms and showers.

Ice-cream is the king and you can get it for $3.

Beware the showers inside the women’s restroom didn’t work when I was there (first week in June).

Things to do at Lake Jocassee and Devils Fork Park
1. Fish in one of the Southeast finest lakes offering trophy smallmouth bass, crappy and bluegill.

2. Scuba-dive or boat the 7,500-acre clear and deep reservoir lake with 75 miles of shoreline and four boat-launch areas each with generous parking.

3. Swim, tube, jet sky, canoe or kayak year around. Beware there is no lifeguard at the beach.

4. Hike the 1.5 mile easygoing Oconee Bell Nature Trail (named after the rare wildflower found along) or the 3.5 miles moderate Bear Cove Trail through the hardwood forest.

Lodging
The main lakeside campground has 59 paved sites with water and electrical hook-ups and 25 tent sites with elevated pads, picnic tables, grill pits. Nothing like napping on the water On the northern shore of the lake there is a primitive campsite accessible only by boat. These sites are available on a first come first served basis and you need to pack out what you packed in.

The park also offers 20 mountain villas with 2 and 3 bedrooms. They have TV, screened porches, and fully equipped kitchens. Best thing of all each villa has its private beach, boat ramp and parking area. One drawback pets are not allowed in or around the villas.

Free and Affordable Area Attractions:
• Duke’s Power World of Energy – kids learn how electricity is generated from water, coal and uranium. At Upper Whitewater Falls
Your best chance to safely get up close and personal to a nuclear reactor!
• Walhalla Fish Hatchery
Numerous waterfalls like the Upper and Lower Whitewater (highest in the East) and Issaqueena
• Oconee Historic Station, Hagood Mill and Pickens County Museum
• Ruby and sapphire gem hunting in Franklin, NC (less than 1 hour away, need to pay admission and gem bucket mining…expect $10-$20 per person)

• History lovers and art collectors go visit Pendleton, “the Charleston of the Upstate” located near Clemson off of Hwy 28 and 76. The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable attractions: Farmer’s Hall (oldest continuous operating hall in the country), Hunter’s Store, Ashtabula (1st licensed tavern, $6 admission fee), Old Stone Church (where Andrew Pickens and Gen. Anderson are buried) and Woodburn (4 story mansion, $6 admission fee)

Where
Devils Fork is easily reached from S.C. 11, the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway. Here is the exact address 161 Holcombe Circle, Salem, SC 29676 and the Google Map. For more info and to make reservations call (864) 944-2639, or 1-866-345-PARK or visit the official state parks website

Have your beach mountain paradise at Lake Jocassee in South Carolina Upcountry!

A great weekend in Greenville: free things to do and places to visit with the kids

Greenville is the most picturesque, family friendly and travel attractions bountiful city in South Carolina, if not the Southeast. Falls and bridge downtown Greenville
It offers a variety of free and fun things to do and see; Downtown it’s easily accessible and offers wide sidewalks peppered with cafes, restaurants and free entertainment. There is always something going on downtown.

Where else can you admire 60 foot waterfall right in the middle of the city?

Here is a list of activities you can do while visiting Greenville.

Free activities
• Mice on Main scavenger hunt, the fun way to stroll up and down Main Street.
• Picnic, walk, bike, learn about the city’s history or just play at the incredible scenic Falls Park along the Reedy River. Pay your respects to Shoeless Joe, Carolina’s beloved famous baseball player in the 1900s.
• Live the fairy tales at the outdoor Children’s Garden
• The SC Botanical Gardens has the country’s only nature-based sculpture collection; it also features thousands of ornamental plants varieties and natural woodlands and streams
• McPherson Park opened in 1884 is the city’s oldest park and features a log cabin, putt-putt golf and tennis courts.

• Drive to Pickens (about 20 miles west of Greenville) to see Hagood Mill “Where Memories are Made” the only still commercially operating grist mill and home to many folk and arts festivals. Stop by the Pickens County Museum of History and Art to see some great collections like Andrew Pickens duel pistols and the old jail cell.

Activities under $5
• See elephants paint Famous Elephant Painter and Siamang monkey call out their love at the Greenville Zoo inside Cleveland Park
• Visit the state’s largest planetarium at the Roper Mountain Science Center

• History lovers and art collectors visit Pendleton, “the Charleston of the Upstate” just 30 miles southwest of Greenville (hwy 76 and 28). The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable attractions: Farmer’s Hall (oldest continuous operating hall in the country), Hunter’s Store, Ashtabula (1st licensed tavern), Old Stone Church (where Andrew Pickens and Gen. Anderson are buried) and Woodburn (4 story mansion)

Parking and getting around downtown

Free parking in the weekends and evenings (on non-event days) at:
• River Street Lot
• Bowater Garage
• Irvine Street Lot
• W. Washington Street Deck (Bus Transfer Station)
• Richard Street Garage
• Augusta Street (near the Stadium)

Ride the trolley for free on Main Street. For a calendar of events in the Greenville area visit www.greatergreenville.com

2009 Update! Finally, The Children Museum is now open!

Cooler than NASCAR!

Cooler than NASCAR!

The museum is located downtown, near Greenville Museum of Art, the Public Library and The Little Theater.

This place rocks!
Kids can launch a satellite, race a Formula 1 car, perform live and record music, remote control a cool crane, shop at a supermarket, get digested in a giant stomach, play with laser and much, much more…

Admission is $12 (free for kids under 1) and the museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 9AM – 5PM (noon on Sundays).

Enjoy your family weekend in awesome Greenville, South Carolina!

Mice on Main scavenger hunt free family adventure in Greenville

What better way to explore downtown Greenville than through a scavenger hunt? For the past 5 years “Mice on Main” has become one of the city’s greatest travel attraction the whole family can do for free. Hidden downtown are nine little bronze mice for kids of all ages to discover.
Sunset in downtown Greenville
Based on popular children’s book “Goodnight Moon” the activity is fun, educational and a great way to keep kids engaged throughout the evening.
You can pick up a hunt hints brochure at most hotels and the Visitor Center located on Main Street near the entrance to Falls Park.Marvin and Goodnight Moon book at Mice on Main Greenville

During your Sherlock Holmes adventures you will enjoy some of the city’s landmark hotels, banks, historic figures, business and entertainment establishments.

Marvin Jr. at Mice on Main GreenvilleThere is no need to rush, take your time, break for coffee, beer or even deer along the many delicious restaurants and bar the city has to offer.

For other exciting free family things to do in Greenville see my other posts: scenic Reedy River walk and a kids fairy tale visit at the Children’s Garden.

Happy hunting in friendly downtown Greenville South Carolina!

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Greenville free things to do – Walk along Reedy River at Falls Park

It’s beautiful. It’s outdoor. It’s free.
It’s a river, a waterfall, flowers and trees. Moms and dads, kids with pets, lovers, friends, seniors, tourists, business partners and everyone else in between come everyday to enjoy the fresh air and peacefulness of the Reedy river.

The Falls Park is right off of Main Street in downtown Greenville, yet if you are that lazy you can also drive and park your car in the heart of it. The main attractions are the waterfalls, one of the nation’s greatest for a city downtown, and the 355 feet Liberty Bridge featuring an unique construction and an ideal photo station for the Falls Park.

There are two amphitheaters that hold a variety of shows most of the year; like the free to attend Upstate Shakespeare Festival taking place from May through August at the Carolina First Amphitheater.

I let the photo do the talking now.

If you are traveling to Greenville do yourself a favor and come relax along the Reedy river at the Falls Park. That’s a free “spa” treatment your mind and body will be grateful for.

Happy Family Vacation in Greenville South Carolina!

Fairy tale fun at the Children’s Garden, Greenville free things to do

Bring your kids to The Children’s Garden at the Linky Stone Park to enjoy, for free, classic children stories, to learn about Greenville’s history, or to just smell the blooming flowers in the beautiful surroundings along the Reedy River.

Historic facts that stand out:
1. The Reedy River falls are the reason for the city’s location. Greenville was established as a Indian trading post; the water power helped grind the corn into grits and weave cotton into cloth.
2. In the 1900s, cotton was the king crop and Greenville became the “Textile Capital of the World”; even the school year ran in accordance with the crop calendar so kids can help their parents during harvest.
3. South Carolina is home to the only tea farm in America; on the Wadmalaw island (near Charleston) the “American Classic Tea” and the White House’s official tea has been grown since 1799.
4. The river cane is the only American native bamboo and the Reedy river’s name source. Native Americans used the river cane for centuries to make clothes, baskets, utensils and even to build lodges. You can see them now at the Children’s Garden.

Once you complete the garden tour you can continue your outdoor recreation along the scenic Reedy River walking trail that takes you through Falls and Cleveland Parks.

Have a relaxing family vacation in Greenville South Carolina!