Updates at Riverbanks Zoo: newest attractions, rental and food prices (what’s fun to do in Columbia)

This post is a follow up to my previous article on Riverbanks Zoo I wrote back in March. Three months later it’s worth noting Great photo with the train the zoo’s newest attractions and prices updates, especially on food.

Those of you new to the blog or just recently moved into town, Columbia Riverbanks Zoo is THE family attraction in the city.
Rain or shine, from spring to winter, this is the place to be if you have kids, or a bunch of relatives visiting for the weekend. For moms it’s the best and most affordable “baby-sitter”.

Things to know before you go

1. The most popular thing kids want to do now is riding the new “Spots and Stripes Railroad” miniature train located near the farm (where the pony rides used to be…don’t worry the ponies are still going strong at the zoo, just moved across the little bridge. It’s also 1 buck more ($5)). The train ride is $2 for EVERYBODY onboard (unlike the merry-go-around where only the child fare is paid). There are only 3 carts and lines to get in get very long quickly. My advice is to do the ride as soon as you get to the zoo, and if possible, early morning. The rides go from 10 AM to 4:30 PM.

2. Next thing kids love to do is watching the SpongeBob 3D movie. This is $2 (children under 5 get in for free) and it runs every half an hour. The movie is pretty lame and only lasts for 20 minutes (you do get to keep the glasses)…but hey I’m not the intended audience 🙂 My 4 years old daughter saw it twice already. Girls enjoying the cooling fans However there is something interesting to see inside the theater: the rat moles exhibit. The baby rat will put on a show as you wait for the movie to start.

3. The cooling fans spread throughout the park, although not an attraction per say, it’s the zoo’s best idea ever in these hot Carolina summer days: The ones by the bird show cabin are just irresistible. Babies, kids, parents and grand-parents come here to catch a well-deserved break. Also two thumbs up for the one by the playground near the carousel.

Admission Fees
• Adults $9.75
• Children (3-12) $7.25; under 3 get in FREE
• Military (with ID) $8.50
• Seniors (over 62) $8.25

Safari Bucks

You get 10 for $8. They are only sold in sets of 10, good for 6 months and are accepted at all retail and food locations (beware they will not give change back to the safari bucks).
• Pony rides 5 bucks
• Train ride 2
• 3D theater 2
• Carousel 1
• Giraffe and lorikeet feeding 1

Kenya Cafe summer prices

Snacks
• Small popcorn $2.25
• Pretzel 2.50
• Nachos 3.25
• Cotton Candy 3
• Peanuts 3
• Medium drink 2.50
• Dipping dots ice-cream cup 4

Stroller Rentals
Require $5 deposit and there is 7% sales and use tax on top of rental price
• Single 6 bucks
• Double 9
• Wheelchair 6
• Wagon 11

Happy Safari at the Riverbanks Zoo!

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Harbison Forest Biking Trails Details and Photos (mountain bike in Columbia)

Ready for some biking fun under the sun? At Harbison State Forest park there is a trail for everyone from the novice to the occasional bicyclist to the passionate mountain biker.

Things to know before you go
1. If this is your first visit start your biking adventure at the Education Center on the versatile 4 miles easy to moderately difficult Firebreak Trail. Pay your biking permit (I recommend getting an annual pass which pays for itself after 5 visits), get a folding biking and hiking trail map, fill up with water, use the restroom and ask the park rangers questions (they are there for a reason!). As you get more comfortable on the trail you can connect to the more difficult 3.7 miles Midlands Mtn Trail;Uphill on Midlands Trail from here you have several choices: a) do the rugged loop on Harbison Bluffs and come back to the center, or b) connect to Spider Woman II, the most difficult trail in the park, and run down to Broad River or c) connect and stroll down scenic Stewardship Trail (easier in difficulty). This trail allows you to get back to Firebreak Trail later on and return to the Education Center after you have experienced three different trails along varied terrains. I did just that and took me 2.5 hours – I stopped frequently to take these awesome pictures 🙂
Sharp turn through trees
2. The park provides extremely easy trail access:
You can drive and park your car to most of the biking and hiking trails; there are 6 parking lots in the park; each biking trail has multiple entrance points and connections to other trails; this way you can combine sections from different trails, with varied levels of difficulty, to make your trip to the park more interesting.


3. All biking trails are cleaned and well-maintained; there are rest benches throughout so you can stop, take a water or photo break and just enjoy the view. There are 3 restrooms in the park.

4. Each Connection to Spider Woman II Trail (G)trail is color-coded and has corresponding signs throughout its course. Further each trail is divided into alphabetical sections with their distance clearly marked on the map. To make things even easier, there are overall maps at most connection points to tell you where you are inside the park and how much distance is still left. This makes it very convenient to orient yourself and to plan your time and next move as you go along.

Clunky Roots on Stewardship Trail5. Unlike the mountain bike trail at the Sesquicentennial Park (another great family outdoor getaway near downtown Columbia) you don’t have to put up with the inches deep sand patches.Scary Turn Don’t worry there are plenty other obstacles for you to conquer! For one, there are chunky stubborn tree roots everywhere; river stones, especially on Midlands Mtn and Spider Woman II trails will keep you on your toes; the trails are steeper (both uphill and downhill) and with sharper turns peppered with big logs, hidden bridges, or rocks just to make it more interesting…

6. Safety first. Wear your helmet, carry water (there is only one drinking water fountain at the Bridge over perennial creekEducation Center), put on sunscreen and bug spray, bring your cell-phone (there is strong signal throughout the park) and travel with someone (or at least let your family and friends know your trip plans for the day).

7. Best time to ride is in the morning and if you can make it during the week. I went Friday afternoon and during my 2.5 hours adventure on 3 different trails I ran into 3 bikers, 2 joggers and one lady walking her dog. Slalom downhill on Midlands Trail (RG)
If you want more details about fun things to do with kids while at the Harbison Forest park check this post.

Ready to upgrade to 4 ATV wheels ride and adrenaline pumping canopy zip-line? Then go visit Carolina Adventure World, just half an hour drive from Columbia off of I-77.

Happy Riding in the South Carolina Outdoors!

State Museum, South Carolina art, history and science under one roof (Columbia fun things to do)

Housed in the former Columbia Mill building the State Museum features 4 floors of interactive exhibits covering art, history, natural history, science and technology. It is South Carolina’s and probably the Southeast’s largest state museums.

Playing with Leonardo da Vinci Machines

Playing with Leonardo da Vinci Machines

Curious to find out how Columbia came into place? In 1785 the South Carolina Senate approved to move the new state capital on the land near Garners Ferry on the Congaree River.

Among other nominations were Camden (the first proposal, later rejected), the Sumter District (supported by Gen. Sumter the “Fighting Gamecock”!) and the land near St. Matthews.

Columbia was America’s first planned capital city, designed and laid out in a two-mile square with streets named for agricultural products (how original!) and Revolutionary War heroes.

Not everyone seemed to agree the Columbia city planning was a very good idea. Col. Thomas Taylor who owned several hundreds acres along the Congaree River near the future site of Columbia is reputed to have said that the city founders “have turned a damned fine plantation into a pretty poor town”.

Interesting Things to See at the State Museum

The Cotton Mill exchange – The State Museum building once was a prominent textile mill, the Columbia Mill or “Duck Mill” as it was called. Opened in 1894 it was the world’s first totally electrically operated mill. It closed in the late 80s.

Columbia Mill

Learn the life and customs of Coastal Native Americans and the very moving story of Priscilla, a little girl abducted centuries ago from Sierra Leone.

Priscilla

Marvel seeing the 1904 Curved Dash Oldsmobile one of the first automobiles in South Carolina and full size replicas of “Best Friend of Charleston” the first American-built steam locomotive and the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate’s best hope to break the blockade during the Civil War and first submarine to sink an enemy ship. To this day we don’t know why and how the Hunley disappeared.

2010 Update!
Here are the most recent findings, clues and theories on what might have happened to the Hunley. Check out these amazing artifacts on display in North Charleston.

Inside Hunley submarine

See the incredible dugout canoe! Kept underwater for centuries it was found in pristine condition, still attached to its roots, a rare archeological treat. Apparently the wood cracked and it was never finished.

Dugout Canoe

At the natural history exhibits the pre-historic animals steal the show. You will be awed to see full size replicas of a mammoth, giant armadillo, and a “cute” T-Rex as one might expect.

Mammoth

On the Science and Technology floor you can admire the gold medal of Dr. Charles Townes, South Carolina first Nobel Prize winner, who invented the laser; also on display outer space artifacts from moonwalker Charles Duke.

If you get hungry Crescent Café is open till 4 PM and offers deli sandwiches, hot-dogs, salads and soups, and bakery items like croissants, muffins and cookies. Beverages options are soft drinks, bottled water, coffee, hot chocolate and tea.

2009 UPDATE!

The museum hosts remarkable traveling exhibits so make sure to come back and enjoy them all. For example in 2008 we had a blast trying to figure out how to operate dozens of Leondardo da Vinci inventions (yes they let you touch and play with them!).

This year we were amazed seeing the most powerful natural forces at work: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, blizzards, floods and the world’s largest hail stone! Added bonus you can play weather man on a live TV screen. The Powers of Nature exhibit will run till first week in September 2009.

Giant hailstone at Powers of Nature exhibit

Giant hailstone at Powers of Nature exhibit

Where

Admission: Adults $7, children 3-12 $5. Military and senior discount is $1. For a full schedule of events, special tours, birthday parties visit the State Museum website or call (803) 898-4921 and (803) 898-4999 for group reservations.

Directions: The State Museum is located downtown at 301 Gervais Street across from Edventure Children’s Museum, few blocks west of the State Capitol.

Discovery Center

Learn and play at the SC State Museum!

Congaree National Park: a natural wonder near Columbia (free things to do with kids)

Congaree National Park is the largest and few remaining bottom land hardwood forest in North America. A short drive from Columbia the swamp park (more exactly a floodplain forest) stretches over 11,000 acres along the Congaree and Santee rivers. Congaree National Park

With its serene cathedral like canopy it is the world’s tallest deciduous forest, with trees reaching up to 170 feet (as high as a 17 stories sky-Congaree National Park grand Loblolly pine treescraper!); it is taller than famous forests in Japan, Himalaya and Europe.

This natural wonder still looks as it did more than 500 hundreds years ago when early Europeans – like Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto – came to South Carolina looking for gold, silver, precious stones and natural resources.

Congaree National Park cypress kneesThe Congaree Indians camped, fished and hunted along the Congaree river more than 13,000 years ago. They believed the swamp was “filled with ghosts”. Congaree means “dragged the bottom of the boats”, an accurate description of the swamp’s appearance most of the year.
During the Revolutionary War, the Congaree swamp gave refuge to Francis Marion and his patriots companions (hence his nickname: The Swamp Fox), as they repeatedly harassed and sabotaged the British troops.

For its incredible biodiversity and historic importance the Congaree National Park has been designated a Natural National Landmark, an International Biosphere Reserve and Globally Important Bird area. Scientists and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world come year around to visit and study this natural wonder.

Tips to know before you go
At the Congaree park you can enjoy all the usual outdoor activities: camping, fishing, canoeing, biking, walking and bird watching.
Congaree National Park boardwalk trailBe mindful of the perennial bugs and mesquitoes so wear long sleeves shirts and plenty of repellant. If you plan to walk the 2.4 miles self-guided boardwalk that loops around the Visitor center make sure to carry some water; there is no drinking water along the trail (you can fill up at the Visitor center). The boardwalk is suitable for strollers, bring these along to avoid some drama later on. Congaree National Park Weston Lake stop

There are about 20 stops along the trail and many have benches you can rest on. Those more adventurous canoeing along the river bring food and supplies to last 2-3 extra hours beyond your originally planned time travel. Note that Congaree National Park offers FREE ranger guided canoe tours every other Sunday.

Attractions along the boardwalk trail

Congaree National Park Dorovan Muck mudThe famous Dorovan Muck, the Congaree swamp’s dark mud is essential for breaking down pollutants into harmless ingredients.
Congaree National Park hollow tree with bats
Hollow trees that house thousands of evening bats, which can consume up to 600 mesquitoes an hour. The swamp is home to 6 different bats varieties.

Eerie looking Congaree swampA remnant of lucrative bootlegging enterprise…national champions the grand Loblolly pine trees…frightnening lightning marks on many trees…eerie and alien looking (as one might expect in this ancient forest) swamp…Paw-Paw and cabbage dwarf palmetto trees…and plenty of wildlife, in particular birds. See some great photos I took last weekend in this Congaree family fun slideshow.

If you like spending time in the swamp you will definitely enjoy visiting the “Black Water Swamp” at Cypress Gardens north of Charleston (exit 199 on I-26). It is mosquitoes free!

Where
Congaree National Park is located about 20 miles from downtown Columbia, South Carolina in the Hopkins / Gadsden community. It’s open year around except on Christmas Day and is FREE.

From Interstate 77, take Exit 5, turn off onto SC Hwy 48 East (Bluff Rd.) and follow the brown directional signs. Travel southeast fourteen miles on Bluff Rd, turn right onto Mt. View Rd. and follow it 0.8 miles. Turn right onto Old Bluff Rd. and travel 0.6 miles. At the large park entrance sign, turn left onto and proceed one mile to the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Detailed driving directions and map: http://www.nps.gov/cong/planyourvisit/directions.htm

Happy family travel in beautiful South Carolina!

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EdVenture: Going through the fire tunnel video (scary)

Ever wonder how fire really feels like? Guess no more. At Edventure Children Museum in downtown Columbia you can go through the “fire tunnel” and experience few seconds of complete darkness. Very spooky indeed.

That will really teach kids not to play with matches 🙂

Happy family fun in South Carolina!

Little Mozart fun video at EdVenture Children Museum

Young kids have fun playing and even hopping on music at the EdVenture Children Museum. Who knows, maybe the next Mozart will come about! 
For more information on EdVenture see my previous post

Happy Carolina Vacation!

Amazing Teeth Cleaning at EdVenture Children Museum – video

Don’t you love you going to the dentist?! 🙂 Well here you go: EdVenture Children Museum is just the place to experience first hand how it may “sound and feel like”. And you can do it as many times as you can handle it. That noise just creeps me out!

Read more about the wonderful EdVenture exhibits on my previous post:

Happy Carolina Family Fun!