Weekend fun outdoor activities at Sesqui – Columbia’s “granny” park and best kept secret

Save some gas money and come relax right here in the heart of Columbia at Sesquicentennial Park. Since 1937 the “granny” welcomed millions of visitors and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s affordable, fun and healthy way to spend a day with the family.
For those of you new to town read my previous post to get more details about Sesquicentennial Park and its awesome mountain bike trail.

Things to know before you go:

1. Admission fee is $2 per vehicle. The park is open till 9 PM.

2. The sports equipment rental office is open daily; 9 to 4 PM during the week and 9 to 5 PM on the weekend.

3. To rent kayak, canoe or 2-person paddle boat is $5 an hour or $ 15 a day. My advice is to do the hour rental unless you really enjoy the Carolina summer heat! The fishing boat rental is $5 per hour and $12 per day.

4. The park has a superb dog park equipped with all the things doggies love. It even has a dog-wash station. You need a dog permit to enter the dog park. Otherwise you can walk the dog throughout the park as long as it is on leash. The annual dog permit is $25 if you get it in July and lasts for the whole year. To get a permit and an access key to the doggie park you need to bring an up-to-date vaccinations record, proof of spaying / neutering and the dog so the staff can take a photo. Dogs rule at Sesqui Park!

I’ll let the photos do the talking now. Come enjoy the capital best kept secret the intimate Sesquicentennial Park!

Watch out for that sharp turn downhill through long leaf pine trees! Sesqui has a varied and quite challenging mountain bike trail that will keep you on your toes.

Sharp turn on Sesqui mountain bike trail

Kids can play at 2 properly equipped playgrounds. The nice thing about them is they are well shaded and right next to the picnic areas so you can snack in peace while keeping an eye on the little ones.

Sesqui Park big kids playground

Fishing is one of the most popular family activities at the park. You may need to share a fish or two with the gutsy yet always entertaining Canadian geese…

Fishing at Sesqui Park

Hike the ~ 3 miles roundtrip scenic trail around the lake, over the bridge near the beautiful waterfall and through the majestic forest.


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!

Harbison Forest park a daily family escape and guaranteed outdoor fun (almost free things to do)

Looking for a nice, relaxing, cheap and outdoor fun family weekend getaway? Columbia residents are spoiled with a 2000 acres “playground” at the Harbison State Forest park only 9 miles from downtown. The Harbison park is one of the largest public green spaces inside the city limits of a metropolitan area in the eastern United States. 16 miles of roads and trails weave through pine and hardwood forest crossing streams and descending through leafy glades to the Broad River.

The History
Harbison Forest soil once formed one of the first ocean ridges on the coastal plain. Thousands of years ago Catawba and Cherokee tribes traversed these woodlands to reach the Broad River. European settlers followed and formed the Dutch Fork farming community. Is hard to believe this entire area was covered with cotton up until early 1900’s!

Things to Enjoy at the Harbison State Forest park
You have 12 miles of very well-marked and maintained trails for walking (your dog as well), jogging, hiking, bicycling that range from easy to difficult. There is also a canoe landing with access for kayaks and canoes as a put in or take out from the river. Best picnic area is at the pine Gazebo that offers restrooms, outdoor grills and electric outlets From here you can also embark on the self-guided educational Discovery Trail where kids can learn about forestry, natural resources and conservation programs.(electricity is provided through a photo-voltaic solar system);

Tips to know before you go
1. If you live in Columbia and like to mountain bike get the $25 annual pass, it will pay for itself after 5 visits.

2. You can drive your car through most of the park and start on different biking and hiking trails. If this is your first visit start at the Education Center. You can ask get tips from the park rangers about each trail, use the very clean rest-rooms, fill up with water, get a very handy trail map and other park brochures.

From here you can hike Discovery to the Gazebo or the Learning trail which loops around the center where you can admire the picturesque Vernal pond; also from the Education Center you can start your biking adventure on the versatile Firebreak Trail.

3. Keep kids entertained and let them be explorers for a day on the Stewardship Trail Forester’s Walk. There is “detective” like guide at the trail entrance covering 26 noteworthy stops along the trail. The whole family can learn about uneven aged forest management, seed trees, artificial regeneration, perennial creeks, natural tree competition, bottomland hardwoods, and how to best spot wildlife. Guess the age of trees and how each disappeared, talk “forestry” (like go 2 chains) and see traces of historic farms.
Did you know that insects like the southern pine and black turpentine beetle and diseases kill more trees a year in South Carolina than wildfires? How about seeing a bike on tree? Well check it out for yourself.

4. Kayaks and canoe enthusiasts need to complete a float plan at the Education Center to get access to the landing; there is a gate at the Stewardship Trail entrance blocking the road leading to the boat landing; most likely a ranger will need to let you in (unless you rather prefer to back-carry your gear the remaining 1 mile to the river); there is no extra fee for using the river.

5. There are 3 restrooms in the park all functioning, however only the one at the Education Center has drinking water available.

Harbison State Forest
5500 Broad River Road, Columbia, SC 29212
Info and reservations (803) 896-8890

Directions: From I-20 take the Broad River exit and continue on 176 West towards Irmo. Drive pass SLED, Juvenile Correction Center and the Police Offices Hall of Fame. The park entrance will be on your right.

Admission tickets: Adult $2, SC Seniors $1.25, under 15 years old is free. Biking daily permit is $5 and includes access to the park.

Join in the fun at Harbison State Forest park! You can also bring your family to the quiet easy going and always relaxing Sesquicentennial Park

Sesqui Park Mountain Bike Trail Details (Columbia things to do)

The Sesquicentennial Park near downtown Columbia features a very nice 4 miles long mountain bike trail that both beginners and seasoned bikers can equally enjoy. The serene, peaceful and mostly single track trail will take you through the park’s dense longleaf pine and turkey oak trees. The trail has a sandy surface that sometimes is inches deep and makes the ride quite challenging even for more experienced bicyclists.

Narrow path on the mountain bike trail at Sesqui Park ColumbiaIf you go during the week there is hardly a soul around: just you, the bike and the forest. No matter the skill level, everyone will find something interesting along the trail: from wide smooth paths to rough root and stone covered patches to longleaf pine trees, so dense you can barely squeeze through, to desert like hills.

Tips to know before you go

1. Play it safe. Wear your helmet and know your limits. When in doubt just carry the bike till you feel comfortable riding again.

2. Stay on trail and follow the signs. The mountain bike trail is marked with a blue diamond and between each marker you will see the trees painted blue. It’s very easy to get disoriented and at times you feel like you’re going in circles; just follow the signs and you’ll be OK. Through baby pine trees on the mountain bike trail at Sesqui Park ColumbiaThere are no maps along the trail to tell you where you are, how far you still have to go and what’s noteworthy to see in the surrounding areas. Pretty much you’re on your own.

3. This can be a great family weekend gateway. If you go alone tell someone when and where you are going. Bring your cell-phone; there is very good signal throughout the park.

4. Carry plenty of water since there is no drinking water along the trail; I didn’t see any water fountain at the park’s facilities. The restrooms by the picnic and boat area were closed during the week. Put on sunscreen and wear long sleeves it can get really hot out there.

Desert like area on the bike trail at Sesqui Park Columbia5. It took me 2 hours to complete the trail. I’m a beginner and I also stopped frequently to take pictures.

6. Watch out for deep patches of sand especially when going downhill. You can easily lose control; keep the bike straight and break on smoothly, same as when you’re driving the car on icy roads.
Rough uphill bike trail portion at Sesqui Park Columbia
7. Uphill roots provide good grasping for tires, yet avoid the bigger ones that can kill your momentum or worse make you tip over.

8. Besides some birds I didn’t run into any wildlife.

9. To find out what other activities you can enjoy at the Sesquicentennial park see my previous post.
This is a great exercise that will you test you physically and mentally. You will enjoy fresh air and mountain like outdoors just minutes from the noisy downtown city traffic. All in all, biking at the Sesquicentennial Park it’s a guaranteed family fun activity. For only $2 per vehicle it qualifies for a “free thing to do” in Columbia.

To get a better idea of what you might run into on the mountain bike trail take a look at this slideshow:

If you’re ready to take it to the next level test your skills and nerves on the Spider Woman II or Lost Creek trails in beautiful Harbison State Forest park also close to downtown Columbia.

Keep on biking through beautiful South Carolina parks!

Columbia’s Sesquicentennial Park mountain bike trail in photos

Kids and parents come enjoy the mountain bike trail at the Sesquicentennial Park near downtown Columbia. The are 4 miles of outdoor beauty through an amazingly diverse terrain, from dense forests to desert like hills, from wide sandy paths to rocky curves that will challenge even the most experienced bikers.

Get more information and tips from this post on the Sesquicentennial Park mountain bike trail.

It’s fun, healthy, outdoor and practically free (only $2 per vehicle to enter the park). What else can you ask for?

Bikers of all ages unite in beautiful South Carolina!

Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park: unwind in the outdoors, admire wildlife, experience Columbia history and have family fun for FREE!

The Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park is the city’s secret jewel. At the confluence of 3 Rivers (Congaree, Broad and Saluda) and minutes from downtown, EdVenture and the State Museum, Riverfront Park is an oasis of outdoor relaxation, amazing history and abundant wildlife, the entire family can enjoy every day for free!

Paved walking trail along the Riverfront canalPart of the Capitol City Passage, connecting Fort Jackson to Congaree Riverfront, the park is open daily untill 9:00 PM.

With emergency call stations spread thrChildren biking by the river in Columbiaoughout the 3 miles lighted and paved trail and regularly pattrolled by park rangers, the park is very safe.

All day there are people walking, bicycling, jogging, fishing or just having a romantic picnic by the outdoor amphitheater. Romantic Picnic at Columbia Riverfront Park

Travel Tips: Bring your water or juice bottle along; there is a water fountain at the restroom near the park entrance, so you can refill there. Once you go over the bridge there is no drinking water on the trail.

Little kids can also enjoy a very nice playground across from the parking lot. There is no shade, so in the hot summer days make sure you keep them hydrated.

Historic sites you can admire along the river trail

1. The Columbia Canal, built between 1819 and 1824 was a major transportation route before the Columbia Water plant Riverfront Park entrancerailroad boom and the Civil War; home to the world’s first hydro-electrically powered textile mill (later destroyed in the war) and current municipal water plant (originally built in 1906).
Broad River bridge sight of Civil War battle in Columbia
2. The 1865 Civil War battle over Broad River bridge where Sherman’s troups prevailed and the Columbia’s mayor had to surrender the city.

3. The ruins of the state’s first prison, built in 1868 and operating until 1993. Always overcrowded some say it is still haunted by its formers “guests”.

4. The one room Little Red School House open 1867 through 1913

Little Red School House at Riverfront Park in Columbia5. The archeological site of where Native Americans used to live more than 10,000 years ago.

6. The large rounded granite boulders spread all over Congaree river; these geological wonders

Gray Blue Heron on granite boulders by geological Fall Lineare the result of North American and African tectonic plates collision and remnants of the Appalachian Mountains.

Amazing wildlife and flora

Water Snake by the canal at Riverfront Park

Over 350 birds species use the river for nesting or migrating. Among these you can spot the red-tailed hawk, the the crested cormoran, the great blue heron, and the bald eagle.Soft shelled Turtles by the River Walk in Columbia.

There are plenty of reptiles like water snakes, alligators and soft-shell turtles.
Riverfront Park also features the rare Spider Lily, unusually growing in the boulders crevaces that border the Congaree river.

Spider Lily at Riverfront Park Where:

312 Laurel StreetColumbia, SC 29201 – (803)-733-8613
Take I-126 into Columbia then exit onto Huger Street. Go south on Huger Street two blocks, then turn right onto Laurel Street. Follow Laurel Street to the main parking lot. The park entrance is right by the AT&T building.

See more breathtaking Canal and Riverfront Park photos in my slide show.

Columbia Riverfront Park photos – Free things to do outdoor

Come outside, get some fresh air, enjoy the blooming trees and the migratory birds. Riverfront Park is located in downtown Columbia minutes from State House and EdVenture museums. You can walk, jog, bike or skate for miles and miles by the peaceful Congaree river. For sportier types you can fish, canoe or kayak.

Here are some 20 or so reasons to get off the couch! If you’re visiting this is your free afternoon spa! For moms with young kids there is a very nice playground at the park’s entrance.

Still not convinced? get more enticing details and tips from this Columbia Riverfront Canal post

If time permits relive the history and be a proud South Carolinian at the magnificent SC State House. You can enjoy for free its fascinating history, outstanding architecture, remarkable sculptures, monuments and Revolutionary War paintings.