Must-See Passages of the Palmetto Trail
Deanna Anderson | April 18, 2017
Hiking is good for the body, mind, and soul and South Carolina is lucky to have the Palmetto Trail; a cross-state trail extending roughly 350 miles from Oconee County to Charleston County. The pet project of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation (PCF), it is also the only trail I know of with its own beer, the Palmetto Trail Ale.
It can be hiked as a thru-hike or day- and section-hikes between the numerous trailheads. With 26 passages ranging from 1.3 to 47 miles, there is a lot to enjoy along the Palmetto Trail, but these are my “must-see” hikes.
Peach Country Passage: 14.1 miles
In the upstate, this trail leads hikers along rural roads, where they will enjoy peach orchards in full bloom in the springtime. The trail also overlaps urban sidewalks past a local high school, and a small country store in Gramling on US Hwy 176 is a nice stop for refreshments. The uniqueness of this passage comes from Windmill Hill, which at 1184 feet above sea level is the highest point of the Palmetto Trail.
Capital City Passage: 7.5 miles
Hike this passage on any Saturday of the year. Why? Because then you’ll end up on Main St., Columbia and the Soda City Market. Soda City Market is held every Saturday from 8 am to 1 pm, rain or shine, and is a mixed venue of artists, musicians, and food vendors with a conglomeration of cultures and styles. The free samples handed out by vendors are tasty treats to weary hikers. This passage also takes hikers through the beautiful and historical USC campus and the SC State House. It is tradition to walk up the steps of the capital building and take a group photo or selfie. A quick detour on King St. brings hikers to the Palmetto Conservation Foundation office and its always smiling and friendly staff.
High Hills of Santee: 9 miles
Based in Sumter County, this passages winds through Poinsett State Park and overlaps pre-existing trails. Dubbed the “mountains of the Midlands,” this passage is in an area known as the Sandhills of Santee. This region existed as the ocean’s shoreline millions of years ago. The local limestone, known as coquina, is made of compressed shells, and the stone is utilized throughout the park in the ranger station, picnic shelters, and trail shelters. Hikers can take a dip in Old Levi Mill’s Pond, buy refreshments and souvenirs at the Ranger Station, or stay in the campgrounds. Diversity, such as Spanish Moss existing alongside of Mountain Laurel, has given this park the nickname “the mountains of the midlands.” The park also offers another twenty miles of a stacked-trail system, allowing hikers to walk as much or a little as they like.
Swamp Fox Passage: 42.2 miles
At almost 50 miles, this is the longest passage of the Palmetto Trail, but three different trailheads allow it to be hiked in sections. It travels through four distinct ecosystems in Frances Marion National Forest: swamps, grassy savannahs, pine forests, and cypress trees. The swamps are the famous as the hiding places of the Revolutionary War hero Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion, and the forest is home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This remoteness and primitiveness of this passage should not be tackled by inexperienced hikers or without planning and preparation.
Awendaw Passage: 7.2 miles
A terminus of the Palmetto Trail, this passage ends or starts at the Intracoastal waterways at Buck Hall Recreation Center and will travels through a maritime forest, palmetto trees, past a canoe launch (a perfect place to stop for lunch), and a salt marsh. Often tiny blue crabs can be seen along the trail in the salt marsh. Buck Hall Recreation Center is a scenic spot to either begin or end your hike in proximity to the picnic shelters, bathrooms, and camping amenities. A one-mile marker with the Palmetto Trail name and logo deserves a mini-celebration or at least a selfie, as it signifies either you have only one mile left of the Palmetto Trail, or you’ve trekked the beginning mile and have only 349 more miles to go!
For more information or maps on these and other passages of the Palmetto Trail, visit the Palmetto Conservation website at www.palmettoconservation.org. They also offer events and guided hikes along the trail. Never set out on a trail without researching it, packing the right equipment and maps, telling someone where you are going, and familiarizing yourself with the area.