Lauren Vincent Thomas has a secret agenda for her young son. She wants him to know firsthand the bioregion of the Carolinas, and to surprise him with its beauty. “The
Lauren Vincent Thomas has a secret agenda for her young son. She wants him to know firsthand the bioregion of the Carolinas, and to surprise him with its beauty. “The natural world is full of secret treasures that children love,” Thomas says. “There’s so much for us to learn about ourselves from nature.”
Thomas recently co-led a grassroots initiative to create the Lindsay Pettus Greenway in Lancaster, South Carolina. The Greenway, which opened in November 2020, has quickly become a place where the Lancaster community rediscovers the natural beauty that surrounds them. The 2-mile trail winds beside Gill’s Creek, connecting neighborhoods and schools and providing instant access to nature.
Welcome to a place that honors its past and looks excitedly to the future. Where blue skies, emerald forests, and smiling faces invite you to just relax and reconnect. Bike, hike, climb, paddle, or do nothing … you’ve earned a break from the bustle.
River birches, alders, and hickories shade the boardwalk, and wildflowers are abundant. Ruby-throated hummingbirds sip nectar from jewelweed, also called “touch-me-nots,” because the ripe seed pods burst open on unsuspecting visitors when touched. The Lindsay Pettus Greenway is a perfect showcase for her town. “Small towns are a vibrant space, but we needed a way to show it,” Thomas says.
The Olde English District of South Carolina is a patchwork of such small towns — communities determined to preserve the land they love. Seven counties are encompassed in the area between Charlotte and Columbia, and each of them offers countless outdoor places to explore. Whether you want to hike, get out on the water, pick your own fruits and berries, or stroll through a farm or garden, the Olde English District has a destination that is sure to surprise and delight.
If you’re looking for an easily accessible hiking trail, Thomas recommends the 1.6-mile Rocky Creek Trail in Great Falls. This natural surface trail runs along Rocky Creek on land protected by the Katawba Valley Land Trust. At the canoe launching point, turn left and follow a short path to view the waterfall.
Locals love it when outsiders discover the 40-foot waterfall for the first time. “It’s a real treasure that we are happy to share,” Thomas says. Birdwatchers will direct you to the area along the water that surrounds the trail. Designated as An Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, the rocky shoals along the water make ideal perches for birders.
For a more rustic experience, visit the Enoree Ranger District in Sumter National Forest. There you can hunt, camp, hike, ride, or bike through more than 170,000 acres of national forest. Ride horseback or hike on miles of trails that amble on old wagon roads over hills and valleys, past plantation sites and ancient cemeteries.
Float down one of the canoe trails on the Enoree, Tyger, or Broad rivers, and take in the scenery along the way. Or bring your own OHV for a rougher ride on the narrow sand and clay OHV tracks that twist through densely wooded forests.
Outdoor recreational sports are booming in the Olde English District — particularly in York County, says Duane Parrish, director of South Carolina Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. There you’ll find a variety of extreme sports, like cable wakeboarding and kayaking at SouthTown Wake Park. Guests are tethered to an overhead cable as they’re pulled across the water. There’s also a water park on-site for younger visitors.
But if you want to bring your blood pressure down, Parrish suggests taking a kayak out on the canoe trail at Goodale State Park in Kershaw County. Out on the water, he reflects, “It’s just you and the woods. It’s a special place to be.” The trail winds 1.5 miles out and back along Pine Tree Creek through a forest of silvery bald cypress trees. Blue herons silently guard the water’s edge, wood ducks bob on the water, and, on a lucky day, you might spot an alligator sunbathing on the shore. Rental canoes and kayaks are available on-site.
If you are looking for a fishing adventure, head to Cheraw State Park in Chesterfield County. You can explore 360-acre Lake Juniper by boat, pedal boat, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, or canoe. Bass, bream, and catfish stock the lake, and rods and reels are available to rent on site.
Outside of the lake, follow the boardwalk across the dam spillway. As you venture out, keep your eyes open for the red-cockaded woodpeckers that nest in mature long-leaf pines. Don’t be deceived by their name: These endangered birds are black-barred, with only a whisper of red visible. Birds are abundant in the park, as are the black-faced fox squirrels that skitter through the forests. Rare plants also flourish in Cheraw, including the diminutive pixie moss and the chartreuse and scarlet sweet pitcher plant.
If you’re searching for deeper waters, head to Lake Wateree State Park. Nestled in the center of the Olde English District, 13,800-acre Lake Wateree is “a fisherman’s delight” that offers more than 200 miles of shoreline to explore. One of the oldest man-made lakes in South Carolina, it was originally created as a source of hydro-electric power for the state.
Today, anglers find an abundance of bream, crappie, catfish, largemouth bass, and striped bass in the still blue lake. An easy-access boat ramp and refueling station will simplify your adventure, as will the fishing essentials and grocery staples available at the tackle shop. The park also boasts plenty of waterfront camping sites, a nature trail, playground, and geocaching.
Fancy a garden stroll? Visit the Piedmont Physic Garden, an independent horticultural institution in downtown Union. This botanical garden cultivates medicinal and ornamental plants like witch-hazel, coneflower, valerian, and foxglove. They offer tours for groups and individuals (by appointment) throughout the spring and summer seasons. There are also events for the whole family, like the Environmental Arts and Music Festival in April, and Flora Fridays in July.
If you prefer to wander through farms and orchards, visit one of the many U-Pick Farms in York County, like Black’s Peaches, Bush-N-Vine, Cherry Place Farm, or Spring’s Farm. You’ll discover a rainbow of fruit: scarlet strawberries in April and May, soft pink and golden peaches between May and August, luscious blackberries in July, and delicate blueberries between June and September (learn more at pickyourown.org).
Just south in Chester County, you can pick your own strawberries, peaches, and flowers at Cotton Hills Farm. For a refreshing treat, stop at the Market in Lowrys to sample their hand-dipped black cherry or lemon ice cream.
Cotton Hill’s Chester Market is also worth a visit. Open year-round, the market is well-stocked with homegrown meat, pre-picked fruits, berries, and vegetables, and their signature line of stone-ground grits and cornmeal. The Wilson family has been using the same milling methods and corn seeds for more than 100 years.
Weekend evenings are gathering time at Benford Brewing, a working farm and brewery in Lancaster. On this relaxed family farm, black Angus cows roam the pastures and munch on spent grains. Chickens cluck and children clamor, and in the distance, you might hear the sawmill’s high-pitched whine or the low hum of honeybees.
As the sun sets and fireflies flicker in the grass, friends grab dinner from food trucks and relax around fire pits. Live music and outdoor games provide easy entertainment. Surrounded by natural beauty and a vibrant community, it’s a fitting way to spend an evening in Olde English District.
For more information on this exciting area, go to oldeenglishdistrict.com.