A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

This time of year, Marie Land and her husband, John, have a ready-made dinner plan: pack up a picnic and take it out on their pontoon, whiling away the hours

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

This time of year, Marie Land and her husband, John, have a ready-made dinner plan: pack up a picnic and take it out on their pontoon, whiling away the hours

Spring Adventures in Clarendon County

This time of year, Marie Land and her husband, John, have a ready-made dinner plan: pack up a picnic and take it out on their pontoon, whiling away the hours as the sun sets over the lake. “We just putter around and relax. It’s beautiful, and it’s not commercialized,” Land says.

Clarendon County’s gently rolling countryside has a peacefulness of its own. Dirt drives lead through emerald pastures and freshly plowed fields, ripe for planting.

This bucolic setting is the perfect place to unwind, and with South Carolina’s largest lake forming its southern border, it’s also an ideal destination for water sports and reconnecting with the great outdoors. Ready to plan a getaway? Read on for our recommendations for can’t-miss activities in Clarendon County.


Zip across Lake Marion on a jet ski. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Enjoy life at the lake.

If you yearn to be on the water, the 110,000-acre Lake Marion has miles of shoreline to explore. Bring your boat and sail across the expansive lake, zip through the water on your jet ski, or paddle along the shore in your kayak. You can even reach the coast on the water. “We can go from our lake house all the way to Charleston by boat, traveling by pristine shoreline, old plantations, and wildlife refuges,” says Land, a long-time resident and active volunteer in the community.

Live cypress trees, stumps, and trunks of dead trees dot the lakebed, creating habitats for fish — crappie, bream, and catfish, in particular — and a haven for anglers. Lake Marion happens to be one of the top bass fishing locations in the country.

Experienced guides with two of the area’s fishing charters, Fishin’ Adventures and Let’s Go Charter Services, LLC, can help direct you to the lake’s prime fishing spots.

Join in the sunset viewing at a handful of waterfront restaurants offering lakeside dining. At the welcoming Goat Island Restaurant & Lounge, try the fresh catfish. At Lakeside Paradise Restaurant, take your mahi tacos out to the waterside deck and dine in the sunshine. At The Lake House, the jambalaya and carrot cake rival the sunset views.


The Cuddo Wildlife Unit in Santee National Wildlife Refuge passes through Alligator Alley — so keep your eyes peeled. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Explore Santee National Wildlife Refuge.

Designated in 1942 to provide protected land for wildlife displaced by the damming of the Santee River, the Santee National Wildlife Refuge’s 1,500 acres include trails for hiking, canoeing, and kayaking, as well as an auto tour.

The refuge’s four “units,” or areas — Bluff, Dingle Pond, Pine Island, and Cuddo — contain diverse habitats that support a variety of wildlife. Fox, deer, wild turkeys, turtles, and alligators are just a few of the animals that live in this rich ecosystem of forests, wetlands, fields, and open water. The bird life here is plentiful, too, with doves, hawks, eagles, egrets, and osprey soaring overhead.

Stop by the visitor center in the Bluff Unit to learn more about the wildlife that lives within the reserve. Then follow the trail to Santee Indian Mound/Fort Watson, a site built 1,200 years ago by members of a Mississippian settlement, the farthest east evidence of this Native American culture. During the Revolutionary War, the mound was used as a fort by British troops.

In the Dingle Pond Unit, you can hike to an observation tower that overlooks a 350-acre wetland fed by rain and natural springs. And if you want a water adventure, canoe and kayak trails meander through the Pine Island and Cuddo Units.

The Wildlife Drive through the Cuddo Unit passes through the swampy Alligator Alley. “When the weather warms up, you can ride through there and see some major alligators — really big ones,” Land says.


Pop into local shops in downtown Manning — and be sure to take a coffee break. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Discover Downtown Manning.

For a taste of small-town life, spend some time in Manning, the Clarendon County seat. “It’s still a Southern town that hasn’t changed that much since I arrived here — in 35 years,” says Michael Haynes, an educator in the county since the ’80s.

In the historic business district around the town square, delightful restaurants and shops dot tree-lined streets. Anchoring the center of town, the neo-classical revival brick and limestone courthouse building was completed in 1909.

Spot the statue of Amelia Bedelia on North Brooks Street. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Stroll under canopies of oaks and past notable Manning landmarks. On North Brooks Street, the 1910 columned Manning Library building now houses the Archives and History Center for Clarendon County. Next door, a bronze statue of beloved children’s book character Amelia Bedelia greets patrons at the Harvin Clarendon County Library. Peggy Parish, author of the Amelia Bedelia book series, was a Manning native.

Locally owned and operated shops Belladonna Boutique and Cissy’s Style offer stylish women’s clothing. Hucklberry Fins takes a sporty spin with hoodies, tees, fishing rods, hats, and more. Find women’s attire, candles, and jewelry at Magnolia & Grace, an eclectic boutique. Nearby, the Wolfe House — the oldest home in town — now holds The Flower Shoppe of Manning.

Step inside The Orchard Café for a bite at breakfast time — try a bacon, egg, and cheese wrap — or try their hot, smoked sausage; pepper; and onion sub topped with marinara sauce for lunch. Lucy’s Traditional Southern Bake House is known for their beef stroganoff and chocolate peanut butter cake. Calla Lily serves a selection of sandwiches, and Gullah Gullah Fish is the place to go for your fried seafood fix.


The Francis Marion mural is part of the Swamp Fox Murals Trail in Clarendon. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Walk through history.

In addition to buildings that date to the mid-19th to early-20th centuries in downtown Manning’s historic district, the town contains a collection of murals that depict scenes from the county’s revolutionary days.

These works of art, part of Clarendon’s Swamp Fox Murals Trail, adorn the exteriors of buildings within walking distance of each other. These large, detailed murals located all across Clarendon County capture different battles and aspects of swamp warfare.

General Francis Marion was nicknamed “The Swamp Fox” by the British when he lured them through swampland with his militia. In Marion’s many encounters with the British, he used his knowledge of the landscape and military intelligence to ambush them — then disappear — terrorizing and weakening the redcoat forces.


Dig into South Carolina barbecue and classic sides in Manning. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Chow down like a local.

Clarendon County is well-known for its pit-cooked pork. In Manning, both McCabe’s Bar-B-Que and D&H Bar-B-Que serve buffet-style meals with classic sides like collards, black-eyed peas, and yams.

This region of South Carolina uses traditional methods, combined with a light tomato, vinegar, and pepper sauce to create tangy, smokey pulled pork with a bit of heat. “In Clarendon County, it’s cooking the entire hog in an open pit with wood and wood only. It’s a 14-hour process,” Haynes says. “Anything else is unacceptable.”


In the spring, go strawberry picking at Richburg Farms. Photography courtesy of Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce

Try local produce, fresh from the farm.

Rural Clarendon County is picturesque, punctuated with sun-bleached farmhouses, haybales, and verdant fields that blanket the countryside. Mild winters make for a long growing season. “Different times of year you see the cotton, corn or soybeans growing,” Land says.

For produce fresh from the farm, stop by the sheltered produce stand at the family-owned and operated Richburg Farms, “a landmark in Clarendon County,” according to Hayes. During strawberry season, you can take to the field and fill a big basket with sweet strawberries. If you’d rather enjoy the fruits without the labor, Richburg Farms also sells pints of already picked, sun-ripened berries.

Summer months bring juicy tomatoes, okra, and melons, as well as hanging baskets cascading with petunias, potted ferns, and geraniums. You can browse Richburg Farm’s selection of mums and pumpkins of all sizes and shapes in the fall.

But take your time — the slow pace of Clarendon County is part of its charm. Let the locals’ calm lifestyle sink in, then carry it back home when your visit ends.

This story was published on Mar 15, 2023

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.