15 Best Day Trips from Columbia SC

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Columbia is the capital and the second largest city of South Carolina. The city’s name is a poetic term that originates from the name of Christopher Columbus. Columbia is home to a wide range of historic attractions, ranging from museums and fascinating galleries to outstanding theaters, parks, and other adventure hotspots.

There are thrills to be discovered around every corner in this beautiful capital. Outdoor adventure is part of the culture in Columbia, as well as in the surrounding neighborhoods; tourists are granted front row access with reasonable travel distances.

Here’s our list of 15 best day trips from Columbia that caters to sightseers and thrill-seekers alike.

1. Greenville

Greenville, South CarolinaSource: Kevin Ruck / shutterstock
Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville is not just a stopover. This city is busting at the seams with history and has a wonderful main street that is lined with great stores and outstanding restaurants. Greenville is the largest city in Greenville County, SC.

One highlight of your day trip to Greenville should be Falls Park on the Reedy. This park is open to the public and is clustered around a 50-foot waterfall. Greenville also features the “floating” suspension bridge that provides amazing views of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.

There are also some unique museums and historic sites in the city of Greenville. If you’re into cars, make sure to visit the BMW factory.

2. Parris Island

Marine Graduation Ceremony at Parris IslandSource: Christopher Forker / shutterstock
Marine Graduation Ceremony at Parris Island

This Island is best known for its US Marine Corps training facility. About 6,000 Marines receive their training here every year. Parris Island is not just a place where the Marines train; the area has considerable beauty and history, beginning in 1562 with the French, followed by the Spanish, and finally, the Marines

Visitors come here to see the numerous monuments and to take in the scenic beauty. Take time to tour the walking trails or relax as you take in the sweet salt air. You should also make time for the educational and entertaining Parris Island Museum to discover the island’s long history.

The 8,000-acre Parris Island is an inviting destination that has something to offer everyone.

3. Beaufort

Historic Cuthbert House in Beaufort, South CarolinaSource: Deborah McCague / shutterstock
Historic Cuthbert House in Beaufort, South Carolina

This is one of the most enriching getaways in South Carolina. Beaufort has a pristine coastline, a charming and historic downtown, and a rich antebellum history. This is the second oldest city in the state – it was chartered in 1711.

This small, southern town is renowned for its scenic location, its military establishments, and the well-maintained historic character and architecture.

Visit Beaufort to discover this unique destination that has stunning views of marshes, rivers, and moss-hung oaks. This trip gives tourists a relaxing rhythm of life that creates experiences which stay with them long after they have left the city.

4. Historic Camden

Historic Revolutionary War Park, Camden, South CarolinaSource: Malachi Jacobs / shutterstock
Historic Revolutionary War Park, Camden, South Carolina

Founded in 1732, Camden is South Carolina’s oldest inland town. Camden features more than 60 historic buildings dating as far back as 1865 that are listed in its National Historic District.

Historic Camden was established by a decree from King George II and comprises cottages and spacious mansions that tell a story about the town’s rich history. The diverse architectural styles range from the winter residences established in the 1900’s to the 19th century South Carolina vernacular and Antebellum.

In this Historic District, you will find the Revolutionary War Site that offers a view of life during the Colonial and Revolutionary War Periods. This outdoor museum complex covers an area of 107 acres.

5. Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

Hampton-Preston Mansion and GardensSource: mogollon_1 / Flickr | CC BY
Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

This mansion explores the lives of enslaved workers and their planter-class owners. The structure was built in the year 1818 for Ainsley Hall – a rich Columbian merchant. It was later bought by Wade Hampton, who changed the architecture from Federal-style to Greek Revival.

In February 1865, the house was used as the headquarters for the Union Army. During the Burning of Columbia, the house was saved by a local nun. It was reopened in 1970 after extensive renovation.

The Hampton-Preston Mansion’s sophisticated garden has an extensive collection of native plants and other specimens from across the globe. Oaks and magnolias tower over the garden spaces, providing a serene environment in which to relax.

6. The ACE Basin

The ACE BasinSource: KeithBrileyPhotography / shutterstock
The ACE Basin

The cruise over the ACE Basin will take you over, around, and through the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers.

The extensive and beautiful ACE Basin scenery will literally take your breath away. The Ace Basin also features an array of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking and kayaking.

Nature lovers get to enjoy the numerous species of wildlife, hardwood forests, wetlands, and the miles of marshland in this land conservation area that protects 250,000 acres of the South Carolina Coastal Plain.

7. Biggin Church Ruins and Cemetery

Biggin Church Ruins and CemeterySource: Amiee Elizabeth / shutterstock
Biggin Church Ruins and Cemetery

St. John’s Parish was established in 1706. Five years later, the original Biggin Church was completed. The ruins date back to the American Revolution. The former parish church was razed by the British troops in an attempt to thwart holding supplies. The church was set on fire several other times during its use.

The notable architectural details that remain indicate that the church was designed with a degree of sophistication. The Biggin Church was a rectangular brick building.

There are so many things to see on the way as you travel to the Biggin Church Ruins; these include lazy rivers and historic sites.

Adjacent to the ruins is the old cemetery that has very interesting tombstones. The cemetery is still used now.

8. Orangeburg

Orangeburg, South CarolinaSource: LesPalenik / shutterstock

Also known as The Garden City, Orangeburg is located 37 miles southeast of Columbia.

This city is one of the most beautiful in the region and has a plethora of things to do. Tourists of all ages flock to the city from different parts of the United States to experience the wide array of outdoor activities.

If you’re a nature lover, you need to visit this paradise and get wrapped up in the lush green ambiance. There are beautiful gardens and parks that will keep you occupied on your day trip to Orangeburg.

9. Lake Moultrie Loop

Lake MoultrieSource: Ettenaej / shutterstock
Lake Moultrie

On the scenic drive, you will get to explore 70 miles around the edges of Lake Moultrie as you take in the history and the natural beauty of the canals.

Some special highlights of the 3.5-hour drive include the Pinopolis, the Swamp Fox Passages of the Palmetto Trail, Bonneau Beach, Old Santee Canal Park, Francis Marion Forest, the St. Stephen Episcopal Church, and the Diversion Canal

Lake Moultrie is a man-made lake that covers an area of 60,400 acres. It is the third largest lake in the state.

10. Saluda Shoals Park

Saluda Shoals ParkSource: C Dash / shutterstock
Saluda Shoals Park

This natural riverfront park is located on the banks of Saluda River. The 480-acre park offers rich cultural, educational, and entertainment opportunities.

Saluda Shoal Park is a peaceful escape from the hassle and bustle of Columbia.

The park boasts a spacious observation deck, several picnic shelters, and miles of hiking and biking trails. It is home to an Exhibit Hall, an 11,000 square foot Environmental Education Center, and the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission Headquarters.

11. Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

Cape Romain National Wildlife RefugeSource: Stanley Ford / shutterstock
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

This 66,287-acre wildlife refuge is located in southeastern South Carolina. Most of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is only accessible by boat; however, you can take a ferry across.

The refuge is home to the Loggerhead turtle. There are more than 277 bird species at the avian sanctuary. You will also get to see the two lighthouses that are located at the wildlife refuge.

If you have extra time on your hands, you need to check out the famous Boneyard Beach.

12. Harbison State Forest

HikingSource: Maridav / shutterstock

This lovely, dark forest is located nine miles from Columbia and covers an area of 2,137 acres. The dense forest is bordered on one side by the Broad River. Quite a number of cool streams cross the tranquil forest.

Harbison State Forest serves as a peaceful green space and retreat center for nature lovers who want to escape from busy city life. Tourists are allowed to view a working sawmill and visit a fire tower that are both located within the Education Center.

There is a series of more than 30 miles of trails and roads that make this forest a great place to hike, jog, and ride bikes.

13. Aiken

Aiken, South CarolinaSource: Denton Rumsey / shutterstock

Most of Aiken’s history is deeply rooted in the railroad industry. Founded in 1835, this city is the largest in Aiken County. The pleasant community has a clean downtown and quite a number of beautiful historic homes that belonged to the wealthy. Aiken was named after the then-president of the South Carolina Railroad.

Most parts of the city retain the original layout, that gives off a charming appeal. On your day trip, you will notice huge trees and wide streets; the entire city was declared as an arboretum.

In a nutshell, Aiken is a picture postcard waiting to happen. This is thanks to its iconic archway of live oaks and the serene gardens. The appealing climate is another contributing factor as to why the city draws thousands of visitors every year.

14. South Carolina State Museum

South Carolina State MuseumSource: Nolichuckyjake / shutterstock
South Carolina State Museum

This museum is the largest in South Carolina and is located along the banks of the Congaree River. South Carolina State Museum has four floors of fascinating exhibits, a digital dome planetarium, an observatory, and a popular 4D theatre.

There are more than 70,000 artifacts at the museum that tell everything there is to learn about South Carolina’s history, art, technology, and science.

What most visitors love about this state-of-the-art facility is the interactive 4D theatre that shows 3D movies with a twist; while enjoying a movie, you can feel your legs being tickled as the seat vibrates and wind blasts in your face.

On this trip, you should come prepared for some lessons on history, economics, geography, and industry. There are many gift shops where you can get a variety of South Carolina themed souvenirs.

15. Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

Columbia Canal and Riverfront ParkSource: Joseph Creamer / shutterstock
Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park

This 167-acre park is located along the lush banks of the Broad River, starting at the end of Laurel St. The park is a popular place to jog, take a slow hike, ride bikes, meditate, and sit on benches and relax as you watch the flowing waters of the river. This is a great place to get away and unwind.

Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park was the site of the first textile mill in the world that was powered by electricity. Explore the old mills and the oldest hydroelectric plant in the state, which is still operational.

15 Best Day Trips from Columbia SC:

  • Greenville
  • Parris Island
  • Beaufort
  • Historic Camden
  • Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens
  • The ACE Basin
  • Biggin Church Ruins and Cemetery
  • Orangeburg
  • Lake Moultrie Loop
  • Saluda Shoals Park
  • Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
  • Harbison State Forest
  • Aiken
  • South Carolina State Museum
  • Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park