How to Take the Ultimate South Carolina Road Trip

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the beaches of Hilton Head Island, what to see and where to stop on the perfect South Carolina road trip.

People looking out at Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway
Photo: Courtesy of Discover South Carolina

There are a lot of reasons to embark on a road trip, but the best might be the natural beauty you’ll experience from behind the wheel. The southeastern part of the United States has no shortage of sweeping landscapes, delicious food, and activities en plein air, and South Carolina, in particular, brings together mountaintop vistas, misty salt marshes, subtropical shorelines, and pimento cheese. The small state makes for a perfect drive as you can traverse most of it within the span of a few of hours.  

With scenic mountains to the north, secluded beaches to the east, and charming towns scattered in between, South Carolina accommodates any type of traveler. Pack your seersucker and your Sperrys, gas up the car, and head out into the Palmetto State. Starting in the cultural capital of Greenville, carry on to the coast to discover magnificent waterfalls, cozy bed-and-breakfasts, and fresh seafood along the way all over the course of one weekend.  

Travelers Rest, South Carolina
Courtesy of

Travelers Rest

Located just outside of Greenville is Travelers Rest (or TR, as it's locally known), a place that once was just that — where travelers stopped along the way to rest. The town largely exploded when the Swamp Rabbit bike trail opened in 2009 and cyclists were looking for a place to grab a bite to eat before turning back to Greenville.

Now, TR is a culinary destination of its own, home to many award-winning chefs including the 2020 James Beard-nominated best chef in the southeast, Adam Cooke of the trendy restaurant Topsoil Kitchen and Market. Other notable culinary stops include Whistle Stop at The American Cafe, where the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes" was filmed, Pink Mama's Ice Cream for Instagram-worthy homemade pink waffle cones, and a weekly farmers market featuring over 70 local vendors.

Settle for the night at Hotel Domestique, a European-style boutique hotel tucked into the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, owned by legendary cyclist George Hincapie. You can get bike rentals, ride-along guides, and on-the-go lunches from the hotel and create your own bike tour through the mountains and trails of South Carolina.

People looking out at Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway
Courtesy of Discover South Carolina

Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway

Using TR as a base, explore hundreds of bridges, waterfalls, and state parks nearby, or move on to one of the several rustic mountain towns. A scenic 115-mile drive through Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (aka Scenic Highway 11) is especially beautiful in the fall.

There are a number of overlooks and historic points along the way worth stopping for as well. Check out Campbell's Covered Bridge, Stumphouse Mountain Park, Issaqueena Falls, Chattooga Belle Farm, Jones Gap State Park, and Jumping Off Rock, to name a few. Depending on the season, you may even get to pick your own apples or peaches while driving through the charming two-lane road.

Drone Aerial View of Downtown Columbia, South Carolina, USA
Kruck20/Getty Images


A South Carolina road trip isn't complete without a stop in the capital city of Columbia. Columbia's small downtown is filled with culture and history. Visit the exhibits at the Columbia Museum of Art that often feature Black voices in the arts, and Immersion SC, an interactive art space with rooms transformed by the brilliant imaginations of local artists. The downtown area is pedestrian friendly and the South Carolina State House and the African-American History Monument are worth a visit. Another good way to learn about the history of the South is by taking a guided walking tour around historic mansions and gardens with educational nonprofit Historic Columbia.

Stay at the art-deco Hotel Trundle, a vibrant boutique hotel built in a former historic Western Auto building to experience the community's arts, crafts, and libations. To get a feel for the local atmosphere, spend Saturday morning at Soda City Market located next door. Here you will find the rich diversity of Columbia exhibited by over 150 vendors selling artisan products, international foods, and handmade crafts.

Kick back with an ice tea and pimento cheese dip, pimento cheese sandwich, pimento cheese pizza, pimento cheese wrap, or a pimento cheese biscuit — they've got it all. Also known as "Carolina caviar" or "Southern pate," pimento cheese originated back in Columbia and you can find all the restaurants that serve the best recipes on the pimento cheese passport.

Cypress forest and swamp of Congaree National Park
Getty Images

Congaree National Park

About half an hour outside Columbia in the lush backcountry is Congaree National Park, where you can see the largest intact old growth bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern United States. Spend a day hiking, canoeing, or kayaking along 25 miles of swamps and forests. If you are at Congaree in late May to early June, you can also watch a magical firefly synchronization mating phenomenon that occurs at only a few spots around the world.

Lake Murray
Artem S/Getty Images

Lake Murray

Many locals from central South Carolina head to Lake Murray to their weekend homes for fishing, swimming, and boating on the 50,000-acre reservoir lake. Rent a lakeside getaway, camp in a tent, and spend some time at Dreher Island State Park.

Here you can also observe one of the biggest purple martin roosting sites in North America. Take a boat tour to Bomb Island on Lake Murray between June and August to see 500,000 to 750,000 purple martins dotting the skies.

Horseback riding in Aiken, South Carolina
Courtesy of Visit Aiken


Marked by its magnolia- and oak tree-lined streets, Aiken is a picturesque small town in the heart of Thoroughbred Country. The town offers year-round equestrian events, first class polo, and horseback riding lessons for all levels. Ride, hike, or jog through 70 miles of trails that run through Hitchcock Woods, one of America's largest urban forests. Spend an afternoon strolling through the elegant Oak Alley at Hopelands Gardens, take a tour on the Aiken Trolley, and explore the laid-back culinary scene downtown.

Lodging options at Aiken include the romantic Willcox Hotel and the comfortably elegant Carriage House Inn, both located in the heart of historic downtown.

Hilton Head South Carolina
Sean Pavone/Getty Images

Hilton Head Island

End your road trip across South Carolina at its southernmost family-friendly beach town. The best way to explore the island is on a bike, traversing along 200 miles of pathways, trails, and hard-packed sand beaches. Hilton Head Island is the perfect place for an active outdoor vacation where you can swim, kayak, play tennis, and golf at award-winning championship courses. The relaxed, small town atmosphere welcomes beachgoers at casual waterfront bars and serves sustainable, fresh-caught Lowcountry seafood. Hilton Head's white sand beaches, wildlife-filled marshlands, idyllic marinas, and distinctive sunsets make it one of the prettiest vacation destinations.

You'll find luxury accommodations at one of the area's sprawling resorts like The Inn & Club at Harbour Town or the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles