Like any Southern mama, I spend the summer with my kids with two goals in mind: keeping the peace and staying cool. The most effective way to achieve both goals is to get us out of the house and into water. While all of us love getting in a pool, and the kids definitely enjoy a splash pad, sometimes we want to do something a little different. Thankfully, the Midlands is home to several kid-friendly, inexpensive, let’s get back to nature, places to get wet and stay cool!
Why I love getting back to nature
Generally speaking, state parks and lakes are less crowded than their man-made counterparts like splash pads, public pools, and water parks. There are peak times, of course, but it’s easier to find a quiet spot to keep an eye on my crew.
Some places charge a minimal fee, but generally it’s less than $5 for all of us, which means we have more room in our budget for other summer fun.
Most public options have very limited days and hours of availability. Riverbanks Zoo for example, closes at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Richland County’s public pools tend to close about the same time, and are only open certain days of the week. For this working mama, sometimes I’d like to take my kids somewhere after work, and that definitely limits things. Most of nature’s water features are open from dawn ’til dusk.
In nature, we can spot bugs and insects, birds, different plants, and types of rocks. We can talk about mud and fungi. There are endless opportunities for activity and my kids are literally NEVER bored!
Convinced? Now you need to know where to go!
Not all of these are immersive experiences, meaning you can get your whole body in. Some are really more like wading, but if your kids are like mine, a change of clothes will still be necessary before the day is done.
In Lexington County
14 Mile Creek – Basically it’s a short, easy nature trail with a wading friendly creek at the end. It’s free, easy to find once you know where it is, and even stroller friendly.
Lake Murray – There are several places along the lake where you can swim. The most expensive is the park by the Lexington side of the dam. It will cost you a whopping $3 a car to get in. There’s ample shade, picnic tables and shelters available. If you want something more out of the way, or perhaps you live closer to Gilbert, I suggest checking out one of the public ramps. We recently checked out Ramp#4. It was free, quiet, and there are public restrooms available on site. There’s also Dreher Island State Park, which has a low entrance free and lots more to do than just swim.
Peachtree Rock and Heritage Preserve – The only thing getting wet here is maybe your feet, because the creek and is shallow and narrow. However there is a whole lot of shade and rocks to climb for your older, more adventurous kids. The nature trail is not stroller friendly, but the path itself is pretty easy going with only a few steps to climb towards the first part of the trail. My family goes there on a regular basis and it’s one of our favorite places. More details on the do’s and don’ts for visiting can be found here.
Shealy’s Pond and Heritage Preserve – This boggy area is home to a variety of birds and plants. It’s a great educational trip and there’s water to boot! Being that it is a bog, don’t forget to pack the bug spray.
In Richland County
Lake Wateree – This state park has fishing and swimming access. The lake is, in general, quieter and less populated than Lake Murray in Lexington and isn’t far out of the way.
Riverwalk – This system of nature trails and boardwalks along the Congaree river has several entrance points. The most popular is the entrance with the amphitheater right off Gervais Street, on the Cayce side of the Gervais Street bridge. Tubing and kayaking are very popular from this entrance. If you walk up river, the top entrance is where you will find the most people actually swimming in little side pools. The current in the river is stronger than it looks, so I’d advise sticking to the shallow bits, or saving this trip (if you are going to get in the water) for your preteens and older crew. If you stick to the paths, the trail is great for all ages.
Guignard Park – If you’re in Cayce, say looking for the “HOT NOW” sign at Krispy Kreme (no judgement from this donut loving mama), right off Knox Abbott is Guignard Park. This lovely little park has a great creek running through it, perfect for little feet and big ones to cool off in on a hot summer day.
Sesquicentennial State Park – This park in the heart of Northeast Columbia has something for everyone. Nature trails, camping, a great playground, and more. While there’s no swimming on the lake here, you can canoe, kayak, paddleboard and even fish. There’s also a fenced in splash pad.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope your families enjoy visiting them as much as mine do! There are even more places to visit if you are willing to travel about an hour or so upstate – that’s where waterfall country seems to begin.