There’s definitely no shortage of things to do in the Midlands to cool off during the hot summer months. We’ve got Lake Murray and Lake Wateree nearby, splash pads, pools, and handful of air-conditioned kid friendly spaces. But sometimes you just want to get away from it all. Many Columbia area families escape to the beach, be it Myrtle or Folly or Isle of Palms. But the beach can often be crowded. If you want to escape both heat and crowds, I have a suggestion. Head west on I-26 and chase waterfalls instead!
I was scrolling through Facebook one day and saw one of those “Only In Your State” links to a route to see seven of South Carolina’s waterfalls in one day. I thought that would be a fun day trip to do with my kids. So, like any modern mom, I plugged the route into Google Maps and off we went!
From the Columbia area, you certainly *can* do all seven waterfalls in one day, but you really wouldn’t get to enjoy them. You have to factor in getting multiple kids in and out of the car, hiking along nature paths, stopping to eat, bathroom breaks, etc. Yeah, all seven aren’t going to happen easily.
I checked out the websites for the different waterfalls and chose three to visit – they were an easy distance from each other, with easy walking paths, and were totally free. One or two of the waterfalls listed are within a State Park, and while I happily support our State Parks, I also like free stuff. So I opted not to go to those waterfalls.
Tips to keep in mind when planning your trip:
There won’t be any. Unless you visit a State Park or stop at Falls Park in Greenville (which we did), plan to stop at a rest area on the way, and talk to your kids about how to go to the bathroom in the woods. Full disclosure here: my kids had to go both #1 and #2 in the woods on this day trip. It was very educational that way! Easy enough for my boys, ages 4 and 7, but a little more logistically challenging for my 5 year old daughter. So, be prepared mamas!
As a dedicated city and suburb dweller, I’m used to fast food joints being frequent and plentiful. In the mountains however, it’s another ball game. When we set out, I thought we’d be able to go through a drive-thru between waterfalls one and two. However, there were literally no options. Thankfully, I had packed some snacks, so we ate those instead of a true lunch. The kids didn’t mind a bit, and budgetwise, it meant I could splurge a little on dinner. So, word to the wise: pack lots of snacks and drinks!
The first waterfall we visited had a couple large, shallow pools the kids could (and did) safely wade it. They got wet, of course. The others we visited didn’t really have any good wading spots, but Falls Park in Greenville does have a lovely splash pad nearby. So my tip here is to bring extra clothes and towels. Don’t forget some for yourself, just in case. Even if you don’t really get in the water, chances are you’ll be hugging or carrying someone who did.
If you have non-walking littles, or easily tired toddlers, bring a baby carrier of some sort to wear them in. None of these trails are particularly stroller friendly, but they are easily walkable even by small children. Make sure to bring a camera (or phone) for pictures, water bottles, and you may also want some bug spray.
Now, let’s go chase some waterfalls!
Wildcat Wayside Falls is a series of waterfalls literally right next to the road. There isn’t a parking lot, just a paved shoulder to pull over onto. It is easy to miss, so be sure to keep a keen eye out! The first set of falls with the pools that kids can wade in, is easily accessible – you walk further from your car in the parking lot to get into Target. Now, at the top of this first set of falls is a sign and a trail head. You can follow the trail up and around to the big set of falls – I don’t know how long or how far it actually was, but although the way there was uphill, I think the whole round trip was easily walked in about an hour. There are multiple signs at the base of the falls that warn you of the danger of continuing – people have fallen to their death from the top of these falls. Needless to say, we happily stopped there and turned around to go back down the trail.
Just down the road from Wildcat Wayside falls, on the other side of Table Rock Park, is Twin Falls. Follow your GPS closely, as the turns for this one are easy to miss. You know you are generally on the right path when you see the houses with driveways with signs that say “Private Drive – No Waterfall Here.” Keep going down the road until it dead ends in an unpaved parking area. This secluded spot is the trail head. The path starts out wide, following the path of the creek, and gets narrower as it climbs uphill to the covered overlook area. The path can easily be walked one way in about 15-20 minutes, and the views from the overlook are breath-taking!
Falls Park is in the heart of downtown Greenville. Like all downtown areas, parking is a challenge. I chose to park up the street in a pay-by-the-hour lot (it accepts both cash and credit cards), and we walked the couple of blocks from the lot to Falls Park. You can view the Falls a couple different ways. You can cross over the suspension bridge or go down on the grassy area to get a closer look. Wading is not permitted or encouraged here, a fact that greatly disappointed my water loving kids. We decided to wander a bit, and discovered a beautiful, free splash zone next to a restaurant called Papi’s Tacos. Tip: There are public restrooms near the elevator at the entrance to Falls Park.
This easy day trip was a blast, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to create some wonderful memories with my kids!