Columbia, SC hiking guide

Lake at Sesquicentennial State Park
Sesquicentennial State Park | Photo via @pittman_mandy

With state and local parks beginning to reopen and spring weather in full swing here in Cola, we know everyone is itching to lace their shoes up + get outside. 

For those who are looking to spend a little time in nature or escape from their home office, we’ve put together an SC hiking guide. The trails range in difficulty, length and distance from Columbia, so there’s sure to be an option for every level of hiking enthusiast. 

Disclaimer: While many parks are now open, many are on a limited basis. We encourage you to check park websites before visiting.

Harbison State Forest, 5600 Broad River Rd., Columbia, SC | ~15-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Firebreak

  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Length: 4.4 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for an outing that’s good for all skill levels. It’s one of the most popular trails in the park and crosses over the Broad River. This trail also connects all other trails in the park. 

Route: Midlands Mountain

  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Length: 3.4 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a slightly more difficult route within the park. You’ll climb over a ridge and then make your way down to the river bed.  

Route: Stewardship

  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Length: 3.4 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for one of the less traveled trails in the park. You’ll cross over small river beds before you come to the Broad River, which you’ll travel beside for a bit. You may also see some wildlife on this trail.

Sesquicentennial State Park, 9564 Two Notch Rd., Columbia, SC | ~20-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Sandhills Hiking Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1.9 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a relaxing walk around the lake. You may see many birds as you cross over boardwalks along this trail. The bridge over Jackson Creek also offers waterfall views. (You can also take the Jackson Creek Nature Trail down to the waterfall.)

Route: Loop Road Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 3.5 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want an easy walk along the tree-lined path around the park. Visitors often hear and see birds on this trail.

Congaree National Park, 100 National Park Rd., Hopkins, SC | ~30-min. from downtown Columbia

**Congaree National Park is currently closed, but check their website for updates.**

Route: Boardwalk Loop Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 2.4 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a relaxing walk through the hardwood forest. You’ll be able to observe many types of trees and wildlife throughout the walk. The boardwalk is stroller and wheelchair accessible; however, the park is within a floodplain, so portions of the park may be flooded when heavy rains occur.

Route: Weston Lake Loop Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 4.4 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want great views of Cedar Creek. You’ll be able to see many cypress knees sticking out of the water and may be to see otters + wading birds as well. 

Route: Oakridge Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 7 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want the opportunity to see more wildlife, like deer and wild turkey. You’ll cross over Cedar Creek + walk along Wise Lake. 

Route: River Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 10.4 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a longer walk to the Congaree River and along the riverbank. This trail also runs through significantly denser woods than most of the park. 

Paris Mountain State Park, 2401 State Park Rd., Greenville, SC | ~ 1hr. 45-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Lake Placid Loop

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: .75 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want lake views and (mostly) flat ground. You may see wildlife like birds or turtles as you circle the lake, cross a boardwalk foot bridge + pass the swimming area. 

Route: Sulphur Springs Trail

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Length: 3.6 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes, if your dog is in good shape

Hike this trail if you want to see an old water tower and dam (and hike a pretty steep hill for about .25 miles). It’s easy to get lost on this trail since it has an upper and lower section so download a map of the park to your phone before you go.

Route: Brissy Ridge Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 2.4 mile loop
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want to explore a steep route along some of the Upstate’s hills. There is a hiker’s only portion (which is much steeper than the rest of the trail) and there are lots of tree roots on the ground so watch your footing. Be on the lookout for mountain bikers on the other sections of the trail. (Remember, hikers yield to bikers on the downhill.)

Table Rock State Park, 158 E. Ellison Ln., Pickens, SC | ~2hr. 15-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Lakeside Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length: 1.9 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want a leisurely walk with some historic elements (and great views of Table Rock). It’s considered to be a good alternative route for families looking to avoid steeper mountain trails. Added perk, you don’t need to worry about completing a hiking registration card for this route.  

Route: Pinnacle Mountain Trail

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Length: 4.2 miles one-way
  • Dog friendly: Yes, but some may have trouble on larger rocks

Hike this trail if you want a serious challenge with uninterrupted mountain views from the tallest mountain in S.C. On this route you’ll encounter creek crossings with small footbridges + steep mountain slopes. On your way back, you can return the way you came or (for a less strenuous option) you can follow the Ridge Trail to the Table Rock Trail. 

Route: Carrick Creek Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 2 miles
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you want to see lots of waterfalls and can handle some steep elevation changes. Be sure to check out the observation deck less than 100 yards up the trail at Carrick Creek Falls. There are three other trails in the park, including Table Rock Trail which summits Table Rock Mountain. See those here.

Jones Gap State Park, 303 Jones Gap Rd., Marietta, SC | ~2hr. 20-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Rainbow Falls Trail

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Length: 2.2 miles one-way
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for waterfall views or bird watching. Other great waterfalls to see in Jones Gap State Park include: Falls Creek Falls, Jones Gap Falls, and Silver Steps Falls. Jones Gap State Park has limited parking, so get there early. There is also little-to-no cell phone coverage.

Route: Hospital Rock Trail (part of the Falls Creek Falls loop)

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Length: 4.4 miles one-way
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a serious challenge – it’s identified as one of the “most rugged and difficult trails in the state.” Legend says Confederate deserters hid out under Hospital Rock during the Civil War.

Caesars Head State Park, 8155 Greer Hwy., Cleveland, SC | ~2hr. 30-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Raven Cliff Falls Trail, Naturaland Trail, The Dismal Trail + Gum Gap

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Length: 8.8 miles
  • Dog friendly: No

Hike this combination of trails if you want an all day hike with steep ledges, great views, and a suspension bridge. If you want the waterfall view without the distance and difficulty, hike up Raven Cliff Falls Trail to the overlook. 

Yellow Branch Falls, 2911-3023 Highlands Hwy., Walhalla, SC | ~2hr. 45-min. from downtown Columbia

Route: Yellow Branch Falls Trail

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 1.5 miles one way
  • Dog friendly: Yes

Hike this trail if you’re looking for a shorter hike that crosses over creek beds and leads to the base of a 50-foot waterfall. When little rain has fallen recently, the waterfall may only have a trickle of water.