Congaree National Park. The alluvial floodplain, bordered by high bluffs, in this nearly 27,000-acre park (the only national park in South Carolina) contains many old-growth bottomland hardwoods, the oldest and largest trees east of the Mississippi River. The water and trees are beautifully eerie. Self-guided canoe trails and 22 miles of hiking trails line the park, which is full of wildlife, including otters, deer, and woodpeckers, as well as the occasional wild boar. There's also a 2.5-mile boardwalk through the swamp. 100 National Park Rd., Hopkins, South Carolina, 29061. 803/776–4396; www.nps.gov/cong. Free. Daily 9-5.
Saluda Shoals Park. This 400-acre park has picnic shelters, an observation deck, an environmental education center, trails, and a water park for kids. You can explore the park by canoe and kayak (rentals available) on the Saluda River. 5605 Bush River Rd., Columbia, South Carolina, 29212. 803/772–1228; www.icrc.net. $5 per car.
Sesquicentennial State Park. The 1,419-acre Sesquicentennial State Park is not far from downtown but feels as if it's deep in the country. A 30-acre lake sits at the heart of the park, allowing for fishing and nonmotorized boating. Enjoy picnicking areas, playgrounds, and miles of nature, hiking, and mountain-biking trails. 9564 Two Notch Rd., Northeast, Columbia, South Carolina, 29223. 803/788–2706; southcarolinaparks.com/sesqui. $5. Daily 8–6.