Hiking the Palmetto Trail is South Carolina at its Finest
There’s one very cool way to see South Carolina from mountains to coast: The Palmetto Trail.
A 500-mile route in South Carolina, the Palmetto Trail stretches from the Oconee Mountains to the Intracoastal Waterway. Established in 1994 and completed in 2004, the Palmetto Trail is for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. It traverses lakes and mountain ridges, through forests and swamps.
The newest among South Carolina trails winds foot and bike trails through small towns and big cities and is one of 16 cross-state trails in America. The state’s conservation and preservation efforts from mountains to the sea are on display and healthy outdoor recreation encouraged.
It's more than a path to hike or bike on. This free-access attraction can nurture area business, economic development, and tourism in the state. South Carolina's longest trail includes 26 passages, ranging from 1.3 to 47 miles.
The numbers don’t do it justice, and the allure goes way beyond the hiking trails, which are mostly undeveloped. The Palmetto Trail contains a million stories, tales of travelers and times past, and an eye to the future.
“Great trail for biking and hiking. Very scenic views. Trailhead has an air station for bikes. No worries about vehicles on trails. The trail is old railway so it is pretty level.” - Jay R., on the Austin Trailhead, via Google
I would walk 500 miles …
So — has anyone hiked the entire Palmetto Trail? Yes, they have. We call those ambitious souls thru-hikers, and there are a few who have the Palmetto Trail patch to show for it.
It takes about a month to go from mountain trails to the sea (or sea to mountain, depending on your trek.) Some hikers take it on in a matter of weeks; others break up the trek and take as much as a year. The stories of how and why are as remarkable as the feat. According to the Palmetto Conservation, these brave folks have conquered the trail.
MULE AND INCHWORM: This pair hiked the distance to benefit Multiple Sclerosis awareness. (Cool trail names too, by the way.)
ALISON IRION: She took to the trail to raise awareness, too — for mental illness.
SEAN MARDEN: Between jobs, he conquered it as he waited to take the Coast Guard test to become a captain.
HARRY KING: With his dog Gator alongside, Harry hiked and biked the trail in 21 days over five months. He took the trail through the state's national forests and unique towns on weekends only. The Wade family donated funds for maintenance of the trail near his home in Spartanburg.
Other hikers need only a part of the trail to find happiness.
The Awendaw Passage is Lindsay Waltz's favorite on the coast. The easy, 7.1-mile trail is the coastal endpoint for the trail, made for bikers and hikers alike. Waltz says the walk through the maritime forest gives her a view of some of the state's most beautiful places.
"The salt marsh is incredible," says Waltz, who hikes the trail with her dog, Miles. "Once you get to Walnut Grove, you can see so much of the boardwalk, and it's a great spot for pictures. We always hit the Sewee Outpost for lunch."
“One of my favorite places to run trails in the Midlands! Just far enough from Columbia to feel like you actually got out of town for a while .” - Marian N., on Pomaria Trailhead, via Google
What does the Palmetto Trail include?
There are notable stretches in which the trail takes on interesting forms, such as:
City sidewalks: Yes — including the steps of the state capitol!
Backcountry: The trail's less developed portions
Greenways: Shared-use paths in both undeveloped areas and through urban regions
Rails-to-trail: Old railroad routes, converted into trails
Urban bikeways: Stretches that roll through city streets
You won't find motorized transportation on the Palmetto Trail. This one is for feet, bike tires, and horse hooves only.
“Great place for a quick 3.5-mile hike with waterfall ponds and streams along the way. You can make a decent hike if you trek to Vaughn's gap. Good for kids and dogs.” - David H., on Blue Wall Passage, via Google
Ready to take your trek on the Palmetto Trail?
Whether it’s a portion to take on and enjoy the scenery, or a lengthy journey in your plans, consider the Palmetto Trail this summer. The Palmetto Trail encapsulates South Carolina, from parks to national forests and nature preserves.
Santee Cooper works in development and preservation on the Lake Moultrie passage. It's part of its commitment to environmental stewardship in the region. Learn more about the Santee Cooper Environmental Stewardship on its website.
You’ll encounter everything from Wildlife management areas to Revolutionary War battlefields. It includes Native American trails, city to country, from the Lowcountry swamps to the Upstate mountains, through the maritime to the sandhills to the piedmont. Discover the magic of the Palmetto Trail — and the majesty of beautiful South Carolina.