This summer is the time to take a last-minute getaway on roads less traveled. Throughout the Carolinas, small towns offer plenty of options for an off-the-beaten-track vacation. All provide plenty of relaxation, interesting outdoor adventures, with fewer crowds and room to wander. These trip-worthy North and South Carolina destinations inspire with scenic beauty, history, culture and adventure are all yours to explore. Find out why life is sweeter in Duplin County, North Carolina, and see why Onslow County offers deep roots in African American history, as well as the Marine Corps. From the Purple Martin Phenomenon in Capital City/Lake Murray County, to a slower pace found in the four-mile-long, one-quarter-mile-wide Town of Pawleys Island located on the state’s coast, to the rolling countryside, antique shops and plantation homes of yesteryear found in Thoroughbred County, these Carolina destinations inspire stories of life in the South.
Capital City Lake Murray Country
Love the outdoors? Then you will love a trip to Capital City/Lake Murray Country, conveniently located off Interstates I-77, I-26 and I-20 including Columbia and the surrounding towns and counties of Lexington, Newberry, Richland, and Saluda. From a bird watching phenomenon you won’t see anywhere else to lazy and lively aquatic adventures, this destination is nature’s wonderland. Explore 50,000 acres of sparkling waters that make up Lake Murray, “The Jewel of South Carolina.” Boating Magazine named it one of the “Top 10 Boating Destinations and Places to Live” in the country. Lake Murray is home to some of the best striped and large-mouth bass fishing in the South. No boat or equipment? Plenty of providers offer rentals, lessons and guided trips, from fishing, paddleboarding and sailing to motor boating and pontooning. From the end of June to the beginning of August more than a million Purple Martins take flight in the sunset-filled skies in a stunning visual treat. One of the many intriguing features of Lake Murray is Dreher Island State Park, offering all the requisite amenities and even a fishing gear loaner program. In downtown Columbia, the Capital City is uniquely situated on three converging rivers, offering endless land and water touring. Rent bikes at Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park and zoom through its 167 acres of spectacular riverfront scenery. Park the car on Main Street and shop at the Mast General Store. From outdoor gear to toys, books and classic candies, everyone will find a treasure. Bring your binoculars and comfy walking shoes for a wonderful vacation memory that will last a lifetime. Southeast of the Capital City, Congaree National Park provides wilderness and shoreline views of river otters, bobcats, deer, owls and wild boar along 25 miles of hiking trails, many of which are dog-friendly. For more information, www.LakeMurrayCountry.com
Onslow County is full of coastal flavor, family fun and a host of water-related adventures. On the central North Carolina coast, Onslow is located off I-95, north of Wilmington and east of Raleigh and I-40. The beach is the perfect place to start and for many, shelling is the perfect beach activity. Locals say the best shelling can be found on Bear Island, a treasure of the beautiful Hammocks Beach State Park. Paddle NC offers kayak tours and rentals from several locations and Swansboro Paddle Boarding offers rentals and guided tours, as well as jet ski, pontoon boats and paddle board rentals. For a more leisurely tour, many choose the luxury of a cruise with Lady Swan Tours or Bayonet Enterprise Cruises. An outing aboard Marsh Cruises‘ 22-foot skiff offers variety, too. Trips can range from shelling and eco-adventures to peaceful nighttime star gazing. Reel Livin’ Fishing Charters offers family fun cruises. Net shrimp, crab and marine life to learn about the many amazing creatures of the ocean. As the name implies, they also offer fishing charters. Inshore, nearshore and offshore fishing are all popular here and there are plenty of experienced captains and guides to make any trip the best it can be. For more information, www.OnlyInOnslow.com.
Duplin County is in the heart of eastern North Carolina and is revered as being at the center of the state’s coastal wine region, just a short drive from Interstate 95 with easy access from Interstate 40, in southeastern North Carolina. Many combine this rural region with a trip to the North Carolina beaches. Small towns dot the map here and locally owned businesses fueled by Southern hospitality are the norm. In Wallace, visitors find a classic Southern small town with streets lined with local boutiques, shops and restaurants. In Warsaw, the streets are home to the oldest consecutively running Veterans’ Day Parade in the country as well as the Duplin County Veterans Museum. Liberty Hall is a historic landmark and the ancestral home of the Kenan Family, some of the earliest founders and leaders of Duplin County and the State. Kenansville is also home to Country Squire Winery, a landmark for more than 50 years. Its winery, tasting room, restaurant and inn combine the tastes of muscadine wines and the country charm and heritage of Scotland, from where the owners hail. Just down the road in Rose Hill, the world-famous Duplin Winery is the largest winery in The South and the largest producer of muscadine wine in the country As travelers explore this beautiful county, the rural areas are filled with tastes and treasures to discover, as well. Local markets such as The Country Barn and The Tipsy Bee welcome visitors and share local products including breads, cookies, jams, jellies, cheeses, wines and more. There are antique barns filled with riches from the past and flea markets bursting at the seams with one-of-a-kind gems. For more information, UncorkDuplin.com.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina became one of the first beach resorts on the Atlantic coast and it remains a one-of-a-kind destination today. Situated 70 miles north of Charleston and 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, the Town of Pawleys Island is a breath of fresh air on the southeastern seaboard. This town is a nearly four-mile-long, one-quarter mile-wide island and spending time here is truly a refreshing escape. On Pawleys you can step away from devices to re-connect and recharge your body and soul. You can escape long lines and huddle with your favorite people. Life is laid back on this tiny island: no ringing cash registers, not even any stores; no neon lights, only porch lights. Finding a Pawleys Island shell, the Imperial Venus Clam, is a rite of passage here and is considered a blessing. The Lettered Olive is South Carolina’s designated State Shell and is another favored treasure. The ocean is just the beginning of waters to be explored on Pawleys. The inland waterways, with their distinct habitats and coastal wildlife, are a wonderland for canoeing and kayaking. Crabbing and fishing are favorite pastimes for many, and the rewards can be tasty! Opportunities change with the seasons. Whether casting into the surf, luring your catch from the marsh or dropping a basket beneath a pier, a feast of fish and crabs is the classic family meal on Pawleys. Porch time is prime time on Pawleys Island, not only because of the sea breezes and coastal views. It’s also a natural here because this is home to the famous Pawleys Island rope hammock. Still handmade nearby, hammocks are shipped worldwide but are still a staple on the porches and decks of Pawleys. What better place to relax and enjoy one? For more information, www.OnlyPawleys.com.
Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina, is comprised of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties situated along I-20, between Atlanta and Charleston–just east of Augusta, Georgia. Hitting the trails is good for the soul and a quick way to commune with nature and. A good starting point is the four-mile walking trail in Allendale known as the Lower Savannah River Alliance Greenway and Trail. Rent an electric Pedego bike in Aiken and see the county from the lovely natural side. Hopelands Gardens is a 14-acre park filled with lavishly preserved gardens and three reflecting pools. Meander the many paths shaded by 100-year-old live oaks or bring a picnic lunch–there’s no better place to share a sandwich. Hopelands Gardens is ideal for families, so bring the kiddos. Bamberg County is home to Edisto River Adventures where folks find relaxation floating down the South Fork of the Edisto River or get a little more adventurous with a kayaking excursion, standup paddleboarding and more. Satisfy the history buff at Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site. This 390-acre site includes the battlefield, an interpretive trail, memorial grounds and picnic shelter. Walk the ¾-mile guided trail with interpretive panels scattered along the way or inquire about a ranger-guided tour (in advance) of the well-preserved South Carolina Civil War site. Audubon’s Silver Bluff Sanctuary is a gorgeous 3,400-acre wooded area overlooking the Savannah River. Diversified, yet authentically Southern, this sanctuary is home to pine thickets and bottomland hardwood forests alongside 22 miles of horse and walking trails, 50 acres of lakes and ponds, 100 grassland acres and numerous birds and other wildlife. Note that trails are only open to horses during organized rides. For more information, TBredCountry.org.