Just because we don’t live in Colorado or Asheville doesn’t mean we have to sit inside playing video games all day. There are some glorious hikes pretty close to Columbia. These are my five favorites.
1. Guignard Clay Quarry Loop Trail
Aerial photos of the Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve show big stripes on the land, like some gigantic creature has clawed the ground. At ground level, you’ll see those are big trenches where clay was quarried to make brick at the Guignard Brickworks up in Cayce. The mostly flat 2.5-mile loop trail weaves in among the clay pits, many now filled with water and bird life, with some occasional remnants of the area’s quarrying past. You’ll also come upon Congaree Creek, with its lovely sandy bottom. This trail is close to downtown Columbia, but it’s a world away.
2. Peachtree Rock
The only natural waterfall in the coastal plain is just a quarter-mile hike from the trailhead; keep going a mile or so further and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views, scrubby pines, eerie white sand landscapes, and the marine fossils of Little Peachtree Rock. Some advice: Take a photo of the map at the trailhead with your phone, because there are a lot of junctions.
3. Forty Acre Rock
Drive an hour and 15 minutes east, toward Kershaw, and in the middle of nowhere you’ll come upon the alien landscape that is Forty Acre Rock. Actually 10 acres, this expanse of granite is dotted with tiny flowers, lichens, mosses and little pools. The short trail from the south access takes you by a beaver pond, a waterfall and a sliding rock; just off the trail to the north is a little cave.
4. Midlands Mountain Trail
I’m glad people are out there mountain biking, but I hate dodging mountain bikes when I’m on the trail, which can make some parts of Harbison State Forest hard to hike. The Midlands Mountain Trail is multi-use, but it’s not usually clogged with bikes, and when you do come across one there’s room to get out of the way. The 3.4-mile trails climbs up, up, up, then plunges down to the Broad River — probably the best trail in the entire Midlands to get that burning feeling in your quads and expansive, joyous feeling in your lungs.
5. Peak to Prosperity Passage of the Palmetto Trail
Starting at the Alston trailhead near the town of Peak, this trail crosses an amazing 1,100-foot-long bridge built along a former rail trestle over the Broad River. The next six miles of mostly flat, gentle trail through varying types of woods take you to the little town of Pomaria. It’s a low-key, less-explored part of the Midlands, and well worth your time.
Looking to up the ante? For this year’s Palmetto Challenge, the Palmetto Conservation Foundation is asking teams of two, three or four people to hike or bike as many miles as possible on the state’s trails, greenways and sidewalks between March 11 and April 28. Last year’s winner logged 8,000 miles. Sign up by Feb. 25 at palmettoconservation.org.