More on the water
Columbia is one of the few large cities where you can play in top-notch whitewater and get out of the river a block away from top-notch restaurants. (Hint: All cities have the restaurants; few have the rapids.)
The true whitewater is along a 12-mile section of the Saluda River from the Lake Murray dam to the Gervais Street bridge. Even if you have whitewater experience, you should get a local to show you the lines through the Mill Race Rapids just upstream of Riverbanks Zoo. The rest of the rapids are relatively easy to navigate except when the river is running at extremely high levels.
Flatwater kayakers can explore a number of meandering black-water creeks in the area. The twisty Cedar Creek through Congaree National Park can be a challenging paddle, but the view of the old-growth forest is worth the trouble. Congaree Creek in Cayce is the second best creek paddle in the area and slightly easier for novices — if you don’t get spooked by the occasional alligator.
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For something different, paddle up the clear, spring-fed creek at Goodale State Park in Kershaw County.. It’s tight and twisty, with interesting plants and wildlife, including a great blue heron rookery.
Looking for a challenge?
Mountain bikers in the Midlands flock to the state forests and state parks.
Harbison State Forest is the Mecca in the Columbia, with more than a dozen miles of well-maintained trails. Some are only for experts, but there’s room for all levels here.
Manchester State Forest in neighboring Sumter County has about 16 miles of biking trails, ranging from flat and easy to hilly and tricky. Both state forests have minimal annual or daily trail fees.
Sesquicentennial State Park’s bike trail is less demanding technically, but the sand base poses different challenges.
For a list of mountain biking trails in the area (and statewide) go to www.sctrails.net/Trails/alltrails/mountainbike/MTN%20BIKE.html
Speaking of trails...
Hiking trails abound in the Columbia area, offering everything from a stroll along the rivers downtown to a jaunt through one of the last old-growth bottomland forests in the country.
Here are hiking suggestions for the area:
For an easy, picturesque hike, try the Three Rivers Greenway, which is a collective name for all of the paved trails along the downtown sections of the Broad, Saluda and Congaree rivers. The best sections include Riverfront Park in Columbia and the Cayce and West Columbia Riverwalks.
The top nature trail network in the area is at Congaree National Park in southern Richland County. The 2.5-mile boardwalk trail gives a good taste of the park’s huge trees and amazing biodiversity. To get into the edge of the old-growth forest, try one of the longer dirt paths — the 11.1-mile King Snake Trail or the 10.4-mile River Trail.
Sesquicentennial State Park in Northeast Richland, Dreher Island State Recreation Area in Newberry County and Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve in Lexington County have sweet, short trails. And Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve in Lexington County offers an interesting walk through unusual sandstone formations.