The trails and waterways of South Carolina seldom disappoint, whether discovering new outdoor opportunities or re-discovering old favorites.
Here are a few details on seven of my favorite outdoor adventures in 2009.
History buffs and hikers are reaping the benefits of the long effort to protect the site of one of the deadliest battles of the Revolutionary War.
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The Palmetto Conservation Foundation has built about two miles of trails with interpretive signs explaining the strategy and importance of the Battle of Camden.
The interpretive trail, which opened this fall, is relatively flat and an easy walk. If fitness buffs want more, they can explore about two miles of additional trails. If history buffs want more, they can stop by the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site.
The battle site trail is on Flat Rock Road, about eight miles north of downtown Camden. The Historic Camden site is on U.S. 521 between I-20 and Camden.
The new Rainbow Falls Trail offers a steep, spectacular hike with a big payoff.
Just head to Jones Gap State Park in Greenville County, follow the Jones Gap Trail until a red-blazed trail to Rainbow Falls forks off to the right. Then you begin a strenuous climb of 1,000 feet in 1.6 miles.
The views back toward Little Pinnacle Mountain are amazing, and the waterfall itself is one of the most striking in the state.
People have walked, jogged and biked on the greenway path at the edge of the Columbia Canal for several years, but only last year did the city begin allowing canoes and kayaks in the water. Paddlers still are required to stay in the upper half of the canal, north of the I-126 bridge.
The man-made waterway is chock full of wildlife, including at least a couple of gators during warm weather. And the east bank is covered with large trees that provide shade.
A paddling trip on the canal isn't as exciting as one on the local rivers, but the canal offers paddlers an unusual setting for an aerobic workout.
The Palmetto Trail section along a former railroad line in eastern Newberry County is slowly progressing, and now it reaches from the Broad River at Peak to the town of Pomaria.
Most hikers will want to leave a car at one end and shuttle another car to the other end, making for about a three-hour walk.
I decided to bike the trail to cover more ground more quickly. Sapling stumps and long sections of railway rock ballast make it a difficult ride, and there's more slope than you might expect. But it's a picturesque workout on a bike or on foot.
The highlight is the former railroad bridge over the Broad River that has been converted for bike and pedestrian use.
Parking is available at either end of the trail at Wilson's Grocery on U.S. 176 in Pomaria or in Alston (take S.C. 213 across the river, then right on Alston Road, right at the fork, cross the railroad tracks and go under the trestle to the parking area).
As drought conditions waned this year, Duke Power began providing recreational releases of water from the Lake Wateree dam around noon on weekends. That turned the section of the Wateree River from the dam to U.S. 1 near Camden into a paddlers' delight.
Later in the summer, locals said the releases were smaller and less timely, which made for longer and more difficult trips. When the water is high, that section of river features a couple of fun rapids and a long closing stretch of flat water.
The wildlife we spotted along the way was impressive, including flocks of great blue and white herons, a bald eagle and loads of turtles.
It's a wonderful addition to the paddling menu in the Midlands. Just check the Duke Power Web site for updates on recreational releases on the river.
The opening of a new, long hiking trail always is reason for celebration, and the 8.5-mile Ridgeline Trail that debuted this year has the added draw of linking state parks in different states.
It runs from Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina to Crowders Mountain State Park in North Carolina. Both of those parks already had expansive trail systems. Now, an avid hiker can camp at either park and spend multiple days exploring.
Don't let the "mountain" in the park names fool you. These are monadnocks, the isolated final extensions of the Appalachians. But the parks are closer to Charlotte than to the real mountains. What that means is the trails offer a taste of the mountains - boulders, slight elevation changes and hardwood forests - without rugged climbs.
BIG TREE HIKES
If you're not a frequent visitor to Congaree National Park, you probably haven't noticed the increase in programming in the past few years.
People used to be pretty much on their own at the massive park, unless they went on a guided owl prowl or with a school group. But now, guided hikes are offered nearly every day of the year.
One of the most interesting additions this year has been the Big Tree Hikes.
Ranger Stuart Greeter teaches the group how to properly measure the diameter and height of the massive trees in the old-growth forest. Then he takes the group off trail to visit some of the big ones the general public seldom sees.
It's entertaining and educational and, like almost everything at Congaree NP, free.