Got some time to fill during your stay in South Carolina? Fill it with all the fun day trips from Columbia, SC. With lush nature, historic cities, and coastal charm a short drive away, you’ll find plenty of adventure around South Carolina’s capital city to top up your itinerary.
Quick road trips from Columbia will take you through the diverse landscapes of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. Along the way, you can stop in exciting cities like Greenville, SC, and Charlotte, NC, explore the beautiful beaches in Charleston and Beaufort, and escape into the south-eastern wilderness at Congaree National Park and Lake Moultrie.
Ready to explore a region full of variety? Spice up your trip with this complete guide to the top-rated Columbia side trips!
Top-rated Columbia, SC, side trips
Get a taste of southern charm in the enchanting city of Greenville, SC, just an hour and 40 minutes from Columbia. An attractive downtown, great food, and beautiful natural surroundings make Greenville a dreamy place to spend a few hours.
Downtown Greenville is a vibrant pedestrian area. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named its Main Street the “Great American Main Street.” Browse past nostalgic storefronts, home to wonderful shopping and dining opportunities. Graze Persian cuisine at Pomegranate on Main or try inventive Southern dishes at Soby’s. Come on a weekend to catch the TD Saturday Market, the perfect place to pick up seasonal produce and artisan crafts.
When you’re ready for a rest from the city, take a stroll through Falls Park on the Reedy. One of the top tourist attractions in Greenville, SC, the park offers a unique chance to see rushing waterfalls in the heart of a city.
Greenville, SC, also has a fabulous selection of breweries and wineries. Escape to the French chateau and rolling green hills of Victoria Valley Vineyards. Or check out Eighth State Brewing Company. Housed in a former bakery, the craft brewery serves everything from draft cocktails to beer slushies.
An hour and 20 minutes from Columbia, you’ll find the exciting city of Augusta, GA. While it’s a fantastic city for golfing, there’s much more to Augusta than the Masters. Delve into art, culture, and great outdoor activities as you explore this vibrant Georgia city.
Golfers and sports history enthusiasts will want to see the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club. But since the golf course is only accessible to club members and guests, you might find it hard to squeeze in a round. Luckily, there are some great courses nearby, like the Forest Hills Golf Club and The River Golf Club. Or, if you’d rather not take a swing, you can learn about Augusta’s golf heritage at the Augusta Golf Hall of Fame.
Augusta also has a thriving arts culture. The Morris Museum of Art is the oldest museum in the United States and offers exciting examples of artwork and culture in the American South. For a more immersive experience, check out Artist’s Row. This emporium of galleries, working studios, and independent cafes is one of the coolest places to see in Augusta, GA.
Resting on an excellent spot along the Savannah River, Augusta offers a perfect opportunity to try fun outdoor activities. Rent a kayak and drift all the way from the Augusta Canal into Lake Olmstead.
Lose yourself in the nautical charm of Beaufort, SC, two hours and 30 minutes away from Columbia. On arrival, you’ll be greeted with historic architecture and interesting cultures on the stunning Port Royal Island.
There are around a hundred South Carolina Sea Islands stretching 300 miles off the Atlantic Ocean. Networks of rivers and creeks intersect the islands, creating unspoiled sandy beaches and rich biodiversity.
Kayak and paddleboard through pretty waterways, or immerse yourself in wildlife on the Spanish Moss Trail. For a day in the sunshine, Hunting Island State Park has scenic lighthouse views and lovely white sand beaches. Waterside restaurants like Ladys Island Dockside offer beautiful outdoor dining and fresh seafood with Southern flair.
Throughout Beaufort, you’ll find quintessential examples of antebellum, Gothic Revival, and Federal-style architecture. Many homes in the Beaufort Historic District pre-date the civil war. Discover it in more detail at restored mansions like John Mark Verdier House Museum and Thomas Hepworth House.
Beaufort has deep roots in Gullah culture, who are committed to preserving their African heritage. Learn more about their history at the Penn Center, or take a trip to St. Helena Island, where you can take part in traditional basket weaving and cooking workshops.
Congaree National Park, SC
Escape to the ancient woodlands of Congaree National Park, one of the oldest and tallest forests east of the Mississippi. Just a 30-minute drive from Columbia, Congaree National Park offers incredible scenery and biodiversity.
There’s an exciting network of trails to help you uncover the wonders of the oldest intact bottomland hardwood forest in the country. A popular route at this top-rated Columbia attraction is the Boardwalk Loop. The leisurely trail winds through some of the oldest parts of the forest.
If you’d rather explore Congaree National Park by water, head to Cedar Creek. Rent a canoe or kayak to drift along the creek and through the wetlands or ride through peaceful groves on a tubing tour.
Congaree National Park is a haven for birdwatchers, too. As well as daytime friends like Crested Caracara and Pileated Woodpecker, it’s also an important habitat for owls. Take a nighttime tour with a park ranger to meet species like the Great Horned Owl and the Screech Owl.
The park also has a program of activities to enhance the healing power of nature. Take crafting and wellness classes that’ll help you immerse all your senses during your visit.
History buffs will have a fantastic time exploring Camden, SC. A 36-minute drive from Columbia, Camden is a great choice for a last-minute day out. Stroll the quaint downtown, visit endless historic sites, and delve into an interesting equestrian heritage.
As South Carolina’s oldest inland city, Camden is home to important historic buildings and battlefields. Visit the Camden Battlefield, the site of the worst Patriot defeat of the American Revolution. Or check out the Camden Revolutionary War Site, a huge outdoor museum that paints a picture of life in the area during the war.
For a more relaxed approach to Camden’s scenery, stroll through the pretty downtown. This dreamy area has colorful historic facades, blooming flowers, and interesting public artwork. Shop in the cute boutiques or rummage for lost treasures at Camden Antiques Market. Stop for an al fresco lunch at stylish restaurants like Fresh and Co and 40 Paper.
Camden is the “steeplechase capital of the world.” Hosts to the iconic Carolina Cup, the town has an exciting equestrian past. At the Springdale Racecourse, you can watch the morning thoroughbred workouts. Also on-site, the Steeplechase Museum gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the history of the sport.
A two-hour drive from Columbia is the vibrant city of Charleston, SC. Straight out of a vintage postcard, this historic port city will captivate you with its cobblestone streets, historic districts, and pastel houses. Whether you love city culture or beachside adventures, Charleston offers delights at every turn.
Start your day in Charleston by getting your holiday snaps at Rainbow Row. This colorful series of 13 waterfront houses occupies restored 18th-century stores. Thanks to its beautiful array of colors, Rainbow Row is now one of Charleston’s most popular tourist attractions and most photographed areas.
Charleston’s bustling French Quarter is in the original walled city. An idyllic world of wrought iron balconies and 18th-century architecture, Charleston’s French Quarter is a hot spot for art galleries and handcrafted shopping. For the best shopping and dining in Charleston, wander under the palm trees of King Street.
Charleston is also home to some irresistible beaches. Head out of town to embrace the laid-back surf vibes of Folly Beach or admire the historic homes on the white sands of Sullivan’s Island Beach. Wrap up your day in Charleston with a sunset sailing tour. Sip wine and look out for bottlenose dolphins as you cruise by some of the most important landmarks in Charleston Harbor.
US National Whitewater Center, NC
Looking for extra adrenaline during your Columbia trip? Make sure you stop by the US National Whitewater Center. Located across the state border in North Carolina, the center is just an hour and 30 minutes away from the city center and gives you a chance to try incredible water sports on the world’s largest man-made whitewater river.
The 1,300-acre site is an emporium of outdoor action. From traditional mountain biking and hiking routes to epic zip lines, there’s something at the US National Whitewater Center for every type of outdoor lover. Learn rafting, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding on the crashing whitewater river and the calm currents of Long Creek.
The US National Whitewater Center has huge outdoor climbing facilities. With 35-45 top-rope routes and 50 bouldering challenges, a visit here will help you to reach new heights. Their deep-water solo complex allows you to climb up to 45 feet with a landing in a deep pool of water.
Prefer to have your feet firmly on the ground? The US National Whitewater Center also has an excellent yoga program and huge ice-skating areas. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, there’s a wonderful choice of riverside restaurants and bars to help you refuel.
An hour and 30 minutes from Columbia is the buzzing city of Charlotte, NC. With an interesting history, vibrant culture, and a fab foodie scene, a day in the Queen City will be packed with excitement.
Start your day in Charlotte by getting stuck into the city’s deep southern roots. The Charlotte Museum of History is spread across revolutionary-era buildings and explores Charlotte’s journey toward liberty and democracy. At the Levine Museum of the New South, you’ll get an extensive look at life in the South after the Civil War. Interactive exhibits at this top-rated Charlotte attraction explore important contemporary themes like race and immigration.
Soak up Charlotte’s strong creative energy in the eclectic NoDa District. Take a gallery crawl and admire the colorful street murals celebrating the city’s African American heritage. Chill out in endless hipster cafes and breweries or browse through the varied artisan shops, vintage stores, and tattoo parlors.
Make sure you leave some room in your stomach to sample some dishes from this culinary hot spot. Trendy food halls like Optimist Hall and Market at 7th Street are a chance to sample global and regional cuisine, while Mert’s Heart and Soul is an opportunity to sink your teeth into classic Lowcountry plates like shrimp and grits.
Lake Moultrie, SC
Cool off on the tranquil shores of Lake Moultrie. It’s a one-hour and 45-minute drive away and makes an ideal stopover on the way back from Charleston or Beaufort. The 60,000-acre man-made lake is the largest in the state and offers a great choice of recreational activities.
The lush forests and cypress trees of the South Carolina Lowcountry create serene surroundings for an afternoon by the lake. It draws in curious landscape photographers keen to capture the area’s interesting swamps and blackwater ponds. Lake Moultrie is an abundant habitat for a variety of wildlife. If you’re lucky, you could spot alligators drifting by, deer prancing through the trees, and hawks soaring above your head.
Why not take to the water and discover Lake Moultrie on a kayaking tour? You’ll get plenty of stops on sandy beaches and chances to jump into the crisp waters. Kayak trips are available to nature hot spots, to the lily fields of Coon Island, or to remote beaches to watch the sunset.
Want to catch your own dinner? Lake Moultrie is home to huge freshwater fish, and many anglers flock here to catch striped bass, blue catfish, and shellcrackers.
If you’re looking for a day trip full of history, culture, and outdoor fun, you’ll find it all in Spartanburg, SC. The city is just an hour and 30 minutes away from Columbia and is brimming with American Revolution sites, creative endeavors, and hiking trails.
Spartanburg has a fascinating history spanning Cherokee tribes, textile mills, and the Civil Rights Movement. Journey through it all at the Spartanburg Regional History Museum. Visit the Cowpens National Battlefield to learn about the role this site played in the American Revolution or understand how slaves gained their independence at Walnut Grove Plantation.
If you love up-and-coming talent, spend some time in the Cultural District, home to world-class galleries like the Spartanburg Art Museum and many of the top tourist attractions in Spartanburg, SC. Exciting studios like the Artists Collective Spartanburg and the West Main Artists Co-Op give you the chance to get an insider look at local artists at work. In the area, you’ll also find cozy bookstores, lively music venues, and trendy breweries to stir up your creativity.
Spartanburg has wonderful natural surroundings, making it a premier spot for outdoor adventures. Find great hikes like Cottonwood Trail minutes from the city, or head over to Croft State Park for hiking, horse riding, and lake-side fun.
Parris Island, SC
For any history buff or patriot, Parris Island is one of the most popular day trips from Columbia, SC. As the oldest continuously operating Marine Corps recruit training facility in the US, it’s rich in history and heritage. Take the two-hour and 30-minute drive from Columbia for an educational experience as well as stunning natural surroundings.
The Marine Corps Recruitment Depot is open to the public. Visit to learn more about the history of the Marines and how they train new recruits. For more in-depth information, check out the Parris Island Museum. The museum is home to thousands of artifacts exploring the honored history and traditions of the Marine Corps and the interesting history of the Port Royal Region.
If history isn’t your thing, you can still embrace Parris Island’s stunning natural beauty. With salt marshes home to rich biodiversity and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, Parris Island will captivate you with its beauty. Explore it further on the island’s hiking routes, biking trails, and nature walks, or kick back on the white sands of Parris Island Beach and Sands Beach and enjoy the views.