The Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (S.C. 11), which crosses a north-south line in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, served as a primary trading route for the Cherokee. Later used by French and English fur traders, it is today a beautiful route that connects eight South Carolina state parks.
At 1,000 acres, Keowee-Toxaway State Park, even when “full,” it is not crowded. It is, quite simply, a hidden gem in the crown of the Blue Ridge.
As park manager Kevin Blanton said, “We don’t have a lot of anything but we’ve got a little of everything.” He describes the park as a great family-oriented locale that is much quieter than some of its larger neighbors.
It’s nestled alongside 18,372-acre Lake Keowee, extremely popular for boaters and fishermen angling for catfish, crappie, bass and bream. The lake has also become a favorite of canoeists and kayakers, especially at this relatively “quiet” end. The park offers an outstanding put-in spot for non-motorized boats.
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Camping, with only 24 sites, is very pleasant here. Ten sites can accommodate RVs and 14 are reserved for tent campers. Sites are serviced with tent pads, fire rings, picnic tables and hot-water bathroom and shower facilities. (Nightly rates are $16 for RV sites and $9-$11 for tent sites. Three trailside primitive sites run $8-$10; a primitive lakeside group site is $2 per person.)
If the life of luxury at a beautiful spot interests you, the park has one three-bedroom, fully furnished cabin, complete with a private boat dock ($93-$201/nightly). S.C. state parks use a reservation system; reach it at www.southcarolinaparks.com or 866-345-7275.
Ready to walk? There are there are three trails, two of which are accessed from the visitor center. The Natural Bridge Trail is a moderate 1.5-mile loop that meanders through beautiful terrain. Unexpected vistas include rock outcroppings and beautiful Poe Creek, complete with a small waterfall. More adventuresome hiker can connect with the Raven Rock Trail and add 4 miles to the excursion. A half-mile trail leads from the main campground to the lake.
A day-use area is also a draw: You’ll find picnic tables with grills as well as five large shelters that can be rented. Other park activities include swimming (at your own risk), geocaching and bird watching. Seasonal wildflowers abound, including some rare species. Biking is also allowed on the park’s roadways and the campground loop seems to attract kids who aspire to be future Tour de France winners.
Park admission: free. Details: www.southcarolinaparks.com.
Along the way...
For hikers, the Foothills Trail is accessible nearby. Its 76 miles run from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park. The trail (www.foothilstrail.org) is popular year-round and offers stunning views. The other seven state parks along S.C. 11 are also worthy of exploration. Table Rock and Devils Fork are the closest to Keowee-Toxaway. Details: www.southcarolinaparks.com.
If you’re hungry/thirsty...
There are not a lot of nearby options other than service station fare. Your best bet for grub and beverages is the Keowee Towne Market, which operates a grocery and a deli/café just 3 miles from the park entrance. Menu items range from sandwiches and wraps to salads, pizzas and dinner entrees. Summer hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Details: www.keoweetowne.net.