Roughly 30 miles northwest of Columbia, Dreher Island State Park provides a variety of enjoyable ways to spend time at 50,000-acre Lake Murray: Boating, fishing, swimming, and even scuba diving are top-notch activities.
What’s the draw?
The park is a series of three small islands on the north side of Lake Murray that cover 348 acres and give ready access to 12 miles of shoreline. Most recreational activities are naturally centered on the lake itself, but the park also includes two interesting hiking trails, good picnic and playground facilities and opportunities for idyllic camping experiences. Proactive planning might secure reservations at one of the park’s desirable lakeside villas.
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Lake Murray is a prime destination for boaters, with three boat ramps providing quick access to the water. In-water refueling is available. Fishing on the lake or along the shoreline commonly yields largemouth bass, catfish, yellow perch and other species (S.C. fishing license is required). The park features three shelters specifically intended for fishing tournament use. Shelters can be reserved in advance by contacting the park office. Swimming is permitted in Lake Murray, but the park has no designated swimming area with lifeguards; all swimming is at your own risk. Scuba diving is also allowed, but no rental equipment is available at the park; registration at the park office is required before beginning this activity.
Adventures away from the lake include bird watching and wildlife viewing. The park hosts a high population of purple martins during the summer; egrets, osprey, and Canadian geese are also frequently seen. Less often, bald eagles are sometimes spotted. White-tailed deer, Eastern fox squirrels and a variety of turtles make their home on the islands. (Some reptiles you won’t see at Lake Murray? Alligators!) There are picnic shelters and three playgrounds in different areas of the park.
The only hiking trail of any length is the Little Gap Trail, a 2.1-mile trek that winds through a mixture of pines and hardwoods at the most secluded end of the park. The short Dreher Nature Trail loops around the former homesite of Billy Dreher, who owned the land on which the park is located.
Realtors say that location is everything, and all the campsites at Dreher Island are excellently located with scenic views of the lake. Ninety-seven paved sites are suitable for either RVs or tents, and 15 sites are for tents only. All sites have water, electrical hook-ups and a picnic table.
If camping’s not your thing but you still want to spend the night in a natural setting, try booking one of the park’s five lakeside villas, nicely appointed with bathrooms, heating and air conditioning, gas fire logs, satellite TV, screened porches, linens, basic cooking and eating utensils and a microwave. Complimentary WI-FI, too! Two two-bedroom and three three-bedroom units are available.
Harbison State Forest, nine miles northwest of Columbia, is one of five S.C. state forests. Within its 2,100-plus acres are more than 30 miles of easy-to-difficult hiking trails and access to the Broad River for canoeing and kayaking. A $5 parking pass is required; proceeds are used to maintain and improve trails. Info: www.state.sc.us/forest/refharb.htm.
Dreher Island State Park is open dawn to dusk, daily. Admission: $2; 15 and younger, free. Day-visitor hours: Dawn to dusk, daily. The park store sells basic grocery items, ice and fishing and camping supplies. Pets are allowed in the park, except in the villas and villa areas, but must be kept under physical restraint or on a leash of 6 feet or less. Campsite and villa reservations can be made online or by calling 866-345-7275. Standard campsites and tent sites rent for $23-$26 per night; villas rent for $105-$206. Info: www.southcarolinaparks.com/dreherisland.
The S.C. State Museum (www.scmuseum.org) is one of many attractions in the capital city with exhibits related to history, art, science and technology, and nature on display. Admission charged.
The Columbia Museum of Art (www.columbiamuseum.org) showcases objects from around the globe but also has such iconic American pieces as Frederic Remington’s bronze “Bronco Buster” and Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Gen. George Washington.
Riverbanks Zoo (www.riverbanks.org) is not only home to more than 2,000 animals from six continents but also features a 70-acre botanical garden with 4,200 species of native and exotic plants.
History buffs can visit the state capitol grounds – free tours given on Saturdays – or see the boyhood home of President Woodrow Wilson (www.historiccolumbia.org).
Columbia eateries include the cozy Alodia’s Cucina Italiana (www.alodias.com), the comfortable California Dreaming in historic Union Station (www.californiadreaming.co), and the contemporary Cola’s Restaurant (www.colasrestaurant.com).
Area info: www.columbiacvb.com.