21 Fun Day Trips From Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia, South Carolina, is a nice city with plenty to see and do. It also makes a great jumping off point to explore more of the region. Dive in to discover the best day trips from Columbia, South Carolina.

From historic sites to natural wonders, there’s something for everyone within a few hours’ drive of the city.

In this article, I highlight some of the top destinations to visit, including nearby state parks, charming small towns, and barrier island beaches.

lake in a city park in front of a skyline

So pack your day bag, buckle up, and get ready for a fun-filled day exploring the best of what South Carolina has to offer.

The day trip ideas in this article are arranged in order of distance from Columbia (from the closest to the farthest). All are a drive of under 3 hours (most are quite a bit less). And distances are calculated from the Main Street district.

Listed drive times are approximations. The time it takes you to drive to the suggested day trip destination will depend upon several factors including your exact starting point, the time of day, weather, etc.

And some of these day trip suggestions are rather close to each other, so you could even combine a couple of destinations, spending half a day at each. For example, you could visit the Charleston Tea Garden before spending the rest of the day in Charleston.

Plan the perfect trip with this free printable travel planner.

This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See disclaimer.

Sesquicentennial State Park

Distance from Columbia: 13 miles
Approximate drive time: 20+ minutes

Sesquicentennial State Park (good friends call her Sesqui) is just a short drive from Columbia and is the perfect spot for a day trip.

If you’re a first-time visitor to the park, you might want to consider taking a walk on the two-mile Sandhills Trail. The trail is mostly flat and paved, making it an easy trek for all ages. You’ll get to see the park’s day-use area and pass by the CCC spillway system that looks like waterfalls.

The trail also takes you through the forest with boardwalks to keep you safely above any swampy areas. So, if you’re up for a nice stroll around the lake and a chance to see some of the park’s highlights, the Sandhills Trail is definitely worth checking out.

This park also features the only splash pad in a South Carolina state park, boat rentals, picnic pavilions, camp sites and more.

Congaree National Park

old-growth trees in Congaree National Park

Distance from Columbia: 19 miles

Approximate drive time: 30 minute

Congaree is one of the top National Parks in the South and is absolutely one of my top choices among day trips from Columbia, South Carolina. It’s not far at all, just about a 30 minute drive, and it’s the only National Park in the state.

We love its unique landscape of old-growth hardwood forests and wetlands. The park’s boardwalk loop trail is an easy way for hikers (or walkers) to explore the area, while those looking for more of a challenge can take on some of the longer trails.

For more information, see my article about hiking in Congaree National Park.

For adventurers who prefer water activities, kayaking or canoeing through Cedar Creek Canoe Trail offers a 15-mile journey through the Congaree Wilderness.

mockup image of a free printable travel planner

Ninety-Six National Historic Site

Distance from Columbia: 73 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ninety Six National Historic Site is a great day trip destination for those who enjoy National Park Service historic sites.

The site of Ninety Six holds historical significance as it marks the location of two important events in American history. In 1775, it was the site of the first land battle of the American Revolution south of New England. Six years later, in 1781, it was the location of a Revolutionary War battle that is commemorated at the site today.

The museum and bookstore are open for visitors to peruse, and guided tours of the battle site are available. Additionally, visitors can view a full-size replica of a Revolutionary War earthwork.

One of the main attractions is the Star Fort, which was completed in early 1781 and remains remarkably well-preserved, serving as a prime example of an 18th-century fortification.

Augusta, Georgia

Augusta, Georgia, USA downtown scene at River Walk.

Distance from Columbia: 76 miles

Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Although Augusta, Georgia, is renowned globally for hosting the prestigious Masters golf tournament, there is much more to this charming town beyond Augusta National.

Visitors of all ages can find plenty of activities to enjoy, such as exploring the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area and its scenic trails, or taking a leisurely stroll along the picturesque Augusta Riverwalk.

For a lesson in local history, visit the Augusta Museum of History or the Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson.

Alternatively, art enthusiasts can appreciate the works on display at the Morris Museum of Art, the oldest museum in the U.S. dedicated to Southern American art and artists.

Charlotte, North Carolina

city street in Charlotte North Carolina

Distance from Columbia: 95 miles

Approximate drive time: 1 hour 30 minutes

If you’re seeking a big city experience, Charlotte, North Carolina, may be worth the drive. The Queen City offers a wealth of activities to suit diverse interests.

Take a leisurely stroll around the picturesque Romare Bearden Park or visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame for an adrenaline-filled adventure.

For families, the SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord aquarium or Carowinds amusement park are popular options.

Explore Uptown’s Liberty Walk or take a tranquil walk through the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens.

Another notable attraction is the Billy Graham Library, which offers an insightful glimpse into the life and legacy of the renowned evangelist.

For some zippy fun, explore Charlotte’s Uptown with this guided Segway tour.

Or learn more about Charlotte with this small group tour aboard a 7-person golf cart.

Kings Mountain National Military Park

National Park service sign that says Kings Mountain National Military Park Visitor Center 1 mile

Distance from Columbia: 100 miles 

Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Kings Mountain National Military Park is a vital site in the history of the American Revolution, preserving the location of a pivotal battle.

After the British invasion of Charleston in May 1780, Kings Mountain was where the patriots secured their first significant triumph.

At the Visitor Center, guests can watch a half-hour film about the battle and view a museum showcasing a range of weapons. Don’t forget to check out the bookstore as well.

Experience the battlefield firsthand by walking along the 1.5-mile trail, or explore the park’s hiking and horse trails.

Greenville, South Carolina

suspension bridge over a small river

Distance from Columbia: 105 miles

Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Greenville, the largest city in Upstate South Carolina, is a feast for the senses and a haven for food enthusiasts.

Its lively arts scene and impressive array of award-winning restaurants offer something for everyone, ensuring an unforgettable experience in this charming city.

Full disclosure: I call Greenville my hometown.

Before indulging in the shopping and dining options on Main Street, take a leisurely walk along the picturesque Reedy River and explore Falls Park on the Reedy.

Art lovers can appreciate the stunning artworks at the Greenville County Museum of Art, while those seeking entertainment can catch a performance at the wonderful Peace Center.

Explore the best of this city with a guided Segway tour.

Learn more about how to spend one day in Greenville, South Carolina.

Charleston, South Carolina

Beautiful houses along the Battery in Charleston

Distance from Columbia: 115 miles
Approximate drive time: 2 hours

Although I would recommend you spend at least a weekend in Charleston, it is also very doable to explore the Holy City as a day trip from Columbia. 

Charleston is a city steeped in history, boasting several noteworthy sites such as the Aiken-Rhett House and the Historic Market.

The city is also known for its stunning architecture, including near Waterfront Park and along the Battery.

Foodies will love the wide range of culinary options available, including the popular waterfront restaurant, Fleet Landing. And don’t miss the delicious Carmella’s Dessert Bar, perfect for a coffee or sweet treat. 

For more details, check out our post about how to spend one day in Charleston

For more about why we love Charleston, read our Charleston vs Savannah post.

Build the ideal lowcountry road trip with this Charleston and Savannah itinerary.

Cowpens National Battlefield

Distance from Columbia: 115 miles 

Approximate drive time: 2 hours

Cowpens National Battlefield is a great day trip destination from Columbia, South Carolina. The Battle of Cowpens, which was one of the crucial battles contributing to the achievement of American independence, is commemorated by the park.

Exploration of the battlefield trails, participation in interpretive programs, and education about the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution are some of the opportunities available to visitors.

Additionally, visitors can stop by the Visitor Center to watch a battle-themed film, view the museum exhibits, and shop at the bookstore.

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Folly Beach, South Carolina

Distance from Columbia: 125 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Folly Island, a barrier island near Charleston, is just a 20-minute drive away from the Holy City and offers a perfect beach escape. This combines really well with a visit to Charleston. I’ve done it multiple times.

Popular activities include swimming, fishing, kayaking, and observing the island’s natural wildlife.

Visitors have been known to spot loggerhead turtles, bald eagles, rookeries of pelican breeding colonies, and even dolphins.

In addition to the beach, Folly Beach County Park is an ideal location for a relaxing picnic. Visitors can also explore Center Street in Folly Beach, which is home to numerous restaurants, surf shops, and gift shops selling fun souvenirs.

Table Rock State Park

short waterfall over layered rocks in Table Rock State Park South Carolina

Distance from Columbia: 130 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Table Rock State Park is a beloved outdoor destination in Upstate South Carolina. With an impressive 3,000 acres featuring mountainous landscapes, it comes as no surprise that this beautiful park continues to attract both locals and tourists.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, the park offers trails that cater to all skill levels.

The top things to do at Table Rock State Park include,

  • Climbing Table Rock
  • Hike Lakeside Trail
  • Fishing
  • Enjoy live bluegrass music at “Music on the Mountain”

Edisto Island, South Carolina

a long pier stretching out over the ocean

Distance from Columbia: 130 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yes, there are a lot of islands off the South Carolina coast around Charleston. An island worth visiting if you’re spending time in the area is Edisto. 

Edisto Island is a great place to unwind and enjoy beach, water, and island activities. Visitors can indulge in kayaking, biking, beachcombing, bird watching, playing golf, and more.

And don’t miss Botany Bay Plantation or Edisto Beach State Park, one of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina.

Charleston Tea Garden, Wadmalaw Island

Distance from Columbia: 135 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Charleston Tea Garden is one of the most popular day trips in the Charleston area.

The garden is situated on Wadmalaw Island and produces the sole tea brand made entirely from American-grown tea.

The free factory tour lets you see the equipment and the entire production line, with videos illustrating the various tea-making processes at America’s only tea factory.

After the factory tour, take a paid trolley ride (30-40 minutes) among the many acres of tea bushes, including a stop at the marvelous greenhouse. The greenhouse is where tiny new tea bushes are born and prepared for planting in the garden.

Flat Rock, North Carolina

Distance from Columbia: 135 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours

Flat Rock, North Carolina, is a great day trip destination that provides plenty of activities to enjoy.

In the fall, head to Sky Top Orchard for a fun-filled family outing where you can pick apples to your heart’s content.

Make sure to also pay a visit to the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, where you can get a fascinating insight into the life of one of America’s most notable poets and historians. Then catch a show at Flat Rock Playhouse.

Caesars Head State Park

view from Caesars Head lookout in South Carolina

Distance from Columbia: 135 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 35 minutes

Experience the great outdoors in a truly exceptional way by visiting Caesars Head State Park. This park boasts a range of activities, from hiking to taking in breathtaking views.

With multiple trails to choose from, each with varying degrees of difficulty, you’ll be able to pick the perfect hike for you.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or simply looking to explore, Caesars Head State Park caters to all skill levels with trails ranging from short, one-mile hikes to more challenging six-mile treks.

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

Distance from Columbia: 137 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park offers visitors insight into this important period in American history, particularly through the lens of the people of South Carolina’s Beaufort County.

The Battle at Port Royal Sound in November 1861 resulted in the U.S. Army triumphing and taking control of Beaufort County, ultimately bringing it under Union control.

As a result, plantation owners fled. This left over 10,000 enslaved individuals behind, left to navigate their newfound freedom in uncertain circumstances.

President Lincoln’s administration launched the Port Royal Experiment in Beaufort County with the aim of aiding emancipated individuals in achieving economic independence. This initiative marked the birth of Reconstruction.

The park is made up of four main sites:

  • Beaufort National Historic Landmark District (and park Visitor Center)
  • Camp Saxton
  • Brick Baptist Church (active congregation to typically not open for visitors)
  • Penn Center

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Distance from Columbia: 140 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Renowned for its natural splendor, Kiawah Island boasts a ten-mile expanse of pristine, white sandy beaches, miles of scenic trails, and world-class golf courses that epitomize luxury hospitality.

This island is renowned for its preservation of local fauna, flora, dunes, and marshes, making it an ideal location for those wishing to immerse themselves in the beauty of the natural world.

Jones Gap State Park

Distance from Columbia: 150 miles 

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Jones Gap State Park is a perfect destination for a day trip from Columbia that’s full of natural beauty. It’s located in Marietta in Upstate South Carolina.

Visit the lush park in Upstate South Carolina to enjoy the region’s natural beauty. The park offers over 60 miles of trails through pristine woodlands, perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and picnicking.

Asheville, North Carolina

large stone house with a large green lawn and tourists roaming around

Distance from Columbia: 160 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Asheville is one of the best places to enjoy a day trip from Columbia, South Carolina. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Asheville is home to great dining and the world renowned Biltmore Estate.

Plan the perfect day trip with my one-day Biltmore itinerary.

Asheville is a delightful destination to visit year-round, but autumn holds a special allure. Thanks to the abundance of deciduous trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, this region enjoys an extended season of stunning fall colors.

Explore Asheville’s street art with this group tour.

Or paddle the French Broad River with this guided kayak trip.

If you have the time, turn your Asheville adventure into a weekend getaway at one of the city’s lovely hotels. Hubby and I especially love the Inn on Biltmore Estate.

Savannah, Georgia

Distance from Columbia: 160 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

The city of Savannah offers a rich historical and cultural atmosphere. You will also find some of the best restaurants in the Southeastern U.S.

When in Savannah, be sure to take a stroll along River Street, visit the Cathedral and Basilica of St. John the Baptist, explore the city market, and indulge in some delicious ice cream at Leopold’s.

If you enjoy a good history walking tour, I highly recommend Genteel & Bard.

For more ideas, make sure to check out my post all about how to spend one day in Savannah, Georgia.

Enjoy the perfect Lowcountry road trip with this Charleston and Savannah itinerary.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

People on a Hilton Head Island beach in the sun

Distance from Columbia: 160 miles

Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Hilton Head Island is absolutely one of my favorite places to visit. 

It boasts one of the top 10 family beaches in the U.S., where you can enjoy activities like swimming, boat cruises, and deep-sea fishing.

Families can also enjoy biking, miniature golf, great dining options and more.

Coligny Beach is a popular public beach which features a long stretch of white sand beach and crystal-clear water, making it an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, and playing in the sand. There’s free parking nearby and a small shopping area too.

mockup image of a free printable travel planner

Final thoughts on day trips from Columbia, SC

Columbia, South Carolina, is an excellent base for taking day trips to a variety of destinations.

For those seeking some relaxation, the islands of Kiawah and Hilton Head offer beautiful beaches and a chance to unwind.

For history buffs, a visit to the Revolutionary War Cowpens battlefield or the Reconstruction Era Historic site are musts.

Outdoor enthusiasts can head to the mountains and explore Table Rock State Park or drive down to nearby, swampy Congaree National Park.

And finally, for those who want to experience city life, Charlotte and Charleston both offer a range of activities, from shopping and dining to museums. 

Whatever your interests, Columbia is an excellent starting point for exploring all that South Carolina and the surrounding areas have to offer.

What’s your favorite day trip from Columbia, SC? Let me know in the comments!

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