In far less enlightened times, Pleasant Ridge Park was built as the African American counterpart to the whites-only Paris Mountain State Park in the 1940s. Thankfully, all of us now have the ability to enjoy both, regardless of ethnicity. Today the park is the home of a roller coaster of a six-mile mountain bike loop, a mountain lake which might be the closest place to Greenville to snag a cold water-loving mountain trout, and hiking trails that feature the remains of long-abandoned mountain moonshine operations. Even better, the Pleasant Ridge Camp and Retreat Center is home to a program that offers camping and outdoor experiences for youth and adults with special needs and other disabilities as well as children battling cancer.
Aside from the waterfall at Falls Park in the heart of Downtown Greenville, the Reedy River struggles to impress. It is just shallow and narrow enough to question if it is qualified to identify as a river, rather than a large creek or stream. Downstream from Greenville, however, the Reedy puts that question to rest at Cedar Falls Park. There, it widens to 200' over boulders and remnants of dams for power plants and grist mills of long-gone generations. As you walk its banks, it is hard to imagine that this is the same water that flows through our city's center and it is nothing short of mind blowing when you first lay eyes on it. Paved and natural hiking trails and a short jaunt to Happy Cow Creamery make the whole experience all the more satisfying.
The covered bridge was a practical invention as the siding and roof would allow a wooden bridge to last a century, versus less than 20 years in the days before steel was readily available. While covered bridges were once a common sight across the globe, Campbell's Covered Bridge is the only one of its kind still standing in South Carolina. Built in 1909, the bridge has been restored twice and is now the centerpiece of a park managed by Greenville Rec. The park invites visitors to picnic, tour the bridge and the remnants of a grist mill that once stood on the property, and cool your toes in Beaverdam Creek which the bridge spans over.
On the list of things that make the Poinsett Bridge significant, one has to wonder where to even begin. It is the oldest bridge in South Carolina and, quite possibly, the Southeast as a whole. Built in 1820 as part of a road connecting Charleston to Tennessee, it was named after Joel Poinsett, a prominent Greenville resident and eventual US ambassador to Mexico. Perhaps most notable is the fact that its architect was Robert Mills who went on to be the architect for a little thing known as the Washington Monument. There is so much history here that it should be a legal requirement for Upstate residents to walk across this bridge at least once in their lives.
On a clear day, you can see Greenville from the overlook at Caesar's Head State Park, an impressive view considering you are almost in North Carolina. An even bigger attraction, however, is Raven Cliff Falls - a 420' waterfall that captures all of nature's untamed beauty in a single plunge. An easy four-mile round trip hike takes you to an overlook to view the falls while a slightly longer 6.6-mile trip puts you on a suspension bridge right over the top of it. Another route gets you there by way of the Dismal Trail which is every bit as imposing as the name suggests.
The bald rock face of Table Rock Mountain is unmistakable and, even if it is only South Carolina's third tallest peak, it is it's most recognizable. The park that houses it offers everything you want from a state park â" swimming, boating, fishing, camping and hiking. Really, though, it is the hike to the summit of Table Rock that brings the most traffic. The view of Greenville's secluded (and well guarded) reservoir from the mountain's pinnacle is not just impressive but also illustrates why Greenville's water quality is some of the best on Earth. After the hike, do not miss the chance for a glass of wine and a sandwich at Victoria Valley Vineyards just a couple of miles from the park's entrance.
There might be no easier way to take in the true beauty of life in the Upstate than a ride on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The former railway turned recreational trail connects the hotbed of Downtown Greenville with its neighbor to the north, Travelers Rest. Between these two bustling communities, you will find Furman University, the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery, residential neighborhoods, and woodlands all along 22 miles of the historic rail bed. Two breweries (Swamp Rabbit Brewery and Birds Fly South Ale Project) are both a stone's throw from the trail because, really, who doesn't enjoy a cold craft beer after a ride?
For serious hiking enthusiasts, Jones Gap State Park is the place to go. More than 60 miles of trails guide you through 13,000 acres of wilderness and some truly spectacular scenery. The park is home to arguably the most rugged trail in the Upstate (the Rim of the Gap) and the prettiest waterfall (Rainbow Falls). Each requires strong legs and lung capacity as they are not for the inexperienced hiker. Families and others looking for a more relaxing day in the woods will still enjoy the rocky path that is the Jones Gap Trail and Jones Gap Falls, each easily accessible from the parking area, picnic tables, and fish hatchery.
Once a polluted, toxic wasteland, Lake Conestee Nature Park is one of the most impressive nature reclamation projects you will ever see. Located just behind the old Greenville Braves stadium, you will find miles of paved, natural, and boardwalk trails around Lake Conestee and the Reedy River. The marshy edge of the lake is a scene reminiscent of a coastal park right here in the Upstate, making this one of the most unique parks in our area. Wildlife abounds with the National Audobon Society designating the park as an Important Bird Area of Global Significance with more than 200 different species being reported there. Take it all in with the aid of viewing towers looking out over the lake, beaver dams, and (on a good day) more birds than you have ever seen in one place.
Paris Mountain State Park is one of the true gems of the Upstate. Just minutes from Downtown Greenville, it is never far in the horizon reminding us of its presence. Once there, you will find miles of hiking trails suitable for all ages and abilities. The mile loop around Lake Placid at the base of the park is perfect for those looking for an easy stroll in the woods while sections of the Sulphur Springs Loop are as challenging as you will find anywhere in the Upstate. Mountain biking, boating, swimming, and camping options are all available making Paris Mountain one-stop shopping for all of its visitors.