South Carolina is a treasure trove of picturesque landscapes, charming towns, and rich history waiting to be explored. The best road trips in South Carolina offer a perfect way to experience the Palmetto State’s diverse offerings. Travel from the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the sandy shores of Hilton Head Island.
The bottom line? South Carolina offers unforgettable adventures worthy of a road trip.
We’ve handpicked several routes that cater to various interests, whether you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or beach lover. Along the way, you’ll discover intimate glimpses into South Carolina’s culture and local flavors. You will also find local intricate ecosystems through its scenic byways and winding coastal routes.
Embrace the spontaneity of these road trips as you uncover hidden gems and create lasting memories.
Top Road Trip Routes in South Carolina
South Carolina, known as the Palmetto State, offers a variety of scenic road trip routes. Three of the most popular routes include Charleston to Savannah, Greenville to Asheville, and the Coastal Highway Near Myrtle Beach.
Charleston to Savannah
The drive from Charleston to Savannah takes you on a picturesque journey through the Lowcountry. After all, why compare Charleston vs. Savannah to choose one when you can visit both? Along the way, you can explore historic plantations, charming small towns, and beautiful marshes. Some highlights include:
- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: This historic plantation near Charleston offers stunning gardens, a wildlife center, and guided tours.
- Beaufort: A quaint waterfront town with antebellum mansions, art galleries, and delicious seafood restaurants, Beaufort is located on one of the largest Sea Islands in the Southeast.
- Hilton Head Island: Known for its beautiful beaches, golf courses, and the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse, Hilton Head Island is one of our favorite places to visit.
The entire trip is approximately 108 miles (174km), or about a 2-hour drive. While I95 runs near the coastline in South Carolina, visiting Beaufort or Hilton Head will add several hours to your trip. The coastal topography is such that getting from one coastal town to another often requires driving back inland and then back toward the coast.
When it comes to considering the best road trips in South Carolina, Charleston to Savannah is one of the best.
Greenville to Asheville
The Blue Ridge Mountains are absolutely stunning. Still, many people don’t realize that the mountain range extends from North Carolina into South Carolina. This road trip is ideal for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for hiking, waterfall exploration, and picturesque overlooks.
This is a fantastic route during peak foliage season. Key stops include:
- Caesars Head State Park: A perfect place for hiking and admiring incredible mountain views.
- Table Rock State Park: A popular destination for hiking, picnicking, and breathtaking vistas. Lake Oolenoy sits below the Table Rock Mountain peaks, offering beautiful contrast and a multitude of potential activities.
- Chimney Rock State Park: This is the only North Carolina state park on our list. The park features an elevator ride or climb to a 315-foot freestanding rock spire named Chimney Rock.
Greenville, South Carolina, is only about 60 miles from Asheville. It’s a short drive if you take a direct route. Even so, you must weave away from the main route to visit the different state parks listed above. You could turn this hour drive into a day or two-long trip if you want to go hiking or do other activities at the state parks.
Coastal Highway Near Myrtle Beach
The Myrtle Beach extended strip is a shorter drive that allows you to explore the best of South Carolina’s coastal offerings. For those visiting the Myrtle Beach area, this is a great alternative activity when you need a break from the beach and boardwalk.
Start north of the boardwalk near Ocean Drive Beach in North Myrtle Beach and cruise along the coast down Highway 17 to Murrells Inlet, where there is plenty to explore. Some of the popular attractions near Murrells Inlet include:
- Huntington State Park: A beautiful park with access to 3 miles of pristine beaches, nature trails, and historic landmarks. Huntington State Park features campsites and is 25 minutes south of the Myrtle Beach boardwalk.
- Brookgreen Gardens: A majestic sculpture garden and wildlife preserve, perfect for a relaxing stroll, Brookgreen Gardens is a few minutes away from Huntington State Park.
- Murrells Inlet MarshWalk: A half-mile wooden boardwalk along the marsh with stunning views and vibrant local restaurants, the MarshWalk is a nice alternative to the more hectic Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.
Cruising down the coast is always a good idea on a sunny day, and Murrells Inlet offers a nice contrast to the more traditional tourist activities located up the road in Myrtle Beach.
Scenic Drives and Byways
South Carolina features unique geologies and natural beauty that many might find surprising. From the Blue Ridge Mountains down to the saltwater marshes in the Lowcountry, South Carolina offers a plethora of potential road trips. Here are a few more scenic drives and byways worth considering:
Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway
The Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC-11) is a breathtaking route spanning over 120 miles. It runs parallel to the Blue Ridge Mountains, so it is stunning. This scenic drive takes you through a world of contrasts, from the rolling hills and beautiful forests to serene lakes and charming small towns.
During your journey, you will encounter a variety of picturesque sites, including several historic landmarks, beautiful parks, and stunning overlooks offering panoramic views of peach orchards, the mountain range, and more. Along this byway, you will find access to over 120 waterfalls!
Lowcountry and Resort Islands
The Lowcountry region of South Carolina is known for its cultural richness, stunning coastline, and beautiful resort islands, such as Hilton Head Island. A drive through this area offers us the chance to experience the unique Gullah culture, incredible beaches, and a wide variety of wildlife – including dolphins and alligators.
Some must-visit destinations in this region include the historic towns of Beaufort, Bluffton, and Port Royal. While driving through these enchanting towns, we can marvel at the antebellum architecture, explore the art scene, and indulge in the local flavors of delicious Lowcountry cuisine.
Bluffton is one of my personal favorites. The town sits along the Bluffton River, offering waterfront views that are just as beautiful, but perhaps more peaceful than the ocean.
Congaree National Park and Surrounds
Conagaree National Park is an incredible ecosystem boasting the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. The park offers a multitude of activities, such as hiking, canoeing, and birdwatching. Still, the Synchronous Fireflies might be the main event.
There are more than 2,000 species of synchronous fireflies worldwide, but only three of those are found in North America. Fortunately for you, some of these fireflies call the Conagree National Park home. Each year, for about two weeks around the end of May, the fireflies flash in synchronization as they search for mates. And it is awe-inspiring.
Near Congaree National Park, you’ll come across charming small towns with unique histories, such as the capital city of Columbia and the antebellum town of Camden. And really, that is just getting started.
South Carolina’s scenic drives and byways offer a diverse range of experiences and landscapes. From the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains to the serene Lowcountry, we are sure to be captivated by the natural beauty and cultural heritage of this enchanting state.
Beaches and Coastal Activities
South Carolina is home to some of the most pristine and beautiful beaches in the country. In this section, we’ll explore some popular coastal destinations and activities, including Folly Beach and Leamington Lighthouse at Hilton Head Island.
Folly Beach, nicknamed “The Edge of America,” offers a laid-back atmosphere with long stretches of sandy beaches. You won’t be disappointed by the abundance of activities available on this barrier island, from surfing and fishing to simply enjoying the sun and surf. Make sure to sample some delicious fresh seafood at the numerous local restaurants.
Charleston proper has no beaches, but Folly Beach is only about 20 miles away. For this reason, I like to think of Folly Beach as Charleston’s beach. And if you are looking for the best road trips in South Carolina, exploring the coast near Charleston has to be on the list.
We recommend that you stop to stretch your legs in Folly Beach, where there are great coastal eats on the main strip, and the pier stretches 1,000 feet into the ocean.
Hilton Head Island
For those seeking a more peaceful and private beach experience, Hilton Head Island is the perfect choice. Home to the iconic Leamington Lighthouse, a picturesque destination in its own right, the island also boasts some of the best beaches in South Carolina. And the Harbourtown Lighthouse might be better known than Leamington!
Whether you compare Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head vs. nearby Tybee Island, we are certain you will love the wealth of outdoor activities. These fun activities range from golfing and tennis to biking and kayaking.
Waterfalls and Natural Wonders
South Carolina is home to several breathtaking waterfalls and natural wonders that should definitely be on your bucket list. In this section, we’ll explore some of the must-see spots. When planning road trips in South Carolina, waterfalls are a must.
Walhalla and Issaqueena Falls
Nestled in the hills of Walhalla, the stunning Issaqueena Falls is a sight to behold. With a height of over 100 feet, the cascading water offers an awe-inspiring experience. To reach the falls, you’ll take a short, easy hike leading straight to the viewing platform. Enjoy the majestic view and listen to the soothing sounds of the waterfall.
Issqueena Falls is accessible from Stumphouse Park, which offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and even a tunnel that was once part of an unfinished railroad project. This makes for an exciting adventure as we immerse ourselves in South Carolina’s natural beauty.
Carrick Creek Falls and Jones Gap State Park
Located within Table Rock State Park, Carrick Creek Falls is another breathtaking destination for our South Carolina waterfalls road trip. A short hike from the park’s main entrance will bring us to the base of this multi-tiered waterfall, which is surrounded by lush greenery.
Spend some time admiring the beauty of Carrick Creek Falls before heading to Jones Gap State Park, which is less than 30 minutes away.
Jones Gap State Park offers a variety of hiking trails, including the popular Middle Saluda River Trail. This scenic trail meanders along the river and provides stunning views of several smaller waterfalls. As you explore the park, you’ll enjoy wildflowers, crystal-clear streams, and lush forests, making this a perfect stop on our waterfall-focused road trip.
Wildcat Branch Falls and Twin Falls
Our next stop is Wildcat Branch Falls, situated just off Highway 11. This easily accessible waterfall offers a picturesque scene with its 30-foot drop and surrounding greenery. While visiting Wildcat Wayside, we can also take the opportunity to explore the nearby trails and discover smaller cascades hidden within the woods.
Finally, visit Twin Falls, also known as Reedy Cove Falls, which is about 30 minutes from Wildcat Branch Falls. This unique double waterfall is a must-see. A short, moderately challenging hike will lead you to a viewing platform where you can marvel at the power and beauty of this natural wonder.
So, are there waterfalls in South Carolina worth seeing? Absolutely. The next time you consider road trips in South Carolina, add some of these waterfalls to your itinerary.
Small Towns and Cultural Experiences
Beyond the picturesque beaches, mountains, and waterfalls, some of the best road trips in South Carolina involve visiting small towns.
Brookgreen Gardens and Murrells Inlet
Murrells Inlet is a charming fishing village along the South Carolina coast, offering fantastic views and activities. This small town is known for its beautiful marshscapes and fresh seafood. We can also visit the nearby Brookgreen Gardens, which is an extraordinary collection of American sculptures and botanical displays. With various plants and wildlife, it’s a perfect escape into nature.
Cheraw and Jazz Music
Cheraw is another small South Carolina town with a rich heritage and vibrant cultural scene. Home to jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, Cheraw deeply connects to this musical genre. You can explore the quaint streets and historic architecture or attend local jazz events, which carry on the town’s proud tradition of music and arts.
Travelers Rest and Walterboro
Travelers Rest is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts because of its proximity to the Greenville Watershed and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This small town offers stunning views and a variety of activities such as hiking, biking, and fishing.
Nestled in the heart of the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, Walterboro is another must-visit destination. Known for its sleepy pace of life and charming hospitality, Walterboro features a picturesque historic district with antique shops and beautiful live oaks.
As we venture through these small towns, we get to appreciate the history, culture, and natural beauty South Carolina has to offer.
Road Trips in South Carolina – Tips & Considerations
In considering the best road trips in South Carolina, you should do proper planning, including deciding on the best time to visit.
Best Times to Visit
While planning your South Carolina road trip, it’s crucial to consider the best times to visit this beautiful state. South Carolina has a pleasant climate with mild winters and hot summers, making spring and fall ideal for enjoying outdoor activities and exploring national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains.
If you’re interested in visiting popular attractions like Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head Island, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October to experience fewer crowds and pleasant weather.
Where to Stay and Eat
On your journey through South Carolina, finding comfortable accommodations and delicious local cuisine is essential. Our recommendations for lodging options range from charming bed and breakfasts to well-known hotel chains. In cities like Charleston and Savannah, we suggest staying at centrally located boutique hotels and inns, allowing for easy exploration of historic downtown districts.
Regarding dining, South Carolina offers an array of mouth-watering options, including traditional Southern cuisine, fresh seafood, and world-class barbecue. Be sure to stop at local restaurants and roadside stands to fully experience the flavors of the region.
One thing is for certain: There is no shortage of fantastic options as you look at road trips in South Carolina!