North-central South Carolina was the scene of several significant battles of the American Revolution. Camden was actually an important garrison for British general Lord Cornwallis, and the battle of Kings Mountain, many people believe, was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Battles of another sort are regularly waged these days on Darlington's raceway here, as stock cars engage in fierce competition.
Lake Murray & Irmo
Ten miles from Columbia, this bustling suburb offers one of the crown jewels of South Carolina -- Lake Murray, a premier recreational area covering more than 500 miles of shoreline. When the 1 1/2-mile-long earthen dam was constructed to create a lake in 1927 (completed in 1930), it was the largest earthen dam in the world. Owned by South Carolina Electric and Gas, the power-generating plant below the dam provides electricity for the entire Midlands region.
Offering boating, swimming, fishing, and a variety of watersports, Lake Murray is also recognized for hosting major fishing tournaments such as Bassmasters and the FLW tour. The swimming area on the Lexington side of the dam is open from the first week in April to the last weekend in September, daily 10am to 8pm. The cost is $3 per vehicle. A boat ramp area that also provides picnic tables is located on the Irmo side of the dam and is open 24 hours a day. A fishing pier is also available. The entrance fee is $3 per car. You must have a fishing license to fish on Lake Murray (age 16 and older), even from the pier. You can purchase a 7-day license for $11 on the Lexington side of the dam at Lake World, 1757 N. Lake Dr. (tel. 803/957-6548). For more information about boat rentals, watersports equipment providers, or fishing guides, contact Capital City/Lake Murray Country, 2184 N. Lake Dr. (tel. 866/SC-JEWEL [725-3935] or 803/781-5940; www.lakemurraymarinasc.com).
Named by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the top 10 food festivals in the U.S., the Okra Strut (tel. 803/781-6122; www.irmookrastrut.com) draws 40,000 to 80,000 visitors to Irmo each fall. Held in late September or early October, the 2-day festival features food, arts and crafts, a parade, a street dance, rides, a petting zoo, a golf tournament, a cycling ride, and a 10km run across Lake Murray Dam. Proceeds of the festival benefit the community and provide scholarships and civic improvements.
Stock-car fans in the thousands invade Darlington (70 miles northeast of Columbia via I-20 and U.S. 52/401) in May for NASCAR's Dodge Charger 500 race. The Darlington County Chamber of Commerce, 38 Public Sq., Darlington, SC 29540 (tel. 888/427-8720 or 843/339-9511; www.visitdarlingtoncounty.org), can furnish detailed information on racing as well as on sightseeing in this area. Hours are Monday to Friday 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm.
If you arrive between the year's two main races, hike over to the NMPA Stock Car Hall of Fame/Joe Weatherly Museum (tel. 843/395-8821; www.darlingtonraceway.com) at the Darlington Raceway, 1 mile west of town on S.C. 34. It holds the world's largest collection of stock cars. Hours are 9am to 5pm daily, and admission is $5 (free for kids 12 and under).
Local Fish Camps -- This is fish-camp country. Very often, you'll find down-home fish dinners (all you can eat for practically nothing) in rustic cafes on unpaved side roads. Stop at a gas station, grocery store, or some other local shop, and just ask; everybody has a favorite, and it's often worth a detour. A good place to begin your search is Route 6 (Porter Rd.). The best time to show up is on a Friday or Saturday night.
York is at the heart of South Carolina's northern Piedmont. To get here from Columbia, take I-77 North to Rock Hill, then S.C. 5 about 15 miles northwest to York. The Department of the Interior has granted York one of the largest historic districts in the United States. The restored downtown area is filled with specialty shops -- in all, 180 historical structures and landmarks. Get a detailed map from the Greater York Chamber of Commerce, 23 E. Liberty St. (PO Box 97), York, SC 29745 (tel. 803/684-2590; www.greateryorkchamber.com), open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Nearby Historic Brattonsville, 1444 Brattonsville Rd., McConnells (tel. 803/684-2327), is a restored Southern village of 18th- and 19th-century buildings. To reach it, take U.S. 321 South from York or S.C. 322 from Rock Hill. Restorations include a dirt-floor backwoodsman's cabin, a 1750s frontier home, an authentic antebellum plantation home, hand-hewn log storage buildings, and a brick slave cabin. It's open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 5pm. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for children 5 to 17, and free for children 4 and under. Several buildings on the site were used to film the Mel Gibson Revolutionary War epic, The Patriot.
Just across the border from North Carolina, Kings Mountain Military Park (tel. 864/936-7921; www.nps.gov/kimo) marks the site of the Revolutionary War battle that was crucial to the eventual colonial victory. The park is on I-85, 20 miles northeast of Gaffney; from York, take S.C. 5 northwest for about 20 miles.
The southern Appalachians were virtually undisturbed by the war until 1780, when British major Patrick Ferguson, who had threatened to "lay the country waste with fire and sword," set up camp here with a large Loyalist force. In spite of wave after wave of British bayonet charges, the ill-trained and outnumbered colonists converged on Kings Mountain and kept advancing on Ferguson's men until they took the summit. You can see relics and a diorama of the battle at the visitor center. It's open every day of the year (except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day) from 9am to 5pm (Sat-Sun 9am-6pm Memorial Day to Labor Day); admission is free.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.