Issac Bailey

Native South Carolinians explore state for first time, find resort deep in the woods

From the banks of Lake Thurmond at Hickory Knob State Park in McCormick County.
From the banks of Lake Thurmond at Hickory Knob State Park in McCormick County. Lyric Bailey/courtesy

It was hard getting the kids out of the pool.

We had driven more than four hours on the latest leg of our exploration of South Carolina’s 47 state parks. We’ve already crossed Myrtle Beach and Huntington Beach state parks off the list, as well as Charles Towne Landing and Hunting Island.

This time it was Hickory Knob in McCormick County.

The winding road into the park was only a few miles long but felt longer, it was so deep into the woods. A handful of squirrels refused to yield the right of way and only casually skirted back into the forest of pines as we slowed to pass them.

We were greeted by glimpses of the massive Lake Thurmond as we lost ourselves in what the park accurately describes as a “serene, remote location.”

After we got checked in and settled into our “lodge” rooms, the only ones of their kind in the state park system, the kids rushed to change into bathing suits, giddily anticipating a dash in the pool even though my wife and I craved a good nap.

We had left Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s best known and most visited resort area and its endless pools and the Atlantic Ocean, and found a taste of Myrtle Beach anyway, within a state park on the other side of the state.

Not only was there a pool, there was an impressive clubhouse, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis court and buffet-style restaurant. The pool wasn’t attached to a lazy river and the buffet wasn’t Magnolia’s in Myrtle Beach or Crabby Mike’s in Surfside Beach, but in the middle of a state park in the middle of the woods, they were more than adequate.

We shot some hoops and hit a few tennis balls but didn’t make it to the archery and shooting ranges, primarily because the kids were obsessed with the pool.

I was able to drag them down to the banks of the 71,000-acre Lake Thurmond for awhile, where we spotted a couple of jet skis and small boats and played a game of “who can climb the highest” on a bark-less, dead pine tree, then spied a long line of ants traveling up a healthy one.

We also made it over to neighboring Hamilton Branch State Park. It didn’t include a resort but had a large pavilion area overlooking Lake Thurmond. There, we dipped our feet in the water, the gooey red clay slimming its way between our toes.

On our trip to Hunting Island through Beaufort County, we learned about the Ashepoo, a subtribe of the now extinct Cusabo Native American tribe that once lived in what is now the Charleston area long before European settlers.

On our way home from Hickory Knob, we stopped briefly in Saluda, attracted by a large mural on the side of a building. It included a depiction of the July 2, 1755, signing of the Saluda Treaty.

“Governor Glen obtained from Old Hop and other chiefs of the Cherokee Nation the cession of the territory embraced by the present counties of Spartanburg, Cherokee, west of Broad River, Union, Newberry, Laurens, Greenwood, Abbeville, McCormick Edgefield, Saluda and a part of Aiken,” an inscription read.

In the painting, the Native Americans had lily white faces but red arms. Gov. Glen wore a white wig.

It was a bit disconcerting to see that depiction in the middle of a small town, not far from the birthplace of the late Strom Thurmond, the beloved former segregationist who became one of the state’s most influential and longest-serving politicians.

It was another reminder that South Carolina’s rich history didn’t begin with the likes of Thurmond, no matter how many monuments and gorgeous lakes are dedicated to him.

Contact ISSAC BAILEY at or on Twitter @TSN_IssacBailey.

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