Oconee County: An Ideal Vacation Spot

If you’re looking for someplace to go this spring or summer for a getaway that has plenty of outdoor activities and natural beauty, you don’t have to go far—Oconee County may be just the thing. Encompassing the towns of Seneca, Westminster, Walhalla, and Clemson, the county is bordered on all sides by either lakes or national park, so there is a lot to see and do in Oconee.

Opportunities for hiking, boating, fishing, rafting, camping, and more abound for outdoor enthusiasts. Lakes Jocassee, Keowee, Tugalo, and Hartwell offer recreation of all kinds. Boats, kayaks, and paddleboards are available for rent from a variety of sources, and lake tours are a popular way to explore the lakes.

There are a few state parks within Oconee County, as well. Oconee State Park is a great place for family vacations, with swimming, picnic areas, playgrounds, hiking, camping, fishing, and much more. Two lakes are within the borders of the park (private boats are not allowed), as well as an 18-hole miniature golf course, nature trails, and, for more experienced hikers, trail access to the Foothills Trail. Lake Hartwell State Park is largely for fishing, with lake access and camping, and a guest center featuring vintage fishing equipment. Devils Fork State Park offers access to Lake Jocassee, along with hiking and nature trails, picnic facilities, geocaching, and camping.

Aside from the lakes, the waterfalls in Oconee County are stunning and numerous, with trails of varying degrees of difficulty to get to them, although most are on well-marked trails and fairly easily accessible (trail difficulty is listed at the link provided).

There are a number of historic sites, from homes, farms, churches, and historic districts to Stumphouse Tunnel Park—once part of the Blue Ridge Railroad project, the tunnel was supposed to be the final link between the Mississippi River and the Atlantic seaboard, but it was never completed. Now owned by Clemson University and maintained by the town of Walhalla, parts of the tunnels are open for exploration, making a unique hiking experience for train enthusiasts, history buffs, and curiosity seekers. Oconee Station State Historic Site also combines recreation and history, boasting a blockhouse that was used by the state militia in the late 1799s as well as camping and trails that lead to Sumter National Forest.

The South Carolina Botanical Gardens are in Oconee County, with First Friday Nature Walks for adults and plenty of programming for children and adults throughout the year. The nature-based sculpture collection is one of the largest in the country, with beautiful, ephemeral works of art that are designed to return to nature eventually—with some returning faster than others, depending on the types of materials used.

The arts are alive and well in Oconee, too, with several performance venues, including the Clemson Little Theatre, Oconee Community Theater, and the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts at Clemson University. For visual arts as well as heritage, there are a variety of museums—among them the Oconee Heritage Center, the Museum of the Cherokee, and the Blue Ridge Arts Center.

If you’re going to take in as much as possible of what Oconee County has to offer, an overnight stay or two are in order—and there are plenty of options, from cabins on state park property to RV parks to bed and breakfasts and vacation home rentals.

Some upcoming events in Oconee County:

Chairs for Charity auction at Blue Ridge Art Center, April 23

Tamasee Craft Beer Festival, Salem, May 1           

Walhalla Mayfest  “Art of Living” Festival, May 13–14

Natural Heritage Garden Sip & Stroll at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, May 28


Banner photo: Dave Allen Photography; all others courtesy of Mountain Lakes CVB.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.