The resounding thunk of a heavy club striking a golf ball broke my reverie. I was sitting in a golf cart in the shade of a massive deciduous tree enjoying the utter peacefulness of the lake. A moment later, I saw the tiny white dot bounce and roll across the manicured grass. Golf is a big reason why people travel to Hickory Knob State Resort Park, but I was there for something else entirely.
I am usually a state park day tripper. I don’t have an RV or travel trailer, and I have no desire to pitch a tent in balmy summer days anymore. With exuberant eagerness, I jumped at the chance to spend a couple nights in the lodge at the resort park. I devoted my time to experiencing nature and discovering the quietest places in the park.
Hickory Knob State Resort Park
Located on a peninsula surrounded by Strom Thurmond Lake, Hickory Knob State Resort Park is one of the most gorgeous and exciting state parks to visit in South Carolina. It’s one of only two state parks with a golf course, the other being Cheraw State Park on the other side of the state.
The golf course is the largest attraction in the state park, but it’s not the only attraction. Hiking and biking trails, access to the lake, skeet and archery shooting, and a full-service restaurant were some other reasons to visit.
The Ultimate Outsider stamp is located at the front desk in the visitor center and checkout counter in the gift shop. The front desk is typically open 24 hours a day to serve guests staying at the lodge.
1591 Resort Drive, McCormick, SC | 864-391-2450 | southcarolinaparks.com/hickory-knob
Championship Golf Course
The 18-hole golf course at Hickory Knob State Resort Park is a visually striking and challenging course. It was designed by Tom Jackson, designer of the golf course at Cheraw State Park and about another three dozen others across the southeast.
Almost every hole at Hickory Knob features a gorgeous view of Thurmond Lake, and the water frequently comes into play as a hazard. Sand traps are another hazard feature, and so are the tall longleaf pines surrounding the driving lanes at each hole. A round of golf at this course is like taking a walk through nature but keeping score.
The clubhouse featured a locker room, pro shop, and snack stand. Golf cart rentals offered easy access throughout the course. Rates ranged around $20-$35 for 18 holes, including golf cart rental.
Strom Thurmond Lake
I had enjoyed a long day of hiking, shooting archery, and lunch in nearby McCormick. I was ready for a relaxing evening, and I found it on the shore of Strom Thurmond Lake. As I sat back in a chair, stretched my legs out over the fallen pine needles, I realized this was the quietest place in the park.
The 71,000-acre lake was built by the Army Corps of Engineers as a reservoir for towns throughout South Carolina and Georgia. The lake features nearly 1,200 miles of shoreline, three state parks, and is one of the most visited Corps lakes in the country.
At Hickory Knob State Resort Park, visitors can use the boat ramp for getting onto the lake. Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are available for rent for around $5-$10 per hour. Dozens of small coves surround the state park, making them wonderful places to escape with a kayak on the water.
If you’re like me and just want a peaceful place to watch the sunset across the lake, head to the boat dock below the lakefront lodge. Beneath the shade of the pine forest, there is plenty of room for plopping down a chair and enjoying a quiet evening.
Hiking and Biking Trails
There are three hiking and mountain biking trails at Hickory Knob State Resort Park. All the trails are easy to hike with little elevation change. The biggest challenge is the condition of the trails with frequent mountain biking activity, leading the trails to become rutted and coarse.
The 1.7-mile Turkey Ridge Loop Trail is probably the most challenging. It begins near the park entrance and winds through the pine forest away from the lake.
The 2.5-mile Beaver Run Trail was the easiest trail to hike at the park and a great place to go if you just want to stretch your legs. The trail connects the lodge with the skeet and archery ranges, with the Guillebeau House along the way.
I didn’t hike the entire 7.2-mile Lakeview Loop Trail, but the short section I finished was definitely my favorite in the park. The lengthy trail winds along the shoreline of the lake with gorgeous views from an elevated position and other times at the edge of the water.
One of the unique features of Hickory Knob State Resort Park is the skeet shooting range. I haven’t come across any state park with such a feature until this one. The shooting range was pretty basic in an open field near the golf course.
For $27.50 per person, a round of shooting includes 25 clay pigeons, gun rental, and ammo. Appointments have to be made in advance, and a park ranger accompanies anyone who wishes to shoot a round.
I released the string, and the arrow sailed through the air, hitting the hanging target with a satisfying thud. Never mind the fact I completely missed the bullseye; I was just happy to have hit the 15 square foot target at all.
Archery is something I have wanted to learn for a long time now, but throughout my travels, I have only come across a handful of archery ranges. I was excited to learn about the small range at Hickory Knob State Resort Park and quickly booked an appointment after checking in.
The park ranger met me on the shooting range with an option of three basic recurve bows. They were the kind of bows I’ve seen at Walmart for less than thirty dollars, but I guess that’s to be expected on the state park level. The nock, the small notch at the back of the arrow, kept getting stuck to the bowstring and caused the arrows to do all sorts of crazy things. I never did find that one arrow…
Although appointments have to be made and money changes hands to use the park’s equipment, I learned the use of the archery range itself was free. Anyone who travels with their own bow and arrows could use the range so long as there were no paying visitors. I don’t know who travels with their own bow, but I want to be one of them.
Had you noticed yet how the name of the park includes “resort”? While many South Carolina state parks feature cabins, Hickory Knob State Resort Park is the only park in the state with a lodge.
Spread across 8 buildings, the lodge includes 70 rooms with hotel amenities. Four of the buildings are located around the swimming pool behind the visitor center, while the other four buildings are located along the lakeshore.
Beginning in 2019, the lodge rooms have been undergoing renovation to include new flooring, bedding, and fixtures. Each room includes a mini-fridge, microwave, and I was pleasantly surprised to find no televisions! The only thing I found lacking in the upgraded rooms was the 1990’s coffee pot on a plastic tray I think I used in middle school.
The two nights I spent in one of the rooms were really comfortable. The air conditioning kept the room perfectly chilled while not being overly loud. The bed and pillows were moderately comfortable. The location near the restaurant was perfect.
My favorite lodge rooms at Hickory Knob State Park were in the four lakeside buildings on the upper floor. These rooms featured a balcony about ten feet above the ground facing the lake. Each balcony included two wooden adirondack chairs and made a perfect place to spend the morning with a fresh coffee.
Along with the lodge rooms, Hickory Knob State Resort Park includes 16 one-bedroom cabins. The cabins are located in a forested area near the visitor center along Resort Drive and within walking distance of the swimming pool, gift shop, and restaurant.
The cabins have a single bedroom with two double beds, a sleeper sofa in the living room along with one or two additional armchairs, a television, and a fully equipped kitchen. I would definitely recommend the cabins for families of four or five spending a long weekend.
Would you be surprised to learn there is a 250-year-old log house available for rent at Hickory Knob State Resort Park? The Guillebeau House was the most surprising feature I discovered in the park and for me one of the most fascinating in the Old 96 District.
The original log structure was built sometime between 1765-1810 in the now-defunct colony of New Bordeaux. Three additions were made to the house over the next fifty years that tripled the width and doubled the length. In 1983, only the core log structure was moved to Hickory Knob State Park, and the rest of the additions were added later.
Today, the two-bedroom Guillebeau House is the most awesome place to stay at the state park. The house includes all linens and kitchen items, a television in the living room, and a covered, screened porch. I don’t usually say this, but the kitchen was my favorite room in the house. It includes a replica of an old-fashioned cooking stove, although it is entirely modern.
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With only 43 campsites, the campground at Hickory Knob State Resort Park isn’t one of the largest in South Carolina, but it is one of the most peaceful. All the campsites include electrical and water hookups, and a dump station is located at the entrance to the campground.
About half the campsites, #6-#26, are waterfront with a great view about ten feet above Thurmond Lake. Although all the campsites included a wooden picnic table and fire ring, I didn’t see any sites with a concrete tent pad or parking space. The sites were level, though, making it easy to adjust RVs.
I loved all the waterfront campsites, but I think if I had to choose a favorite it would be #21. This campsite was the most secluded along the waterfront with no immediate neighbor on either side. It was also just across the road from the shower facility.
The restaurant was located in the visitor center building surrounded by the lodge rooms and cabins. With frozen food shipped in weekly, the restaurant won’t be winning any culinary awards. But despite that, I found the food to be cooked perfectly and actually quite good.
Buffets are frequently served for breakfast and dinner, but you can also browse a menu for something else. A wait staff brings everything to your table in a roomy dining hall with large windows to gaze outside.
During my stay, I enjoyed some rather amazing buffalo chicken tenders, delicious onion rings, salty cheeseburger sliders, and a hearty breakfast each morning. Although there were some dining options in nearby McCormick, if you want to stay in the park without your own kitchen, this was the only available food for meals, and it wasn’t that bad at all.
After enjoying dinner one night, I decided to take a walk through the visitor center to explore the building. At the opposite end of the building from the restaurant, I discovered an awesome great room with a fireplace, comfortable seating, and a couple of pool tables. My last activity in the park before leaving was to shoot a game of pool against myself; I won.