Read Now, Travel Later
COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.
Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
I sat in my hotel room in Rock Hill with two maps neatly spread across the desk. On the right, a map of highways across South Carolina. On the left, a tourism map of the Olde English District. After an hour of repeatedly changing the route, often times returning to a previous option, I had my road trip through the Olde English District of South Carolina all planned out.
Of course, no single road trip can cover everything. I tried that once when I spent three months traveling from Charleston, SC to Paducah, KY. It was a wonderful three months, but who really has that much time for a vacation? It’s one of the bittersweet aspects of my life as a road tripping travel writer.
The route I have designed for this road trip through the Olde English District includes some of the best destinations, most exciting state parks, and sprinkles in little bits of local history and fantastic food. Give this one a try, and if you want to explore more of the historic district I’m sure I’ll have another road trip itinerary planned soon.
What better way to start a road trip adventure then to spend a day at Carowinds? The amusement theme park has been a destination for adventures on the thrill side for decades.
Arrive early to make the most of traffic, find the best parking, and enjoy some peacefulness before all fun breaks loose. Check the Carowinds Daily Ticket website for daily prices and discounts. Buy a day pass in advance to take advantage of deals and get you through the entrance a little faster when you arrive.
For about the same cost as daily admission, visitors can purchase a Fast Lane wristband. The wristband allows visitors to skip the regular lines at the rides and attractions which means more time riding and less time waiting!
Where to Stay
If you spend all day at Carowinds you might as well book some nearby lodging so you can quickly and easily relax. Here are some recommendations for nearby lodging.
Carowinds Camp Wildnerness is an awesome opportunity to spend the night camping in your RV or sleeping in a cozy two-bedroom cabin. The park features 15 cabins, two of them accessible, and almost two hundred campsites with full hookups.
SpringHill Suites is a brand-new hotel for 2020. The luxury hotel has rooms with two queen beds or a suite with one king bed and a sleeper sofa for traveling families. The hotel includes a swimming pool, free parking, and breakfast.
The Best Western is a more budget-friendly option. The hotel includes rooms with a single king bed or two queen beds. The hotel has a swimming pool and offers free continental breakfast.
The Comfort Inn has the best outdoor swimming pool for any nearby hotels and includes a pretty good breakfast with the rooms. Rooms features either a single king bed or two queen beds.
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Anne Springs Close Greenway
Leaving Carowinds behind, follow the route of US Highway 21 Business to Anne Springs Close Greenway, a 2,100-acre private recreation area. Trails wind through dense forests, around the large lake, and across grassy fields. The greenway is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. until sunset.
Just 15 miles south of Charlotte, the quaint town of Fort Mill is a welcome break from the concrete jungle of the big city with a return to rolling hills, vibrant trees, and a slow southern pace.
Start with a visit to the Fort Mill History Museum to learn about the Catawba Indians who once called the area home, the founding of the town in the late 1800s, and the booming textile industry that is still a major employer. Take a walk down Main Street for window shopping or hop inside to do some actual shopping. Pay a visit to Amor Artis Brewing to sample their craft beer, then head next door to The Improper Pig for a wonderful meal.
The PuckerButt Pepper Company is the hottest place in town to visit (almost literally). In 2013, owner Ed Currie was awarded the Guinness World Records title for World’s Hottest Chili. The Carolina Reaper, a perfect name if ever one existed, is grown is the Fort Mill area of the Carolinas and measured a whopping 1.64 million Scoville Heat Units. Hop inside this small store on Main Street to sample that chili and many others and decide which to take home.
On the surface, Rock Hill has become a booming town for athletic competitions and in 2019 became the new home for the Carolina Panthers pro football team. But after visiting a few times and digging just below the surface I found a peaceful, charming small town at the heart of the biggest city in the Olde English District.
The Old Town Rock Hill district covers much of downtown and there is plenty to see and do. Newsstand Record & Books is one of the few vinyl record shops I have come across in my travels. Just down the street is Friends Books on Main, a used bookstore selling books from the local library. The Main Street Bottle Company was a wonderful place to get a drink and then shop for local craft beer in six packs.
When you get hungry, I have the perfect plan for you. It starts with dinner. Choose between wood fired pizza at Millstone Pizza and Taproom or gourmet burgers from Flipside Restaurant; they are next door to each other if that makes the decision easier. Then walk down the street to get a sweet treat at Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe. It’s the perfect way to end any day in Rock Hill.
If you visit Rock Hill on a third Friday from May through October, you’ll likely find the streets surrounding Fountain Park closed off, filled with food trucks and tasting tents, and packed with locals having a good time. Food Truck Friday is one of my favorite events held in the city and almost makes it worth a weekend visit just for the local food and craft beer.
Visit York County 130 East Main Street, Rock Hill, SC | 803-329-5200 | https://www.visityorkcounty.com/
Where to Stay
There are a lot of hotels in Rock Hill because of all those sports tournaments I mentioned! Most are along Interstate 77. Here are three of my favorite recommendations for where to stay while visiting Rock Hill on this road trip.
My top recommendation for hotel in Rock Hill is Hampton Inn. Comfortable rooms, great service, and they have one of the best free hot breakfast spreads of any hotel I’ve ever visited.
Another great hotel is Holiday Inn. Along with comfortable rooms this hotel has an indoor swimming pool, but you’ll have to fork over $20 for breakfast in the morning.
La Quinta is another hotel I always recommend in this area. Their comfortable rooms include a suite with either two queen beds or a king bed along with a sleeper sofa for traveling families. A pretty good breakfast is included, and they have an outdoor swimming pool.
Catawba National Cultural Center
You’ll see the name Catawba frequently around the Rock Hill area, including the Catawba River. The Catawba Indian Nation is the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina and has called this area of the Carolinas home for centuries.
The Catawba Indian Cultural Center has a small museum, exhibits on their renowned pottery, and a friendly staff eager to share their stories. Their pottery is famously known for the gorgeous patterns that develop after drying in the kiln. Those patterns come from the mud they collect along the Catawba River in a manner that is a tightly held secret, making their pottery all that much more thrilling to see and own.
Landsford Canal State Park
The rocky shoals spider lilies are one of the most stunning natural displays in the country, and one of the few places they can be found is Landsford Canal State Park. Each year around mid-May through mid-June thousands of spider lilies bloom in the shoals of the Catawba River. A 2.5-mile roundtrip hike leads to the Lily Viewing Area. The rest of the year visitors can enjoy easy hiking trails and kayaking on the Catawba River.
Andrew Jackson State Park
Nobody really knows exactly where President Andrew Jackson was born, but the closest anyone has gotten is the land where Andrew Jackson State Park now covers. The very nice museum takes visitors on a journey through Jackson’s childhood growing up in the Waxhaws area of the Carolinas and throughout his presidency.
The most interesting part of the museum is the explanation of a scar on his face I had never really noticed from any of his official portraits. Without spoiling anything for your road trip adventure all I will say is it involved a pivotal encounter with a British officer during the Revolutionary War and would have a lifelong impact on Jackson.
Bufford Battleground Monument
In 1780 an interesting, and profoundly disturbing, incident happened during the Revolutionary War. Patriot Colonel Abraham Buford was marching north through South Carolina after the fall of Charleston. Under orders from British Colonel Charles Cornwallis, Colonel Banastre Tarleton pursued Buford and engaged in a battle near this monument in the Waxhaws.
The battle has always been controversial. During the initial assault Tarleton’s horse was shot and killed. Thinking their commander had been killed under a flag of truce, the British soldiers showed no mercy and killed all the Patriots, even those who were surrendering. Most modern accounts attest that Bufford was late to raise the white flag and insisted on fighting to the last man.
The battle became known as the Waxhaw Massacre and later the Bufford Massacre. Patriots wasted no time in spreading propaganda about the massacre as a rallying cry for those still undecided about which side to join in the Revolutionary War. The effort worked and several months later the Overmountain Men from Tennessee and Virginia defeated the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
This roadside monument has seen a lot of work from the local high school. Picnic tables beneath the shade of massive trees offer a respite from the long drive along SC Highway 9. The monument marks the location of the battle and a mass grave sits at the opposite edge.
During the Civil War, Cheraw became a unique southern town when it played unwilling host to General Sherman during his campaign across the South and was left standing intact when his army moved north.
Beginning as a trading town in 1740, today it is home of the annual South Carolina Jazz Festival which celebrates the life and achievements of Cheraw native Dizzy Gillespie. A memorial to the jazz icon stands in the center of town across the street from the Lyceum Museum, a one-room museum filled with artifacts from the town’s history. Old Saint David’s Church is a gorgeous place to explore with more Civil War history.
Cheraw Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center 221 Market Street, Cheraw, SC | 843-537-7681 | http://www.cherawchamber.com/
Cheraw State Park
Cheraw State Park is one of only two state parks in South Carolina to feature a golf course. The 18-hole course winding through the long leaf pines and around sand traps is certainly a big attraction to the park, but it’s not the only reason to visit.
Rustic cabins, and I do mean rustic, are a great place to spend a night or two. The cabins offer just enough comfort and amenities to spend a day golfing and a second day enjoying one of the trails through the park. The Boardwalk Trail around one end of Lake Juniper crosses the dam and is a wonderful place to enjoy sunrise or sunset.
Sugarloaf Mountain at Sand Hills State Forest
Not long after leaving Cheraw behind the route of US Highway 1 passes through Sand Hills State Forest. The almost 50,000-acre forest is a unique ecosystem of towering long leaf pines and a deep, sandy ground where the South Carolina piedmont meets the coastal plain.
Sugarloaf Mountain is an interesting quirk of the area. The Mountain, as the locals call it, stands 100’ above the otherwise flat terrain. The Sugarloaf Mountain Recreation Area was built with a series of trails, picnic shelters, and campsites. There is a parking area at the base of the mountain with a short trail leading to the summit.
Goodale State Park
Goodale State Park, pronounced good-all, is one of those great outdoor destinations to visit for an hour or two but not much else. Hey, not all state parks can feature a hundred miles of trails!
The 140-acre Adams Grist Mill Lake is the heart of the small state park. The biggest attraction in the park is the 1.5-mile water trail for kayaking across the lake, recently updated with new signage to make the route easier to follow. I enjoyed a lazy stroll along the edge of the lake where I could see gorgeous cypress trees standing tall in the water. It’s a great place to stretch your legs just before arriving in Camden.
Before spending a couple days exploring Camden, I did not realize steeplechase horse racing even existed in South Carolina. Not only does the Carolina Cup come to the Springdale Race Course each year, but Camden is also home to the National Steeplechase Museum, the only museum of its kind in the country!
Founded in 1730, Camden is the oldest remaining inland town in South Carolina. Just five decades later, British Colonel Lord Cornwallis marched into the small trading town with 2,500 soldiers and seized the town for nearly a year. The Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site brings The Battle of Camden to life each year with a spectacular reenactment, but the rest of the year visitors can explore the historic buildings on site and learn about the history of the war across South Carolina.
Take a walk along Broadway Street, the main street through downtown, for lots of shopping and dining. I began each morning at Books on Broad where I could enjoy a delicious coffee while browsing their book selection. The Broad Street Market had a few shops to explore with eclectic items and interestingly enough the entrance passes through Salud Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Lounge where I had dinner that night. The next night I visited Steeplechase Sports Bar & Grill. It looked pretty much like any other sports bar, but the food was amazing and a step above typical “grill” food.
The visitor center is currently located in the ground floor level of the historic courthouse designed by Robert Mills, the Charleston native who also designed the Washington Monument.
Visit Camden 1000 Lyttleton Street, Camden, SC | https://www.classicallycarolina.com/
Where to Stay
There are only a few places I would recommend for spending a night in Camden, but fortunately all three are fantastic options.
My top recommendation for lodging in Camden is Holiday Inn Express near the I-20 interchange. The clean and relatively new hotel had fantastic rooms and it’s just minutes from downtown.
Across the street, I would also recommend Hampton Inn. This hotel chain has the best hot breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel, and it’s free! Along with comfortable rooms large enough for traveling families it’s a great option for spending a couple of nights.
My final suggestion is Bloomsbury Inn, a bed and breakfast located inside a house built in 1849. Of course, an exceptional breakfast is included but you’ll also get a fireplace in the bedroom, comfortable beds, and peace and quiet around the property.
Old McCaskill’s Farm
Whether or not you’ve ever wondered what Old McCaskill had on the farm, this is definitely worth a drive into the countryside to find out. It’s only about a ten-minute drive to the farm where you’ll find a store stocked with goods made on site, farm animals causing all sorts of wonderful chaos, and a gorgeous bed and breakfast that just might be your next overnight stay.
On Friday’s Ashley’s Farm-to-Table serves an amazing buffet-style lunch using a lot of ingredients grown on the farm.
With a population just a tad above 300, this is the smallest town along this road trip but it’s also one of the most charming places in the Olde English District. True to most small southern towns, you’ll have to time a visit here just right or you’ll find all the businesses closed up for the day. Aim for early afternoon later in the week, and avoid altogether on Sundays and Mondays.
If you time it just right, start at the Palmer Street Market for home décor and clothing. The Cotton Yard Market is the place for antiquing with a constantly shifting collection of eclectic items for sale. Over the Top Boutique is the only clothing store in town but don’t let that stop you from browsing their fine clothing and jewelry.
Olde Town Hall Restaurant & Pub is a good place to get something to eat. The casual restaurant serves 9” gourmet pizzas, burgers, and signature steaks in the historic building that once served as the town hall for Ridgeway. My recommendation for lunch in Ridgeway is the charming and peaceful Laura’s Tea Room. The main attraction is Afternoon Tea or High Tea, but I visited for lunch where I enjoyed a bowl of creamy potato soup and grilled pimento cheese sandwich.
Winnsboro is another town in the Olde English District tied to the history of the Revolutionary War as an unwilling host to British Colonel Lord Cornwallis. After suffering defeats, Cornwallis spent the winter of 1780-1781 at a gorgeous home that is now privately owned.
When the owners of that home decided to open a business in town they knew it had to be named the Cornwallis House Tea Company. It was a wonderful place to get lunch the day I visited, finishing off a delicious sandwich with fresh sweet tea.
The Fairfield County Museum, located inside an historic home in the downtown area, was a great place to learn some of the local history of the town. Just outside of town the South Carolina Railroad Museum offers a small museum to explore the history of the railroad in South Carolina, but the most exciting part is the 10-mile Rockton & Rion adventure in a fully restored passenger railroad car!