About the Park
Quite possibly one of the most underrated state parks in South Carolina, Lee State Park is an absolute jewel. Comprising 2,839 acres, the park, built in 1935, is one of 16 in the state built by the Civilian Conservation Corp. (CCC). Original CCC park structures still stand, including the park’s entrance gate, one of the original picnic shelters, a primitive cabin, footbridges, and four artisan wells.
The park features 12 miles of equestrian and hiking trails. It hosts equestrian paddocks, stables and a show ring. The campground features 48 spacious campsites and is open year round. Many of the sites feature full sewer hookup; all sites have water and electricity. There is also a primitive campground.
During a recent stay, I thoroughly enjoyed hiking the five mile Loop Trail which wanders along the Lynches River. It is wide, flat and easy hiking that meanders past a variety of forest features including pine stands, hardwood forest, and black water swamp. And, while I did not take a dip in the swimming area, on a blistering hot day, it would offer a welcome relief. The ponds and swimming area are fed by artisan wells that are a crisp 65 degrees F. The four wells in the park were dug by the CCC and bubble up continuously from the earth’s pressure.
The staff at the park is friendly and very helpful. I briefly met Park Ranger Dan Hancock as he was moving a fallen tree after a large rain. Ranger Dan is a native of Bishopville, South Carolina, and grew up just a few miles from the park entrance. Knowing that I was solo camping, he made sure the camp host checked on me daily, which I very much appreciated.
Water is a blessing and a curse at the park. The park sits low geographically and is a hardwood forest floodplain. After a hard rain one day, many trails were under water. The campground sits on high ground out of danger from flooding. I enjoyed my rainy morning with a hot cup of tea, a delicious breakfast, and a good book.
Go Into Town
Nearby Bishopville, South Carolina, is a sweet little town. Once a bustling community that thrived on the cotton industry, Bishopville suffered economic decline when cotton farming in the United States suffered from an infestation of boll weevils. Crops were ruined and many farmers could not sustain the heavy losses. It was not until 1978 when the Boll Weevil Eradication Program began that cotton farming and production resumed in the American South. Today, Bishopville is on the rebound and worth a visit.
Don’t Miss Sites
Do not miss the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden to see wonderful artistic and horticultural mastery. The garden is free to wander and if you are lucky you may see Mr. Fryar himself. Donations are appreciated. (https://sites.google.com/view/pearl-fryar-topiary-garden/home)
After taking in the shapes large and small at the garden, head downtown where parking is free and abundant. I highly recommend a visit to the South Carolina Cotton Museum/Lee County Veterans Museum. It’s a two-for-one experience; admission is $6. Well behaved dogs on leashes are welcome in both the Cotton Museum and the Veterans Museum. (http://www.sccotton.org/)
Led by the personable Eddie Grant, the museum guides visitors through the process of how cotton is farmed and produced. It includes an excellent collection of farm implements and tells the story of cotton in South Carolina from its early plantation days through modern processing.
In the same building is the Lee County Veterans Museum. This is a wonderfully curated exposition of military history from the Revolutionary War through the war in Afghanistan. It features military uniforms, weaponry, documents of importance, and a memorial area to those lives lost in battle who called Lee County home. New to the museum is a military aerial art display, the Elvin Price Collection, that could easily be at home in a Smithsonian Museum.
Eat Dessert First
Before returning to the campground, make at least two quick stops. Get Down Pound Bakery offers some of the most delicious pound cake and desserts you may ever taste. They also make homemade chicken salad sandwiches and have a coffee station. Get Down Pound is located at 102 S. Main Street and opens at 11:30 a.m. (closed Sunday).
With dessert in hand, pick up dinner to eat at your picnic table. The Smoke Pit BBQ is located in a simple, undistinguished building. Don’t be put off by the unassuming exterior. The barbecue is fabulous! In the name of research, I visited twice. The ladies I met inside were cheerful and an absolute delight. Lip smacking ribs, pulled pork, and chicken melt in your mouth. All meals come with rice and hash, a side, and a dinner roll. Dinners are priced at less than $15. The Smoke Pit is located at 439a East Church Street, Bishopville, and opens Tuesday through Saturday at 11 a.m. They are closed Sunday and Monday.
Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve is a nature and hunting preserve in nearby Lynchburg, SC. It was too wet after heavy rain for a walk when I visited, but in dry weather it would be lovely. Wear bright colors during hunting season! Dogs are welcome but keep them leashed. (https://www.scnaturalists.org/event/lynchburg-savanna-heritage-preserve/)
Woods Bay State Park is located about 30 minutes away. There is no camping at Woods Bay State Park. The park does feature two nice trails. Beware of alligators! Signage warns visitors about the reptiles. Do not approach, feed, or bait alligators. The boardwalk trail is very slippery when wet. Dogs on leashes are welcome. (https://southcarolinaparks.com/woods-bay)
Hartsville, SC is home to Coker University, a small, private college. The downtown area is thriving with small shops and plenty of restaurants. Try the Wild Heart Brewery for surprisingly delicious wood-fired pizza and craft beer. Dogs are welcome on the outdoor terrace. (https://wildheartbrewing.com)
Written by Amy Kovach, Girl Camper Guide, South Carolina