About the Park
Poinsett State Park is located in Wedgefield, SC, about 15 miles southwest of Sumter, SC. It is easy to get to from I-95 or State Route 76. At 1,010 acres, the park is mid-size and is best known, according to Wikipedia, “for its botanical oddities, combining the flora of the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills and Piedmont of Upstate South Carolina, the xeric Sandhills and the Atlantic coastal plain.” In other words, it is possible to see mountain laurels draped with Spanish moss. The ground is sandy, a common attribute of many coastal state parks, yet red in color, similar to land much further north.
Given its “weird and beautiful” mix of characteristics, it seems right that it was named after amateur botanist and South Carolina native Joel Roberts Poinsett. Mr. Poinsett was a Charlestonian by birth (1779). However, at a time when many aristocrats favored gentle tours of European cities or spent the summer in the northeast to escape the brutal heat and humidity, he became a significant world traveler when travel was difficult. He toured western Europe, Russia, and was an envoy to Chile and Argentina. He was considered one of the preeminent authorities on Latin America and became the United States Minister to Mexico (we now call this an ambassador) under John Monroe’s presidency. If the name Poinsett sounds familiar, it is likely because of your familiarity with our favorite Christmas plant, the poinsettia, named for Poinsett, who sent hundreds of specimens back to South Carolina from Mexico as part of his botany collection. By 1836, the plant was so well known throughout the south that it was commonly called poinsettia.
The park is surrounded by the Manchester State Forest, and both provide access to the Palmetto Trail, have linked hiking and mountain bike trails, and Manchester State Forest offers equestrian trails.
The campground features 50 sites in total with 24 of the sites offering electricity and water hook up. The remaining 26 sites are designated for tent camping with water only. There is a lovely primitive camping area that is flat and easily accessible with a small bathhouse. All of the sites were generous in size and mostly level. A few sites have had improvements such as gravel driveways added. We enjoyed three nights in site 5 which was very level, wide and roomy. If I was to return I would look for site 13 or 15 as both have been improved with gravel (to reduce the amount of sand we tracked everywhere); or site 17, which is smaller than some sites but features a lovely overlook of the campground meadow. The bath house was very clean and two camp hosts were available if needed.
Go Into Town
Sumter, South Carolina, is the county seat of Sumter County. It features all of the usual suspects necessary in a city of 40,000 with Wal-Mart, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, parks, and shopping. The historic downtown has clearly seen its share of economic ups and downs with many storefronts empty. However, there is revitalization efforts underway as there were several busy restaurants, an old-fashioned soda fountain, the restored and historic Sumter Opera House, and the Sumter Original Brewery (dog friendly on the third floor, outdoor rooftop).
Sumter is also the home of Shaw Air Force Base, one of the largest military bases operated by the United States. It is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force Air Combat Command.
The Swan Lake Iris Gardens is the only public park in the United States to feature all eight swan species and some of the most intensive plantings of Japanese Iris in America. Dogs are not permitted inside the gates due to the wildlife (service animals are the only exception). Admission is free. Garden hours are daily, 7:30 a.m. to dusk. The park is located at 822 W. Liberty Street, Sumter.
Off the Beaten Path
On your way into or out of town on U.S. Route 378 at the corner of Broad Street, you will pass a corner gas station with an attached restaurant. Stop here to fill up both your vehicle and your hungry belly. The Jeffrey Lampkin’s Country Boy Kitchen is a traditional meat-and-three diner, featuring some outrageously good smothered pork chops, honey fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread. The staff is friendly, the food is delicious, and this is as local as local can get. Jeffrey Lampkin was an American Idol contestant in season seven who advanced to the Hollywood Round. Located at 5642 Broad Street, Sumter. 803-294-0909. Closed Monday. https://thelordssoulfood.com
If you are willing to be a bit adventurous and you love to find local barbecue, then take a trip to Maple’s BBQ. Located in a suburban neighborhood, behind an unassuming house, is a takeout only spot that is considered by locals to be the only barbecue worth eating. It is a plate of spicy, meaty goodness. Maple’s is family owned and they serve pulled pork and ribs. Occasionally they will have hash (the Drunk Plate which is basically scraps mashed together). The hours are limited to Friday and Saturday, 12-4 p.m. Cash only (correct change is required). Maple’s is located at 4060 Patriot Parkway, Sumter. 803-494-8846.
Congaree National Park deserves an article of its own rather than a paragraph. This is a jewel of natural paradise and is the only national park in South Carolina (there are national historic sites aplenty all over the state).
Congaree NP is comprised of 26,692.6 acres. The park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The park features a 2.6 mile boardwalk trail that allows visitors an easy glimpse of the wetlands and forest. There are miles of additional hiking trails for those willing and able to venture further, as well as kayak/canoe trips, and primitive campgrounds. If you are at Poinsett State Park, it is worth the 45 minute drive to check Congaree off your list of parks to visit. Congaree is located at 100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC. https://nps.gov/cong
Amy Kovach | Girl Camper Guide South Carolina
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