Let’s Get Back to Nature :: Swimming Holes and Other Water Fun Around Columbia!


Like any southern mama, I spend the summer with my kids with two goals in mind: keeping the peace and staying cool. The most effective way to achieve both goals is to get us out of the house and into the water. While all of us love getting in a pool, and the kids definitely enjoy a splash pad, sometimes we want to do something a little different. Thankfully, the Midlands is home to several kid-friendly, inexpensive, let’s get back to nature, places to get wet and stay cool!

Why I love getting back to nature

Less crowds

Generally speaking, state parks and lakes are less crowded than their man-made counterparts like splash pads, public pools, and water parks. There are peak times, of course, but it’s easier to find a quiet spot to keep an eye on my crew.

Lower cost 

Some places charge a minimal fee, but generally, it’s less than $5 for all of us, which means we have more room in our budget for other summer fun.

Longer hours

Most public options have very limited days and hours of availability. Riverbanks Zoo, for example, closes at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Richland County’s public pools tend to close about the same time, and are only open on certain days of the week. For this working mama, sometimes I’d like to take my kids somewhere after work, and that definitely limits things. Most of nature’s water features are open from dawn ’til dusk.

Learning opportunities

In nature, we can spot bugs and insects, birds, different plants, and types of rocks. We can talk about mud and fungi. There are endless opportunities for activity and my kids are literally NEVER bored!

Peachtree Rock | Columbia SC Moms Blog
Check out this awesome mushroom we found at Peachtree Rock!

Convinced? Now you need to know where to go!

Not all of these are immersive experiences, meaning you can get your whole body in. Some are really more like wading, but if your kids are like mine, a change of clothes will still be necessary before the day is done.

In Lexington County

14 Mile Creek – Basically it’s a short, easy nature trail with a wading-friendly creek at the end. It’s free, easy to find once you know where it is, and even stroller friendly.

Lake Murray – There are several places along the lake where you can swim. The most expensive is the park by the Lexington side of the dam. It will cost you a whopping $5 a car to get in. There’s ample shade, picnic tables, and shelters available. If you want something more out of the way, or perhaps you live closer to Gilbert, I suggest checking out one of the public ramps. We recently checked out Ramp#4. It was free and quiet, and there are public restrooms available on site. There’s also Dreher Island State Park, which has a low entrance fee and lots more to do than just swim.

Lake Murray | Columbia SC Moms Blog
Lake Murray at Ramp 4. Quiet, free, and fun!

Peachtree Rock and Heritage Preserve – The only thing getting wet here is maybe your feet, because the creek is shallow and narrow. However, there is a whole lot of shade and rocks to climb for your older, more adventurous kids. The nature trail is not stroller friendly, but the path itself is pretty easy going with only a few steps to climb towards the first part of the trail. My family goes there on a regular basis and it’s one of our favorite places. More details on the do’s and don’ts for visiting can be found here.

Peachtree Rock Waterfall | Columbia SC Moms Blog
The waterfall at Peachtree Rock is the only natural occurring waterfall in the Midlands, and a great place to cool off.

Shealy’s Pond and Heritage Preserve – This boggy area is home to a variety of birds and plants. It’s a great educational trip and there’s water to boot! Being that it is a bog, don’t forget to pack the bug spray.

In Richland County

Lake Wateree – This state park has fishing and swimming access. The lake is, in general, quieter and less populated than Lake Murray in Lexington and isn’t far out of the way.

Riverwalk – This system of nature trails and boardwalks along the Congaree River has several entrance points. The most popular is the entrance with the amphitheater right off Gervais Street, on the Cayce side of the Gervais Street bridge. Tubing and kayaking are very popular from this entrance. If you walk up the river, the top entrance is where you will find the most people actually swimming in little side pools. The current in the river is stronger than it looks, so I’d advise sticking to the shallow bits, or saving this trip (if you are going to get in the water) for your preteens and older crew. If you stick to the paths, the trail is great for all ages.

Guignard Park – If you’re in Cayce, say looking for the “HOT NOW” sign at Krispy Kreme (no judgment from this donut-loving mama), right off Knox Abbott is Guignard Park. This lovely little park has a great creek running through it, perfect for little feet and big ones to cool off in on a hot summer day.

Sesquicentennial State Park  – This park in the heart of Northeast Columbia has something for everyone. Nature trails, camping, a great playground, and more. While there’s no swimming on the lake here, you can canoe, kayak, paddleboard, and even fish. There’s also a fenced-in splash pad.

Sesqui Park | Columbia SC Moms Blog
While you won’t be getting in the water at Sesqui there’s plenty to do on the water!

This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope your families enjoy visiting them as much as mine do! There are even more places to visit if you are willing to travel about an hour or so upstate  – that’s where waterfall country seems to begin.

Know a natural water feature we missed? Please comment below so we can add it to the list!


  1. Oh my goodness, I’m so happy to have your blog! We are relocating to the Columbia area in June and I could use all the help I can get! A new friend would be an added bonus! Email me if you’d be interested in giving some tips on the area! Thanks!

    • Glad you have found our blog helpful! If there is anything you’d like to see us add to help your move more smooth, please let us know. And we’d be glad to give you any tips you need – email us your questions at [email protected]. Best of luck, and welcome!

  2. We live in Columbia but just discovered an awesome natural swimming area 50minutes from 20/26 junction.
    It’s called Richardson’s Lake Water Park and it’s just off 20 near Aiken.
    It features water slides,docks, diving boards, lifeguards, concession, game room & you can bring your own or rent their floats.
    2 and under FREE
    $5 kids 3-14
    $8 Adults 15+

    They have picnic shelters to rent and grill. No outside food or drinks on the beach area, concession only.

  3. Misty Snow, THANK YOU!!!!! I have been googling over an hour because I couldn’t remember the name of Richardson Lake Water Park! I was beginning to think I’d imagined it. I guess in a way that’s good… it doesn’t need to get crowded.


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