Ten Gardens to Visit in the Midlands


Did you know Columbia has some of the most beautiful outdoor areas and gardens in the state? Check out these local attractions and treat your children – as well as yourself – to a wonderful time in the great outdoors right here in the Midlands!

Carolina Children’s Gardens

This park in NE Columbia is an tribute to Clemson University – high praise from this USC gal!  Once you arrive, there are all sorts of “imagination” areas nestled about, many based on books or folklore. Wind chimes provide a magical background music as your young ones play and explore. In addition, there are wooded trails, a pond area, and various seasonal attractions– such as the Sparkleberry Fair (April 25 & 26 this year). Grab your child to hunt for the elusive heffalump, or explore child-sized homesteading in Old McDonald’s farm!

Hours: Open daily, 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Location: 900 Clemson Road, Columbia 29229

About a mile of dirt roads– straight Lakehouse Lane, right on Experiment Road, left onto Children’s Gardens Lane (look for the signs and/or Big Red Barn)


Congaree National Park

Located in Hopkins, a simple 20 minute drive from the heart of Columbia, leads you to this woodland’s paradise. Wooden boardwalks meander amidst some of the tallest trees in the world, simultaneously keeping your shoes dry, and woodpeckers provide a beat to all the merry hikers. Let your kid run “wild” a bit, and pretend they are roller coasters zooming along the swampland and knobby knees of trees. Stay on the trails and keep an eye peeled for wildlife! Hike, canoe, or camp overnight in this wondrous swamp. Or take advantage of some of the many activities the park offers throughout the year.

Hours: open 24 hours a day, 7 days per week

Location: 100 National Park Road, Hopkins 29061

congaree swamp

Harbison State Forest

Known for its miles of trails and canoeing, this forest offers a quiet getaway and good picnicking adjacent to a large field. Bring the bikes and a Frisbee, and let your  leashed dog and children run themselves silly! Make sure to bring $5 for the daily parking fee.

Hours: Daylight hours

Location: 5500 Broad River Road, Columbia 29221

Sesquicentennial State Park

One of Columbia’s oldest parks, “Sesqui” offers many amenities for the various level of adventurous families. Two playgrounds, hiking, canoeing/paddleboating, small waterfalls, canopied oak trees, camping, dog park, a field, friendly rangers, and many educational opportunities make up this awesome park! Check out the free outdoor summer movies or the annual Palmetto Camp Out for a sampling of its many family-friendly activities. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.25 for SC seniors, and children ages 15 and younger are free.

Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily (extended hours during Daylight Saving Time)

Location: 9564 Two Notch Road, Columbia 29223

USC Horseshoe

Enjoy this historical area’s seclusion from normal urban coming-and-goings, at the heart of Columbia’s University of South Carolina. Play on the long low limbs of the angel oaks, soak in the quaint old buildings, or stroll about wrought iron fences, classy fountains, sculpture, and human-tamed gardens. In early April, the tender lilies, sweet roses, uprising tulips, bright azealeas, and trumpeting daffodils come to life in the warm spring sun. Let your kids enjoy the ambience from the old brick streets, and then dash to Rusell House for a bathroom/snack/meal break!

Hours: Open daily

Location: 902 Sumter Street, Columbia 29208

Governor’s Mansion Gardens

Chock-full of “Old Southern Charm”, visit this garden with its smaller “rooms” to romp about or enjoy a picnic. Each “room” has a different feel, so it’s like visiting many different charming gardens at once! Enjoy the fountains, porch swings, evergreen-vined walls, or symmetry of trimmed lush vegetation to get the full experience of this exquisitely kept garden.

Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday

Location: 800 Richland Street, Columbia 29201


Riverbanks Botanical Gardens

Included with admission to the zoo, Riverbank’s Botanical Gardens is a hidden treasure with much to offer. Explore the carnivorous plants by the waterfall, have a cultural lesson in the Asian or Hispanic gardens, skip about the maze garden in the playground or get the cliché picture in the “big chair”. Children can also keep house or play an oversized xylophone in Fort Mulberry, rest and rock in the porch swings of the rose gardens, listen to the waterfalls while strolling amongst the changing plants exhibit in the middle part, roll down the soft grass to sing in “echo playground”, scamper on the “giant rocks”, or take a brief woodlands walk to the education center and view the river ruins of the mill. Then hike or tram down to another adventure with the animals!

Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Extended spring/summer weekend hours: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays

Location: 1300 Botanical Parkway, West Columbia 29169


Finlay Park

This downtown park may not immediately bring to mind “nature lover’s paradise”, but look again. The babbling brooks, roaring waterfalls, and fountains provide a lively tune to treat the park-goers’ ears. Climb on the rocky paths that run alongside the waterway. There is a big playground and a large field for kids to run around. You can rest your legs in the porch swings around the park. Check out the pond’s stage and let your kids’ imaginations go to work thinking about what kind of giants use the steps across from it. Locate the chessboard picnic tables, and eat a leisurely lunch while teaching them one of the world’s oldest logic games. For a lesson in helping the poor, contact Food Not Bombs and see if you can help feed the homeless on the big stage Sunday afternoons.

Hopefully one day they will get the large waterfall and walkway beneath it in working order, which will really give the kids (and adults) something to squeal about as the water splashes right in front of them.

Hours: Daily, sunrise to sunset

Location: 930 Laurel Street, Columbia 29201

Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden

About 20 minutes NE of Columbia in the small town of Bishopville, get inspired by Mr. Pearl Fryer’s story of self-education from nil in the plant world, his rise over prejudice, and sculpture (both metal and plant). His property adjacent to his front yard is the showcase to his awesome work, and anyone is welcome to come visit. If you get lucky, the sculptur himself may make an appearance! He is kind and warm, and it’s always a blessing to see him and his work. Throw in a lesson on shapes if you’re so inclined! Kids are whiny on the drive there?  If you have a car with DVD capability, get a copy of his popular, award-winning documentary (by Galloway and Pierson) or the version created by Home and Garden. Pearl Fryar also has topiary work in front of the State Museum and USC’s recent garden tribute to integration (on the Horseshoe north of McKissick Museum).

Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday

145 Broad Acres Road, Bishopville, SC, 29010



Brookgreen Gardens

Admittedly, this strays from the Midlands area, as this nationally recognized beautiful garden is about halfway between Myrtle Beach and Georgetown. Drive a day trip, or spend a little more time at the coast as the admission price includes a week’s entrance. Enjoy the MANY sculptures, beautiful plants, butterflies, zoo, and children’s garden.

Hours: Daily from 9:30 a.m.- 5:00 p.m.; in April, they are open until 8:00 p.m.

Location: 1931 Brookgreen Garden Drive, Pawleys Island 29585

Springtime is a glorious time! Enjoy this time with your children and learn from its many marvels!

Do you have a favorite garden to visit in the Midlands that’s not on this list? Tell us about it!


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