Making the Great Outdoors Our Own

Discovering all that comes with exploring South Carolina's Olde English District

My parents were never the type of people to sit around the house and watch the world go by. If a weekend approached with no plans, more often than not, my parents would pile us all in the camper and head for a nearby state park. Those trips not only provided me with great memories, but also helped me appreciate the value of getting away from the city every once in a while to venture out into nature.

My husband, Miles, and I wanted to do the same thing for our kids, Jason (13) and Will (7). A recent weekend provided an opportunity to make good on our pact.

We had all just woken up that Saturday morning and it looked like another ho-hum, forgettable weekend spent indoors. I frowned as I watched Will furiously punch the controller for his gaming system and Jason slump down in a chair with his cell phone.

“Guess what, guys?” I announced, surprising even myself.  “We’re taking a little impromptu trip and spending some time outside this weekend.”

The two looked up at me in surprise—as did Miles, who stopped typing on his laptop.

“That’s a great idea!” Miles agreed after a beat. “There will be water, right? I’ll load up the kayaks! Where to?”

“The Olde English District—there’s definitely water,” I said, referring to a part of South Carolina where my parents had often taken me camping when I was a kid. “Grab the sleeping bags, boys. I’ll get the tent and food. If we hustle, we can be out the door in an hour.”

Chester State Park

Chester State Park and its disc golf course was the ideal spot to start our adventure.

We set up our tent in the park, then headed over to the course. As a family, we’d played disc golf before in a small city park. But with its professional layout and manicured holes, the Chester State Park course is a completely different experience.

“Maybe we should play the shorter practice nine,” I suggested.

“Nah,” Miles said, “I’m sure we can handle the big course.”

The boys eagerly agreed, so we grabbed our discs (about $5 to rent) and went straight to the championship course.

The first thing to notice about the area is how secluded it feels. Even though the park is full of other activities, the course is incredibly scenic and quiet. It’s a perfect spot for a little family bonding.

The course itself proved challenging but fun as we reacquainted ourselves with how the game was played. I got high-fives all around with a very lucky long shot on the third hole.

By the end, Jason was proving to be a pretty good player, getting close to the targets and teaching his brother some techniques.

“Is this more fun than your golfing video game?” I asked Will as I cupped his cheek.

He nodded, laughing at me.

The course’s final holes are the most beautiful on the course. The 18th hole is considered to offer one of the most scenic wooded views in the country, as well as one of the most challenging disc golf holes. It took more effort to hit the target, but we were undaunted.

We’d taken our time, enjoying the scenery and had been playing for about three hours, so our growling stomachs were calling for attention.

“Let’s eat,” I said. I’d packed a picnic lunch of fried chicken and potato salad before we had scooted out the door.

We munched on our food on the shore of the lake at the center of the park.

“It would be hard to top this view,” said Miles, as we sat on the lakeshore at the park’s center, watching pine needles flutter in a breeze that rippled the waters.

As if on cue, a bald eagle soared across the lake in front of us and disappeared into the pines.

“We definitely wouldn’t have seen that at home,” Miles noted.

Jason and Will kept staring up into the sky long after the bird had flown from sight.

“Did you see how big its wings were?” Jason said with amazement. “That was so cool.”

“Yeah. Totally cool,” said Will, imitating his brother.

Landsford Canal State Park

Making the Great Outdoors Our Own

The next morning, we packed up and left for Landsford Canal State Park, where we planned on spending the day playing and paddling on the Catawba River. I was certain that a day on the water would keep my crowd’s attention.

And I managed to sneak a history lesson in, too, on the drive.

“This park is made up of canals off the river that were built way back in the 1800s. It’s how traders used to get up and down the river,” I said, feeling like my father. I remembered him giving me a similar lesson as a kid on one of our first family trips to the park.

“And just wait until you see the spider lilies,” I added, widening my eyes for effect. “They bloom every May and June.”

Will looked up suddenly and said, “Wait, what about spiders?”

Rocky shoals spider lilies, a type of flower,” I said. “Landsford Park has more of them than anywhere else in the world.”

We unloaded our kayaks, put them in the river, and set off. Once we came around the bend, I realized we’d timed our trip perfectly; the lilies were in full bloom and blanketed the river in white. It was like paddling through a garden, and for the second time in as many days, I found myself completely awestruck at the natural beauty surrounding me.

“Whoa,” said Will and Miles almost in perfect unison at the sight of the flowers.

“It looks like something out of a movie,” Miles added.

As I dipped my paddle back into the cool water to get us moving again, I secretly congratulated myself on the electronics-free nature immersion.

Just as my parents had given me precious memories as a child of the warmth of the sun on my skin and the smell of fresh mountain air, Miles and I were doing the same for our kids. Perhaps, 20 years from now, they will talk about this special trip with their kids.

It was getting late in the day by the time we got off the river and packed up our gear.

“Looks like it’s back to the city for us,” I said.

“Next month, we should check out another park around here,” Jason said. “I looked online, and there are a few battlefields you can tour.”

On the ride home, the boys showed their excitement as we planned our next adventure. I had them laughing at my childhood memories of Lake Wateree State Park, where my mom caught a giant catfish only to have it slip off the line, and how my dad seemed to have found heaven at Kings Mountain National Military Park, where he insisted on spending the entire trip exploring Revolutionary War sites while the rest of us hiked the adjacent Kings Mountain State Park. And maybe, if we timed it right, we could go to the birthday party at Andrew Jackson State Park, which is held each year in honor of the seventh U.S. president. My parents had attempted to take me several times, but timing never worked out.

“I’ll look the date up and mark it on my calendar, Mom,” Will said, leaning forward in his seat to pat my shoulder. “We’ll go together and you will get to finally see the party.”

“Sounds good to me!” I said.

Discover more outdoors in Olde English District!