A passport leads to exciting exploration in Sumter, South Carolina

“My very first passport,” my eight-year-old, Liam, whispered, staring in awe at the piece of paper in his hands.

When we heard about Sumter, South Carolina’s Track Your Adventure program a few months ago, my husband, Garrett, and I began making plans for a fun-filled trip with our three kids, Liam, Andi, and Lincoln. Picking up our “passports” at the Sumter CVB was the first step in what was shaping up to be a weekend getaway filled with nature, history, and lots of adventure.

A quick family planning session commenced. There were 22 destinations to explore where we could get our passports stamped. Each of our kids—ages 8, 10, and 13—as well as Garrett and I, chose a favorite. Decisions made, we headed off to our first stop.

Letters from the past

Garrett, a history buff, picked the Lenoir Store, a seventh-generation family-owned store and still-active post office. Built in 1869, it was around when the mail was picked up by a hook from a passing train. We could almost hear the train whistle blowing in the distance. Our kids, baffled at the idea of waiting weeks to receive a handwritten letter, tried to imagine what it was like to live without texts as we browsed through a display of photos depicting days gone by.

The building itself seemed to hold a wealth of history as the wooden floorboards creaked their untold stories beneath our feet. We purchased penny candies at the counter where we met a few locals, neighbors catching up with one another and welcoming us into their conversation. It was clear that the Lenoir Store wasn’t just another landmark; it was a part of the community. The cashier stamped our passports with a friendly smile and an invitation to return.

Traveling back in time

Next up was our daughter Andi’s pick: the Sumter County Museum. An elegantly restored Edwardian House built in 1916 by the Moses and Phelps families, the museum contains a large decorative and fine arts collection, a treat for our budding young artist. We especially enjoyed lingering in the rooms that were decorated in period style, where it was easy to imagine stepping back in time to a slower pace of life.

The kids led the way into the office in the main house to get their passports stamped. Beyond the main house was the Carolina Backcountry Homestead: Original buildings and several constructed from plans salvaged from their original plantation sites, most built between 1812 and 1836, serve as the setting for a recreated homestead where living events are acted out at various times throughout the year. We made our way through the log cabin and the settler’s house, my kids trying to picture life without electronics. And we all became extremely grateful for modern indoor plumbing after taking a peek into the outhouse. Naturally, Liam couldn’t help but point out the irony of Lincoln being in a log cabin. Lincoln took his little brother under his arm and gave him a loving noogie.

We wrapped up the tour of the grounds with a few moments in the shade of 100-year-old pecan trees in the Martha Brice Gardens. Listening to the birds chirping and water splashing from the fountain into the fishpond, I smiled as I watched my family.

Naturally fun

Wrapping up the afternoon, we headed to Liam’s Track Your Adventure choice, Poinsett State Park. We decided to rent a cabin there, knowing it was a great spot for family camping, but not wanting the hassle of bringing gear. My husband may have nudged Liam a little with the promise of paddleboards.

We rented equipment, then once we were within eyesight of the water the kids raced to be first in. They hopped on the paddleboards while my husband and I snagged a canoe to paddle alongside them. After careening around the lake, we put down our paddles and let the cool breezes gently push us along. I closed my eyes for a moment, relishing the sounds of laughter from my children, the beautiful sunset, and the water lapping softly against the side of the boat as I daydreamed about the s’mores we’d be enjoying around the campfire later that evening.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast of bacon and pancakes cooked over an open campfire, we packed up and stopped by the park store for a few souvenirs and our happily earned passport stamps before moving on to our next stop, Willard Farms. I chose it because I’m fascinated by the inner workings of small, independent farms. Furthermore, I want my kids to know that food doesn’t just come from a store. I want them to appreciate how food is cultivated in a natural way. I also happen to LOVE strawberries! There are few things in life better than fresh strawberries right off the vine.

We gathered our baskets and ventured out into the vast strawberry fields, excited to dig in the dirt for those delightful juicy red gems. A couple of hours later, we had gathered enough strawberries to make several jars of homemade jam with plans to try my grandmother’s recipe after returning home. Our fingers were sticky as we pulled out our passports for these stamps—a mark of success, I’d say.

After fueling up with some delicious burgers from the market grill at Willard Farms, we moved on to our next stop. We were all excited about Lincoln’s choice for the final stamp on our passports, Packs Landing and the Palmetto Trail. The Palmetto Trail is 350 miles across South Carolina. We laced up our boots and tackled several miles of it. My husband and I love the outdoors, and having our children share our enthusiasm has been great fun over the years.

I hung back a little and watched my family hike ahead, taking in the beauty of nature around me. The canopy of trees overhead created patterns of sunlight along the trail, and birdsong filled the air. It had been an incredible weekend in Sumter, and I was glad that there would be plenty more unique adventures to discover—collecting all 22 stamps would be a delight.

Check out the Top 10 Things to Discover in Sumter.

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