Ah, summer. You see your friends’ posts from the beach or their overseas adventures, and you yearn for similar experiences, but without going into debt. There is hope — Columbia can be fun and exciting on a budget. Here are a few ideas to spice up your "staycation."
Fort Jackson’s water park, Palmetto Falls, is located on base and features two sets of slides, a lazy river and three pools. Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays, the park is open to the general public and offers a cool oasis from Columbia’s oppressive heat. Admission is $9.50, and make sure to bring proof of insurance for entrance into the park.
The West Columbia Riverwalk, just past the Gervais Street Bridge, is a free walkway that winds around the Congaree River. There are picnic tables, canoe and kayak launch pads, and an amphitheater where summer events are held. The Riverwalk is open during daylight hours and is dog friendly.
Finlay Park is a little over a half-hour walk from campus and is one of the state’s best parks. Featuring around 18-acres of walking paths and landscaping, Finlay is a great place to go to have a picnic, sunbathe, play some soccer or maybe catch one of the events and festivals that are regularly held there. Admission is free and the park is open during daylight hours.
Arts & Draughts is a quarterly series at the Columbia Museum of Art. There's live music, interactive art and DIY stations, and wine and beer tastings. The next one is Friday, May 13. Admission is $9 and the event starts at 7 p.m.
First Thursdays on Main is a monthly event where Main Street businesses stay open late, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and offer promotional discounts. But if you don’t feel like spending any money, there is still plenty to do with live music from local bands and open galleries from local artists.
Five After Five is a weekly event that starts April 28. Five Points will hold live outdoor concerts, and local vendors will be selling food and merchandise as well. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. by the fountain.
Do you want a day at the beach without using a tank of gas? Head over to the Lake Murray Public Park. Entrance is $3 per vehicle and you can spend the entire day sunbathing, swimming and picnicking by scenic Lake Murray. Summer hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekends, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during weekdays.
Thirty-five miles from campus, Dreher Island is a state park that offers camping grounds, fishing, kayak and canoe rentals, and easy hiking trails. Admission is $2 and camping sites are $24 a night.
Lake Jocassee is a 75-mile lake located three hours from campus in the northwest corner of the state. Its only drawback is that it's near Clemson. The picturesque lake offers multiple fishing spots, canoe and kayak rentals, and plenty of lakefront camping sites. Devil’s Fork State Park, situated on Lake Jocassee, offers two hiking trails that have views of the lake and multiple beaches for a quick swim. Devil’s Fork is open from 7 a.m to 9 p.m. for visitors this time of year, and admission costs $2.
Aiken is an ideal small Southern town on the South Carolina and Georgia border. Just under an hour drive from campus, Aiken’s historic downtown offers many restaurants and shops. Aiken also offers ghost tours, a farmers market, a horse track and South Boundary, a scenic road that features a canopy of oaks.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, cross the state line and venture to Brevard, North Carolina. Brevard is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from campus, and features a wide array of activities. Sliding Rock is eight miles from the town and located in Pisgah National Forest. A natural waterslide that plunges you into a deep pool of frigid river water, Sliding Rock also has multiple waterfalls and creeks where you can swim, picnic and fish. Pisgah also contains over 20 hiking and walking trails, including part of the Appalachian Trail. Admission is $2 per person. If you’re not feeling outdoorsy, head to Brevard’s quaint downtown where you can find an old school soda shop, art galleries, boutiques and a vintage toy store.