Top 10 Scenic Drives in South Carolina

South Carolina has a particularly diverse landscape with five main types of regions – the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Sandhills, the Fall Line, the Piedmont, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This affords visitors with scores of things to see and do, but it also makes it difficult to decide how best to experience this region. To make such decisions even harder, the state is full of historic remnants from Native American tribes, the Revolutionary War, Civil War era, and more. In light of so many options, we have compiled a list of our favorite South Carolina scenic drives to provide potential starting points to discover this great state:

No. 10 – Ashley River Road

Ashley River Road South Carolina
Flickr user: Alistair Nicol

Starting Location: Charleston, SC
Ending Location: Ridgeville, SC
Length: 19 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this scenic drive is short, it is big on things to do with a wide array of attractions and chances to fish or canoe the Ashley River, which this route follows. The Middleton Place Plantation and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens are both open for tours to peek at the lives of the upper class during the Civil War era. Fort Dorchester State Park is full of hiking trails and places to alight for a picnic spread.

No. 9 – Edisto Island Tour

Edisto Island Tour South Carolina
Flickr user: S P Photography

Starting Location: Edisto Island, SC
Ending Location: Edisto Beach, SC
Length: 16 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

With changing water views that oscillate from lagoons with Spanish moss hanging overhead to the open ocean, this drive differs from most coastal tours. There are several old plantations just off the route to explore, including Brookland Plantation and Windsor Plantation. Another interesting stop is the Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend’s Tabby Oven Ruins, which is the remains of an 1815 commercial bakery.

No. 8 – Cowpens National Battlefield

Cowpens National Battlefield South Carolina
Flickr user: David Ellis

Starting Location: Cowpens, SC
Ending Location: Chesnee, SC
Length: 9 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Passing by rural farms and sweeping fields, this drive is quite pleasant despite its short length. To make an exploration of this route a complete morning or afternoon, however, is simple with a tour of the Cowpens National Battlefield. It is the site of an important Revolutionary War victory with an educational museum on site as well as the reconstructed log cabin of former resident Robert Scruggs.

No.7 – May River Road

May River Road South Carolina
Flickr user: haroc

Starting Location: Hardeeville, SC
Ending Location: Brighton Beach, SC
Length: 16 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

The inland portion of this route is characterized by wetlands, towering oak trees, and historic homes with vast lands. As the highway nears Brighton Beach, however, the scenery adopts a quaint, beach town feel with an array of boats and little coves to delight the eye. There are several walking tours in the area to forge a more intimate connection with the region, and the nearby Harbor River is known for its prime fishing.

No. 6 – Old Sheldon Church Ruins Loop

Old Sheldon Church Ruins Loop South Carolina
Flickr user: William

Starting Location: Yemassee, SC
Ending Location: Yemassee, SC
Length: 21 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive through the South Carolina Lowcountry is full of wetlands views and plantation homes just off the road, many of which are open for touring, including Castle Hill Plantation. The prime attraction, however, are the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church, which was built in the 1740s. These ruins lie amid tall oaks and are home to a scattering of gravesites, one of which belongs to Colonel William Bull who played a large role in developing Savannah.

No.5 – US 21 Scenic Highway

US 21 Scenic Highway South Carolina
Flickr user: bobistraveling

Starting Location: Beaufort, SC
Ending Location: Hunting Island, SC
Length: 18 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Passing through saltwater marshes and past picturesque lagoons, the landscape off this route plays host to a diverse spread of wildlife. Before setting off for the trip be sure to browse the charming specialty shops in downtown Beaufort. Toward the end of the drive lies Hunting Island State Park, which is ripe with fun opportunities like hiking, biking, or climbing to the top of Hunting Island Light for panoramic views.

No. 4 – Cherokee Foothills

Cherokee Foothills South Carolina
Flickr user: Nathan Harper

Starting Location: Fair Play, SC
Ending Location: Gaffney, SC
Length: 122 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

As travelers this way pass through the foothills at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, they are seeing the ancestral home of the Cherokee Indians of the area up close. Aside from the expected mountain views, this route also features peach orchards, recreational parks, and tiny villages. Stop in Gaffney for fresh produce from the farmer’s market or roadside stands and explore the historic buildings downtown.

No. 3 – Falling Waters Scenic Byway

Falling Waters Scenic Byway South Carolina
Flickr user: Mike Hughes

Starting Location: Walhalla, SC
Ending Location: Tamassee, SC
Length: 26 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This route through the Sumter National Forest is just the right length to leisurely pass a morning or afternoon – especially when travelers take time to savor the experience. The hiking trail to Issaqueena Falls is especially nice, providing photo opportunities that shouldn’t be missed. Another interesting stop is at the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, which is a railroad tunnel for the Blue Ridge Parkway that was never completed.

No.2 – Savannah River National Scenic Byway

Savannah River National Scenic Byway South Carolina
Flickr user: Go Salkehatchie

Starting Location: Seneca, SC
Ending Location: North Augusta, SC
Length: 126 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer
See this drive on Google Maps

Passing through rural farmlands, sleepy towns, and woods, this route winding along with the Savannah River keeps interest high as the terrain changes frequently. Recreational opportunities on the river abound, including fishing holes and kayak rentals. For those less interested in water and more so in watching wildlife or hiking trails, Calhoun Falls State Park is more than accommodating.

No. 1 – Hilton Head Island Scenic Byway

Hilton Head Island Scenic Byway South Carolina
Flickr user: Scott Oves

Starting Location: Okatie, SC
Ending Location: Hilton Head, SC
Length: 29 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic drive in Beaufort County delivers everything travelers would expect from a coastal tour and far more. Aside from the refreshing salt air, sandy beaches, and water views, this route from Okatie on the mainland that ends with a loop around Hilton Head Island retains a small beach town feel despite a booming tourist business, thanks to ordinances limiting development. There are multiple places with public beach access, including Mitchelville Beach Park and Fish Haul Park.

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