8 Nature Escapes in Greenville, SC
Greenville has become the “It” city of the South. Everyone seems to be relocating to or vacationing to this charming little Southern town. With a beautiful tree-line Main Street loaded with unique restaurants, coffeeshops, and galleries, a thriving cultural scene, and quick access to so many waterfalls, it’s no surprise that thousands make the trip to Upstate SC each year.
With popularity comes traffic and crowded restaurants, shops, and attractions. If you tire of the tourist crowds, there is always a nature oasis around the corner. The following parks and preserves are conveniently located within the Greenville city limits. Of course, there are hundreds of amazing waterfalls, hiking trails, and scenic drives if you are willing to take a daytrip. You can read more about these in my best waterfalls of the Upstate post.
1. Falls Park
The oasis of natural beauty in Greenville is Falls Park. This picture-perfect green space in the center of the bustling downtown features an incredible waterfall, a pedestrian bridge overlooking the river, nature trails, art sculptures, and lovely gardens. It’s a great place to enjoy a tranquil walk anytime of year. Anytime you need a break from the tourist congestion, head over to Falls Park for a rejuvenating stroll. Grab a coffee at nearby Spill the Beans and take in the beauty of “the jewel of downtown Greenville.”
If your visit falls during the spring months, you will be surrounded by lovely flowers. In the summer, the area is alive with families picnicking, dog walkers, joggers, and cyclists. Events are always on the lineup. From movies in the park, to concerts, to a duck derby, there’s something interesting going on every season. In the fall, the leaves are dazzling with the hues of autumn. And in the winter, the occasional dusting of snow and lack of crowds means you get to enjoy the quiet beauty all to yourself.
- Address: 601 S. Main Street
- Highlight: Quaint waterfall scenery
- Where to eat nearby: Handi Indian (Amazing lunch buffet)
2. Lake Conestee Park
If you are seeking a laid-back preserve with some easy hiking trails and ample bird watching opportunities, Lake Conestee is a solid choice. This beautiful gem is never overly crowded even during the busy summer season, thus making it a prime place to escape the downtown crowds. Most of the trails are easy-moderate (at most) in intensity, and thus, Conestee is the perfect choice for a relaxed nature outing. Many species of bird as well as small mammals call the park home. In fact, Lake Conestee is considered the birding hotspot of the Upstate. Every third Saturday of every month, the park hosts free birding walks.
The trails here are peaceful and loaded with tall trees. There is plenty of shade, so even on the sunniest of days it doesn’t get too hot. Several trails feature nice views of the water. Also a portion of the Swamp Rabbit trail runs through the park if you prefer biking to hiking. Really, this is the best place in the vicinity to get lost in nature. No man made businesses, no traffic noise, just pure nature.
- Address: 601 Fork Shoals Road Trail map
- Highlight: Birdwatching oasis
- Where to eat nearby: Kitchen Sync (Eclectic American fare – try the southern style Tomato pie!)
3. Furman University Lake trail
One of the hidden gems of the Upstate is the gorgeous lakefront walking path around Furman University. As soon as you step onto the grounds of this gorgeous University, you will have no difficulty seeing why it was rated one of the country’s prettiest campuses. Fortunately, the nature trails are open to all guests and parking is free after 5 and on weekends. The lakeside path is the perfect distance for an easy stroll – about 1.5 miles and boy is it beautiful.
If you are looking to get in a more intense workout, you will find numerous forested trails also on-site. There are over 10 miles of trails here to enjoy the fresh air and mild Carolina weather. Even better, the most picturesque section of the Swamp Rabbit trail begins here.
- Address: 3300 Poinsett Hwy Trail map
- Highlight: Peaceful lake scenery
- Where to eat nearby: Yellow Ginger (Contemporary Asian restaurant serving Southeast Asian specialties)
4. Swamp Rabbit Trail
One of the most talked about attractions in Greenville is the 22 mile long paved recreational path known as the Swamp Rabbit trail. With numerous access points, the trail is easily accessible no matter where you are staying. The most beautiful sections of the trail begin at Furman University and behind the super popular Swamp Rabbit Cafe, a local organic co op/bakery/coffeehouse. The great thing about this trail is that there is always something else to do close by, thereby saving you some time.
Consider parking at the cafe and indulging in a freshly baked pastry and mug of coffee from renowned Carolina Roaster Counter Culture. Then hop on the bike trail and enjoy some beautiful natural scenery. It can get crowded on weekends, so get here earlier to enjoy a more peaceful ride. This section of the path fortunately does not get nearly as much traffic as the downtown access point.
- Swamp rabbit trail map
- Highlight: Paved multi use path with many access points
- Where to eat nearby: Swamp Rabbit Cafe (Healthy organic homemade pastries, fresh bread, and delicious coffee)
5. Rocky Quarry Garden
With beautiful manicured gardens, streams, flowers, and even a small waterfall, Rock Quarry is the perfect temporary escape from the man made clutter. While Greenville’s Main Street district is home to so many fabulous independent restaurants and boutiques, every once in a while you need a quiet break.
Even though it’s located in busy downtown Greenville, it remains peaceful due to the semi-hidden location. Take a stroll and immerse yourself in nature for a bit. Due to the picturesque setting, the park is very popular with photographers and often reserved for weddings. This park is best visited during peak flower blooming season (spring).
- Address: 200 McDaniel Avenue
- Highlight: Secluded
- Where to eat nearby: Biscuit Head (awesome housemade cathead biscuits plus a self serve jam/honey bar)
6. Cleveland Park
Many of Greenville’s top touristy attractions including the Greenville Zoo, the Rock Quarry Garden, and a popular portion of the Swamp Rabbit trail can be accessed via Cleveland Park. The park is also home to the best maintained tennis courts in town. Also on-site is a large playground, volleyball courts, and picnic shelters. The workout stations, lined along a small section of the trail, are a fun way to get in a little extra workout. As an added bonus, they have free electric car chargers here!
- Address: 150 Cleveland Park Drive
- Highlight: Numerous amenities including a large park, picnic tables, and several tennis courts
- Where to eat nearby: Greektown Grill (a great local Greek join serving amazing pitas & the best spanakopita in town)
7. Paris Mountain State Park
Adventurous types will want to head over to Paris Mountain State Park, a picturesque state park home to miles of rugged hiking trails. There are a number of hikes here, ranging from easy to difficult. Hiking not your thing? Don’t worry there is plenty more to do including kayaking & canoeing (rentals available), paddleboating, and mountain biking. This is a beautiful park on the north side of Greenville. So easily accessible, yet feels miles away from all the touristy activity downtown.
Start with the Lake Placid Loop, an easy .75 mile trail which winds around the lake. It’s relaxing and shady and perfect for anyone who wants to soak in some nature and take in the fresh air without working up too much a sweat. If you are up for a more rugged adventure consider challenging yourself to the difficult Sulphur Springs trail, a 3.5 mile adventure which passes through many unique habitats.
- Address: 2401 State Park Rd.
- Highlight: Diverse hiking terrain close to the city
- Where to eat nearby: Tandem Creperie (delicious savory & sweet crepes plus amazing coffee)
This beautiful section of downtown Greenville is a hotbed for new hotel and apartment construction. There is a nice little walking path that follows the Reedy River. Lots of great views here and in general just a nice place to be outside. Several restaurants overlook the water. From here, you can easily walk over to Reedy Falls.
- Address: Start your walk on Main St (plenty of free parking)
- Highlight: Beautiful river views
- Where to eat: Pomegranate on Main (Colorful Mediterranean restaurant serving delicious kebabs)