(This article first appeared in the May/June issue of Playlist Magazine of the Morning News of Florence, and is republished here with their permission and my thanks to BH Media.)
By Gray Bostick / Original photography by Judy Quick Sharon
We made it!
Spring has sprung, bringing all the world back to life, and sunsets coming later and later by the day can only mean one thing: Summer can’t be too far behind. And we all know what that means, especially in the Palmetto State: Time to recreate!
Thanks to geography, we’re able to easily access areas designed specifically for that express purpose. Camping? Check. Hiking or biking trails? Check. Beach-side swimming? Check. Fishing and boating? Check – even with boat and tackle rentals. Golf? Check that, too, on a championship-level course, in fact, should one choose.
In short, we’ve got it all.
But while the majority of vacation traffic speeds to and from the madness that is the Myrtle Beach area during spring and summer, the smart set knows that all of the above are best when enjoyed at a more leisurely pace – and preferably all at one spot: Cheraw State Park.
Located less than an hour north of Florence, 7,362-acre Cheraw State Park offers visitors a veritable smorgasbord of outdoor activities – hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, boating, golfing, or just enjoying the natural world – each guaranteed to get your summer season off to a grand start.
But Cheraw State Park is not new to presenting visitors an opportunity for Rest & Recreation as it is actually the oldest state park in South Carolina, created in 1934 on land acquired in part thru the collection of pennies by the children of nearby Cheraw. It was then developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program established by President Franklin Roosevelt to provide employment during the Great Depression, while also addressing national concerns about land conservation and expanding public recreation areas. Many of the structures built during that time remain in use at Cheraw State Park, and the sparkling waters of CCC-created 360-acre Lake Juniper serve as an oasis for people, flora, and fauna.
Whether it’s for a day of fun, a weekend of relaxation, or a week of recreation, adventure, and mental decompression, Cheraw State Park has something for everyone seeking to spend some time hand-in-hand with Mother Nature.
Day trippers with a passion for the natural world will be presented with a variety of activities including looping hiking trails of varying lengths, the 1.9-mile Cheraw Nature Trail or the 2,6-mile Turkey Oak Trail, both of which pass thru a preserved ecosystem of long-leaf pines, blackjack oaks, turkey oaks, Atlantic white cedar, and hickory trees, in addition to bountiful wildflowers in bloom, with the longer trail also offering passage thru a cypress swamp. During their walks, hikers are likely to catch glimpses of deer, turkey, foxes, fox squirrels, or other forest denizens, as well as a multitude of reptiles and amphibians and birds, including raptors such as bald eagles, ospreys, or hawks, or waterfowl, perhaps even the rare red-cockaded woodpecker, which has its own sanctuary within Cheraw State Park. There is also a short, half-mile Boardwalk Trail that extends from the main parking area out over the water and across the dam at Lake Juniper, where water over the spillway creates a waterfall effect.
Mountain bikers are also welcome at Cheraw State Park, which has a very non-technical 9.2 mile trail dedicated expressly for their use that boasts a mostly-sandy path, allowing it to be used when rainy weather has made others muddy and difficult to travel, and lots of ups and downs and turns to provide a good workout.
Got an affinity for the water and our finny friends? BINGO…Cheraw State Park has you covered, offering boat, canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals for fishing or exploring Lake Juniper, even offering rental fishing tackle. There is also a boat ramp providing lake access to private watercraft with 10HP, or less, motors.
Or, if you prefer a refreshing dip and a daydream along shore, Lake Juniper boasts a sandy swimming beach perfect for young and old alike.
Day-visitors will also find excellent facilities to fit the needs of kids, with playground equipment, including swings, as well as a volleyball court and swings, and multiple open-area picnic tables for lunch spreads. In addition, there are also two picnic shelters that may be reserved for groups as large as 60 people, a rental building perfect for family reunions or company retreats, and a park store/gift shop offering commonly-needed items.
Park rangers are also easily accessible to provide specific information about the park and its inhabitants, and special programs are offered – including a monthly Moonlight Canoe Cruise on Lake Juniper.
Cheraw State Park also offers activities for the more sports-minded, specifically golf enthusiasts of all levels of expertise who can book very reasonably-priced rounds at the picturesque Tom Jackson-designed 18-hole championship grade course that winds its way along Lake Juniper and thru a magnificent pine forest in a true parkland setting. Cheraw State Park’s golf course is also a certified Audubon International Wildlife sanctuary, and is annually ranked among the Southeast’s finest. Golfers will find their off-course needs addressed via a full-service clubhouse, pro shop, practice green, driving range, and snack bar/grill.
But Cheraw State Park is not just a day-use facility, as it boasts 17 campsites able to accommodate everything from tents to mid-size RVs, as well as two group camping areas, Camp Juniper and Camp Forest, and six sites lakefront to Lake Juniper, all near regularly-cleaned restroom and shower facilities. They even have two “boat-in” campsites available by, you guessed it, boat only.
For those not looking to rough it quite so much, there are also nine cabins available, ranging from one-bedroom to four-bedroom in size, and include bed and bath linens, cooking and eating utensils, heat, air conditioning, microwave, television, Wi-Fi, automatic coffee maker, screened porch, LP gas grills for outdoor cooking, and a picnic table, all ideal for a family outing. Or, if need be, for a cozy and quiet romantic get-away. The only thing missing is you and yours.
So what ya waiting for? Cheraw State Park is the perfect spot for making family memories, or to take a day off to relax and rewind from the hustle and bustle outside its gates. Decide this year to swim against the tide and let all the others fight traffic and wait in lines amid crowds while you take a pass on those Grand Strand sand dunes and opt, instead, for a peaceful and serene chill out, Sandhills-style.
Mother Nature – and Cheraw State Park – are ready and waiting.
Cheraw State Park is generally open daily from 7:00 am – 8:00 pm, but hours may vary due to season or circumstance. There is no charge for general admission, but those planning to enjoy an extended stay are strongly encouraged to make reservations early. Rental fees for specific items are available by phone or via the park office. Pets are welcome, but are not allowed in or around cabins, cabin areas, or other lodging facilities. Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet. Golf tee times may be obtained by calling the pro shop at 1-800-868-9630 or visiting their website at http://www.playcheraw.com/. Additional information about Cheraw State Park may be obtained by contacting the park office at 843-537-9656 or visiting their website at southcarolinaparks.com/cheraw.