Mountain in the Midlands

There’s a mountain… in the Midlands!

Last fall we started a quest to visit all of the state parks in South Carolina. So, on days we don’t have a particular destination in mind we let the toddler pick a dot on the map of the parks and point the 4Runner that direction.

This past Sunday morning we woke up itching to spend some time in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, it looked like forecasted storms might thwart our adventures. So, we decided to head out early and stay relatively close to home. The destination selected by our young Navigation Specialist (with a little guidance from Mom) was Poinsett State Park in Pinewood, S.C.

We loaded up with drinks and snacks (though clearly not enough as we would learn later) and headed east. Along the way, we noticed a sign for the Wateree River Heritage Preserve. Having never heard of the preserve we decided to consult Google for more information. We learned the more than 3,600 acre preserve was created in 2015 as part of a mitigation agreement with a mining company. The description said the preserve offered hiking and equestrian trails, hunting, a fishing pond and a mountain! The concept of a mountain in the Sandhills of South Carolina piqued our interest, so we made a mental note to explore the preserve on our way back from our state park visit.

After driving a bit further and detouring down a newly wet and spongy dirt road, we made our way into the park. The forested park was quiet and peaceful, with a slight sense that it could be the setting for a horror movie – I think it was the darkness combined with the trees draped in heavy moss.

We made our way up to the Overlook Shelter first. The small, historic shelter was in a clearing with a nice view of the valley below. Next we drove through the campground. At first I had assumed the area designated by the wooden sign must be the tent camping area since it was off some pretty rough and steep roads, but upon turning the corner, we saw some pretty large travel trailers and motor homes (those are some braves folks!).

In addition to the challenging roads, there didn’t seem to be much to do within walking distance of the campground, other than hiking, of course. However, there was a large fishing pond and a nice office and camp store further into the park. They also had some cabins down another side road.

Still trying to beat the storms we set back out. The park is actually set into the Manchester State Forest, so we drove a few side roads through the forest. Around this time we were getting hungry, but discovered we should have packed lunch since the nearest restaurants were a ways off. Following our stomachs, we started back toward Columbia, but not before we went looking for the mountain supposedly hidden in the Midlands.

We were shocked by what we found upon entering the Wateree River Heritage Preserve! After driving through an ornate iron gate we found immaculate gravel roads and large modern street signs. As instructed by signs, we stopped at a check point soon after entering the preserve and filled out a day use pass. Then we set out to find the mountain.

Despite the street signs, the preserve wasn’t particularly easy to navigate for first-timers. The map at the check point clearly indicated the roads, but didn’t mark any points of interest. So we drove. Eventually we saw a small white sign. It had an arrow pointing left to the fishing pond and right to Cook’s Mountain. We turned right. We expected to make the turn and find the “mountain” was just a small mound in a clearing, but instead the road began to weave upward. Our excitement began to grow as we continued up the hill. Could there really be a secret mountain in the Midlands?

Then we came to the end of the road. The top of Cook’s Mountain.

And it was beautiful!

Maybe not a mountain in the typical sense, the land mass only rises to 372 feet above sea-level, but the scenic overlook provides a breath-taking view of the Wateree River below. Pictures really don’t do it justice.

In fact, I’m a little hesitant to even tell anyone about this hidden gem because I want to keep it to ourselves, but what fun would that be? So, if you find yourself near Columbia, S.C., make the 17 mile drive to Eastover, S.C. and drive up Cook’s Mountain. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. We weren’t! My only word of caution is to bring your chosen bug repellent. The mosquitos seem to be fond of the view, as well.

After our mountain voyage, we made the short drive home, promising to be back for further exploration. It’s amazing the things you find in your own backyard just taking a lazy, Sunday afternoon drive!

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