Santee State Park: Camping & Paddling Review

It seems that we’re quickly gaining a reputation as the family you can invite last minute on an adventure, with fair certainty that we’ll accept. I’m not complaining, of course. As business owners that work full time from home, we’ve inadvertently become workaholic hermits. It’s so hard to tell yourself to take a break when there is endless work to be done. But when it’s someone else’s idea, the reasons why we shouldn’t go seem harder to come by. And that’s exactly how we wound up at Santee State Park.

Santee State Park: Camping & Paddling Review

Trying to decide which of the 47 South Carolina State Parks to visit next can sometimes be logistically frustrating. So it’s always fun when someone else makes the decision for you. When our friends asked if we wanted to join them for a weekend of camping at Santee State Park, we started repacking the car we had barely just unpacked from Poinsett, and headed Southwest.

Santee State Park

Truth be told, I had zero idea exactly where Santee State Park was. I initially thought “Santee” was kind of like “Palmetto” or “Lowcountry”. You know, common words you hear every time you turn around here in South Carolina. I thought perhaps Santee was a region. But turns out, it’s an actual town located right smack on I-95 in the Midlands region of South Carolina.

Paddling canoes and kayaks at Santee State Park

Santee State Park is a 2,500 acre park located just minutes off of 1-95, making it one of the easier parks to get to. It features two campgrounds, two boat ramps, 6 picnic shelters, and 30 cabins – among other amenities.


Santee State Park features two separate campgrounds that feature a combined 158 campsites ( 48 of which have 50 amp service). Each site is packed sand and has individual water and electrical hookups and a picnic table. The 50-site Cypress View Campground sits on the west side of the park. The Lakeshore Campground, with 108 sites, is located on the east side of the park.

Fun fact: those two campgrounds are at minimum, two miles apart. I learned this when visiting the office near the Cypress View Campground, trying to find our campsite in the Lakeshore campground. The friendly State Park employee asked me what site I was looking for, and when I told her, she said “Oh honey – you’re on the WRONG side of the park.” Oops.

Santee State Park Ranger Office

Lakeshore Campsite #86

Let me preface this next section with the following thought: different people like different types of camping, and that’s OK. Just because someone prefers one style of campgrounds/campsites/etc. doesn’t mean the other style is wrong. It’s all personal preference. So all of that said:

I didn’t like the Santee State Park campground.

First the good: our site was pretty big. We easily fit two family’s worth of tents, cars, gear, and even a pop-up tent over the picnic table (it rained most of the weekend) with room to spare. It was close enough to the water that we could easily hop across the road and jump in the lake for a swim. If I had to pick a different site, I wouldn’t have.

But, I felt the layout of the campground at Santee was far too open. Meaning, you couldn’t exactly tell where your campsite ended and your neighbors began. While there were trees, the sites were barren of any other plant life to act as a buffer between sites. Our side of the Lakeshore campground seemed to be the least crowded side, and still…privacy was non-existent.

View of Santee State Park Campground
You can see the neighboring campsites picnic tables, demonstrating how close and open the sites are.

And while I love you fellow campers, don’t get me wrong, I like to camp to get away from people.

The entire night we were woken up by the sounds of large trucks coming and going, towing fishing boats to and from campsites. Now let be perfectly clear that I didn’t think anyone was being purposefully loud or obnoxious. The campground itself was just loud at all hours of the night and early morning. I imagine sleeping in an RV might have been more restful. But as tent dwellers – it was a weekend full of fitful sleep.

But let’s get onto some more fun stuff.


Lake Marion, for those who aren’t aware, is a huge lake. It’s the largest one in South Carolina, in fact, covering 110,000 acres, and boasting 315 miles of shoreline.

It’s a BIG lake.

We weren’t able to bring our paddle boards on this trip due to space restrictions (two teenagers take up a lot of space in the back of the Subaru). But fortunately, a company called Fish Eagle Wildlife Tours, with it’s office located right in the park, offers rentals.

Fish Eagle Wildlife Tours office onsite at Santee State Park

Our party snagged two 3-person canoes and a kayak from a very helpful and friendly employee (who also took the picture below for us). And went for a 2 hour, self guided Lake Marion tour.

Group of canoe and kayak adventurers standing on shore

Apparently, you can paddle into the swampy, inlet sections of Lake Marion, where you might see some alligators or other wildlife. My navigational error, however, took us on a 5 mile round trip of just the shoreline. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable. Especially when we were able to dock our boats on the sandy shoreline for a mid paddle swim.

boaters on shoreline of Lake Marion at Santee State Park


A 110,000 acre lake leaves NO shortage of places to swim. Shortly after we arrived at our campsite, my teens ran down to the closest water access point. They marveled at the sign that said there is NO designated swimming spot at Santee State Park. They took that as a positive “you can swim absolutely anywhere you want” confirmation, and got their swim trunks on.

Pool noodle fight in Lake Marion

While it’s true, there is no specific designated place to swim at the park, there are a number of great places to jump in to the lake. The bottom is mostly sandy, with large rocks spread throughout. The kids – of all sizes – had a blast.


Santee State Park features over 10 miles of trails spread across 6 separate trails. Now, I know this is going to sound absolutely crazy…but I didn’t set foot on any of the “official” trails. (Just a rouge one from the campground – see more on that below). I know, I know, so very un-trail runner of me. But I was busy enjoying time with my kids, who are in that cool “not quite an angry teenager yet” phase. I’m not a parenting expert, but I have a feeling that you don’t want to waste these days.

That said, we did check out the giant sinkhole at the trail head of one of the nature trails.

View of sinkhole at Santee State Park
Limestone Sinkhole explanation sign at Santee State Park


The crux of activity at Santee State Park seems to be the fishing, more specifically-fishing for catfish. Now, please don’t get me wrong: even though I don’t participate in fishing as an adult, I grew up with a father who was an avid hunter and fisherman. I’ve been exposed to the lifestyle from the time I was very young. But more importantly, I have been taught how to be a respectful fisherman, all while putting care for the environment above all else.

Kids in SS Santee boat at Santee State Park
Santee State Park store and pier

So it pains me to report that the downfall of Santee State Park was the fishing waste and byproduct seemingly EVERYWHERE. While swimming, we got caught up in fishing line. While kayaking, we got caught up in fishing line. The trees were full of lines, lures, and weights that were tangled from bad casts. There were bait containers and wrappers all over the shoreline. My son and I walked a ways down an unmarked trail that followed the shoreline from the campground, and we were flabbergasted to find bottles and trash everywhere – not to mention dismembered catfish corpses littering the trail.

It was a disgusting show of sportsmanship and poor stewardship.

Catfish corpse on the shore of Lake Marion
This one is tame. I’ll spare you the worst of the pictures.

Santee State Park – Know Before You Go:

  • Location: 251 Santee Park Road, Santee, SC 29142
  • Admission: $3 adults; $1.50 SC seniors; $1 children age 6-15; age 5 & younger free (Or, included in your campground reservations, or with an annual State Park pass).
  • The park is open from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., daily, unless you have a reserved campsite (then obviously, you can stay after closing time!

For more information, visit the Santee State Park page of the South Carolina State Parks website!

Sunrise at Lake Marion / Santee State Park

Final Santee State Park Thoughts:

If you love fishing, this is the park for you. If you are an RV camper (or cabin renter) looking to spend some time in a waterfront park, this park is for you. While Santee State Park will not make my top 10 list, I can definitely still recognize the beauty of the area, and appreciate why others may love this park.

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.