Before we get into the gritty details, let me give you a little background on our brave Poinsett State Park travelers:
Recently, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law relocated from their lifelong home of New England, to South Carolina. Due to circumstance and essentially the way the universe worked out, they chose to move here in July. Which, as anyone who has relocated to the Southeast can assure you, July just might be the worst time of year for such a life change. You see, it’s not just really hot down here in the South – it’s humid. Quite often in the 90% or above levels of humidity, leaving you not only sweltering, but wondering if your lungs are getting any oxygen at all.
Having spent the first half of my life in Vermont as well, I know that people up there think they understand the heat and the humidity. And it’s true – it does get pretty swampy up there. But it’s nothing compared to the waterlogged hell (said with adoration, I’ll take it over snow any day) that we experience down here in the summer.
So OF COURSE my husband Geoff and I thought that August would be the perfect time to take two of South Carolina’s newest residents tent camping. I mean if you’re going to try and acclimate, might as well go all in, am I right?
Poinsett State Park
Poinsett State Park is a 1,000 acre park located in Wedgfield, South Carolina – just outside of Sumter. A “midlands” park, this location leaves you feeling *almost* like you are on the cusp of the mountains. Something us coastal dwellers crave from time to time. (Or in my case, all of the time). I had heard about Poinsett from some local mountain bike friends, as the park boasts over 25 miles of trails. So when someone in the family mentioned “camping”, we jumped on the opportunity to book a site at Poinsett.
Poinsett…like the plant?
Yes, exactly that. Poinsett State Park is named after amateur botanist and South Carolina native Joel Roberts Poinsett. Fun fact, he was the first American ambassador to Mexico, and popularizer of the poinsettia plant. You know, the one you can’t let your cats eat at Christmas time. While we didn’t see any poinsettas at the park (spoiler alert: South Carolina isn’t their native habitat), we did see an amazing combination of flora and fauna in this very mixed ecosystem.
Earlier this year, a friend clued me into a really handy website called CampsitePhotos.com. It not only tells you which sites are the “best” ones, but shows you photos of every single campsite in a given park. Well, I’ve had a 100% success rate with this website leading us to stellar sites…until campsite #22.
Our caravan (it took two cars with all of the bikes, SUP’s, and outdoor gear we loaded) drove around the campground looking for the small, brown placard that designated our campsite. Suddenly, we found ourselves on this small plot of land that we couldn’t necessarily distinguish from the road itself. It was almost within handshaking distance from three other sites, and what I believe was a recreation hall, in non Covid times.
Imagine my surprise when I looked down and saw that it was marked “22”.
It was on that afternoon that I realized, according to CampsitePhotos.com, “best” likely means “easiest to park and / or pull your RV” through. But, my friends, we are tent campers through and through (until the universe somehow provides an RV) and we were hoping for something a bit more rustic and secluded…
Fortunately for us, we showed up on a Sunday afternoon, and the campground was practically empty. So our adventurous team simultaneously scoped out empty sites, verified our second choice site wasn’t reserved on the South Carolina State Parks website, and called the ranger (there was no campground host on site) to ensure it was OK that we moved.
And that’s how we ended up at the best campsite in the Poinsett State Park campground: site #38. Sure, it was nearly 100 degrees, and initially I was pretty certain my in-laws were never going to travel with us again. But there was tons of room for our tents, endless snacks, the campfire, and rousing games of “ring toss”.
The Other Camping Details:
Now that we’ve got the site specific drama out of the way, let me tell you about this campground.
- If you take a left out of campsite 38, you can coast the entire way to the bathroom. It’s all downhill. Your welcome.
- The restrooms were clean and well kept, as has been my experience at every single South Carolina State Park I’ve ever stayed in. Bonus points for not having clear shower curtains (I’m looking at you, Lee State Park…)
- There were a lot of ants. This isn’t a complaint, we’re outdoors after all. It was just worth noting, there were tons of ants absolutely everywhere. Trying to keep them out of your stuff – and your tent – was a fruitless effort. By the second night I’d become used to them crawling across my arms while I was trying to sleep.
- The only downfall to campsite #38 were the hickory pignuts. And not so much the trees themselves, but the squirrels who sat in the trees above, took bites from the nuts, and then dropped them on our heads. Not even joking when I tell you that I wore a helmet around the campfire for this very reason. It was hilarious.
Everyone has a happy place. Some people love the beach. Some, a quiet corner in a library. For me, it’s a trail. Through the woods, through the dunes, through the dessert, I don’t particularly care. If it’s a trail, I instinctively want to explore it. And Poinsett had NO shortage of trails to roam.
Let me first start by saying that I’m super glad I picked up a trail map at the park office. I wouldn’t say you’d necessarily get woefully lost in Poinsett State Park – the trails are wonderfully marked. But, many of the 13 trails do overlap and/or connect with each other. Having the map to reference definitely saved us from a number of potential spousal navigation squabbles.
(There’s a reason why I’m always in charge of the map though).
The trails vary from the typical rooty, coastal feeling (that’s code for sandy) single track we experience here in South Carolina, to wider cart paths. There are short, punchy climbs, long gradual descents, and everything in between. As a relatively “newer” mountain biker myself, I’d definitely describe these trails as beginner to intermediate friendly.
Most notably, they were winding, flowy- and fun…but nothing aggressive, requiring a full suspension bicycle. No jumps, carpeting, or other “features”
The Palmetto Trail and I have a lot of history. As in, I’ve spent a good chunk of my free time running – and suffering – on the trail. The Palmetto Trail is a planned 500 mile trail that crosses the state of South Carolina. Currently, however, only 350 miles are completed. And a few of those, specifically the Wateree Passage, pass through Poinsett State Park.
Manchester State Forest Trails
It should also be noted that Poinsett State Park is surrounded by the Manchester State Forest. If you find yourself on the Campbell Pond trail, you’ll eventually meet up with Some of the MSF trails. For these trails, you will need a permit for anything other than hiking.
Paddling / Swimming
Geoff and I opted to bring our paddleboards to Poinsett in order to explore the 10 acres of Levi Mill Lake. If you head to Poinsett and don’t have your own boat, don’t worry: there are boats to rent, including peddle boats, paddle boards, kayaks and canoes. Our family opted for one of the big aluminum canoes that bring back fond memories of summer camp as a kid.
Another fun fact: Levi Mill Lake would be the first place I ever fell off of a stand up paddleboard. Yep, my fin caught some lily pads, the board stopped moving, but I did not. It was hilarious and only mildly embarrassing, as I scrambled to get back on the board without dumping everything I had strapped to the front end. So, thanks for the memories, Poinsett.
There was a section of the lake roped off specifically for swimming. I’d say this section was, at most, 4 feet deep. A sandy bottom made it wading into the murky water relaxing, rather than that “eww I wonder what I’m stepping in right now” feeling that comes with muck (but I do it anyway).
Along the shoreline you’ll find half a handful of picnic tables and wooden Adirondack chairs for relaxing by the waterfront.
Mills & Overlooks
On day one of our cycling adventure we stumbled across the Singleton Grist Mill ruins, which wasn’t your standard pile of old-building-rubble. Rather, this pre-Revolutionary War ruin is now a gorgeous little waterfall with stairs and a bridge allowing you to see the ruins from all angles. . Don’t worry – you don’t have to adventure very far to see it. The ruins are actually right near Levi Mill Lake, we just didn’t see it initially, and came across it from the backside.
As you head up the hill on the drive towards the campground, you’ll see signs for the scenic overlook shelter. To be honest, I had no idea what we’d actually be “overlooking” – central South Carolina isn’t known for it’s sweeping mountain vistas. But sure enough, at the top of the hill was a beautiful little shelter that “overlooked” the forest below.
But Wait! There’s More!
I just didn’t take pictures of any of it (blogger fail…oops). Poinsett State Park also features:
- 5 Cabin / Villas available if standard camping isn’t’ your thing
- 4 picnic shelters that can be reserved
- A playground
- Geocaching (we didn’t find any)
You know, standard campground stuff.
Know Before You Go:
- Location: 6660 Poinsett Park Rd, Wedgefield SC29168
- 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 9 a.m. – dark, daily, unless you have a reserved campsite (then obviously, you can stay after closing time!
For more information, visit the Poinsett State Park page of the South Carolina State Parks website!
In the end, our brave travelers survived the midland heat and humidity – despite the fact that the wind seemingly never graced us with it’s cooling presence. The quietness of Poinsett was a perfect place to ease our family into the South Carolina camping and adventure life we are so fond of living. I’m pretty sure we’ve convinced them to join us again.
With 47 parks to visit in order to complete the South Carolina State Parks Ultimate Outsider quest, we are trying to limit return trips until the checklist is finished. That said, I’ll definitely be back to Poinsett in the near future.