Greenville, S.C. is the perfect basecamp for countless mountain adventures. Located at the edge of the rain-soaked Blue Ridge Escarpment, where the famed mountain range tumbles low into the Piedmont, Greenville is near some of the most fertile waterfall hunting grounds in the southeast.
This mid-sized city of 65,000 is indeed an ideal choice for an active-minded weekend getaway from many Southeast hubs (it’s an easy drive from Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta, and Asheville). In recent years, it has transformed itself from a sleepy Southern town to a vibrant community of outdoor-loving locals—starting with the remarkable restoration of the Reedy River, which flows through the heart of the city, its stunning cascades, and pedestrian-only bridge a stunning anchor for downtown. The Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 20-mile multi-use path anchors a cycling culture that invites every type of rider. And Greenville’s burgeoning culinary scene—with its European flair and sidewalk café culture—is just the way to toast a day full of adventure.
So here, we offer a few insider tips for an epic Greenville weekend getaway, with a suggested itinerary—though you’ll probably make plenty of discoveries of your own in this charming South Carolina town.
Start the weekend off the right way and sneak out of work a couple hours early. Arrive in Greenville late on Friday afternoon and stop at your lodging. For your first visit, it’s a great idea to stay near the eminently walkable streets of downtown.
If there is any accommodation that exemplifies the flavor of Greenville, it’s the Swamp Rabbit Inn. A cozy, cheerful inn with a front porch full of rocking chairs and an interior designed entirely in Ikea, the b&b blends both quaint southern comfort and modern digs. Six animal-themed guestrooms offer conveniences like in-room coffeemakers and fluffy robes (though only two have in-room bathrooms). The inn offers bike rentals and is an easy walk (or bike ride) to Falls Park, the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and downtown dining. And innkeeper Wendy Lynam, a biking enthusiast who’s written a local guidebook on local routes, is always eager to help with suggestions.
Planning to bring your pooch along? The modern, brand-new Aloft hotel in downtown fully embraces the town’s dog-friendly philosophy. The hotel offers a pet package that includes toys, treats, dog bed, and bowl; adoption events are also regularly held in the lobby. Visitors of the two-legged persuasion will find games, a coffee and snack bar, and a full lounge on-site.
Serious cyclists won’t want to miss a chance to stay at Hotel Domestique, a stunning, European-influenced property that’s the vision of 17-time Tour de France rider and Greenville local George Hincapie. The hotel is located in Travelers Rest, a charming town that’s an easy drive from downtown Greenville, but it’s perfectly located for epic rides through the mountains. Cycling packages and clinics are available, and Hincapie himself sometimes joins guests on rides (he’s a fixture on local roads, too, so keep an eye out for him).
After checking in, head downtown to Falls Park on the Reedy for sunset. Built along the rocky banks of the Reedy River, Falls Park is the beating heart of Greenville. The 345-foot, pedestrian-only suspension bridge over the river is a sign of the modernization that Greenville has invested in, and the tumbling cascades that anchor the park are a fitting backdrop for the town’s outdoorsy vibe.
It’s a quick walk between the park and The Playwright, a popular local watering hole. Everything in the Irish pub—from the bar rail to the woodwork to the etched Victorian glass that highlights each public-house booth—was handcrafted in Dublin and shipped to Greenville specifically for this space. There’s plenty of authentic Ireland on the menu, too: bangers and mash and a super-hearty lamb and Guinness pie. Speaking of the brown nectar, you won’t find a better pint poured this side of the pond.
Today’s a big day, you’ll need some quick energy. No one takes the art and science of coffee more seriously than the aptly named Methodical Coffee. Pair a locally made pastry with one of their pour-over javas.
Once properly caffeinated, lace up your hiking shoes and take a short drive to Paris Mountain State Park. In less than 20 minutes, you’ll be walking the beautifully maintained but secluded trails that wind over and around the park’s namesake peak. The park’s multi-purpose trail system offers some of the best mountain biking in the area, and it’s popular with local trail runners, too. Challenging elevation changes and multiple scenic lakes overlooks make a day at Paris Mountain both an invigorating physical workout and a restful mental retreat.
If you plan to ride singletrack at Paris Mountain or any of the parks near Greenville, a quick stop at the Sunshine Cycle Shop will provide all the biking beta you need for the area.
Now that you’ve got in your cardio, it’s time for lunch and a relaxing float on Lake Saluda. Just about every weekend of good weather finds German-born Jan Mueller sharing his love of paddle sports here. His shop, Upstate Paddleboard, provides lessons from certified instructors as well as board and kayak rentals. The quiet waters of Lake Saluda and the gentle Saluda River that feeds it are a bit of a secret gem of the Upstate. Saluda Lake Landing, the launch site for Mueller’s trips, offers a simple but tasty selection of lunch favorites for a quick bite in between activities.
Like much of the Carolinas, the brewing scene around Greenville is hopping. A stop at Swamp Rabbit Brewery, located in Travelers Rest, nets a sample of some award-winning German-, Belgian-, and American-style ales. The simple, spacious digs of the brewery, including an outdoor patio, are just the spot to relax with a pint on a beautiful Carolina afternoon.
Once you’ve cleaned off the day’s adventure dust, it’s time to rally and hit the town. A quick walk up to Dark Corner Distillery is the perfect beginning to an evening’s exploration of downtown. Housed in a historic building with the original copper distilling system used to produce their early batches on display, Dark Corner is the place to learn the ins and outs of the craft. Tastings are $4 and include the shot glass.
Main Street is lined with a fantastic collection of food options, each taking advantage of extra-wide sidewalks for dining al fresco. The Green Room, between North and Coffee Streets, serves top-notch pub grub. For a hungry adventurer, the meatloaf with a side of almost-over-the-top truffle fries is a pretty special experience.
For a lower-key exploration of European tastes, walk a few steps below Washington Street to the sub-level confines of the Trappe Door (reservations recommended). It’s a beer geek’s paradise, with a multi-page tome dedicated to the best and hardest-to-find Belgian and Trappist beers. A palate-cleansing Moscow mule is also highly recommended: Almost everything in the light, refreshing cocktail, including the bitters and ginger soda, are made in-house. Mussels with a variety of sauces offer a tasty start to dinner, while entrees include local and Belgian-inspired favorites—think pan-seared salmon and sautéed duck breast in cherry beer sauce. You won’t have room for dessert but get the lemon crepe anyway. It’s large enough to share but the flavor is light enough to float over even the heartiest of sauces.
Enjoy a relaxing start to the day at Coffee Underground. The multi-purpose space pours delicious versions of all the coffee house favorites. If you need a super-sized antidote to the Trappist ales, the big-as-your-head cappuccino is served in what appears to be a mixing bowl with a handle. The Sunday brunch seating area, called the Red Room, is mercifully clad in dark and comforting colors. The menu includes huge omelets and fluffy French toast.
Named for the rail line on which it was built (which, in turn, was named for the indigenous animal), the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail has been the impetus for a tourism surge in Greenville. Bike shops, restaurants, and even a brewery have benefited from the two-wheeled traffic the roughly 220-mile trail brings.
Grab your bike (another spot to check out is Pedal Chic, the country’s first women-specific cycling shop; rentals also are available) and head out on the trail. It has multiple access points, but it’s a cinch to hop on from your downtown lodging. Ride as far as you like and if you make it all the way to the end, hearty burgers and a healthy dose of Americana await at the Whistle Stop at the Café.
If you turn around before that, your last stop in Greenville should be Grill Marks. The comfy burger joint does it right: Large beef patties are wipe-your-hand juicy and come with a basket of fries plenty big enough for sharing. And for the sweetest possible ending to your weekend, order up a homemade salted caramel malt. Get it to go for the short ride back to Charlotte, or linger and start planning your next trip to Greenville.
Featured image provided by VisitGreenvilleSC.com