Discover the Largest Forest in South Carolina (And What Lives Within It)

Written by Lev Baker
Published: January 14, 2023
© Malachi Jacobs/
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Like many states in the United States, South Carolina has some stunning nature. The state is packed with lush, green forests teeming with plant and animal life from the coast to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether you love hiking or just strolling through the woods, you can’t deny the beauty and serenity of South Carolina’s forests. 

However, one forest, in particular, stands out. In this article, we will go over what to expect in a visit to this fabulous forest!

The Largest Forest In South Carolina: Sumter National Forest

Sumter national forest
Sumter National Forest is the largest forest in South Carolina.


If you’re looking for a nature escape, Sumter National Forest in South Carolina might be the perfect spot for you. It’s the largest national forest in the state, covering more than 370,000 acres! It’s made up of three ranger districts – Enoree, Long Cane, and Andrew Pickens – which together span 11 different counties.

But the real draw of Sumter National Forest is its stunning landscape, which includes 66 named mountains. These peaks are a mix of igneous and metamorphic rocks, with some dating all the way back to the Precambrian to Paleozoic eras. The tallest peak, Fork Mountain, stands at 3,287 feet.

The forest’s beauty doesn’t stop at its mountains. It’s also home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, thanks to its diverse landscapes in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains. In the western Andrew Pickens Ranger District, which is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll find all sorts of hardwood trees like oak, hickory, and white pine. And if you venture to the higher elevations, you might spot pitch pine and table mountain pine. Hemlock trees can also be found in the area.

All of these trees, along with the forest’s varied landscapes, create the perfect environment for all sorts of plant and animal life to thrive. So if you’re in the mood to appreciate some stunning nature, Sumter National Forest is definitely worth a visit.

History Of Sumter National Forest

Before the Sumter National Forest was established in South Carolina, the land was home to Native American tribes like the Cherokee and saw battles during the Revolutionary War. It was also where farmers worked the fields, timber companies cut down trees, and Irish immigrants built railroads and tunnels.

The U.S. Bureau of Forestry (which later became the USDA Forest Service) started evaluating the lands in 1901. During World War I, the demand for timber really exploded. As a result, deforestation became a big problem in the South, including in the Southern Pine Belt.

In 1928, the National Forest Reservation Commission approved the creation of two national forests in South Carolina, but it wasn’t until the 1930s, and the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the process really got rolling. Finally, the Francis Marion and Sumter forests were officially designated national forests in July 1936.

These forests were created to protect the land and make it productive again. Now they’re managed by the USDA Forest Service for various purposes, including timber production, wilderness management, minerals leasing, and outdoor recreation.

Today, people visit the forests for all sorts of activities, like hiking, fishing, and camping.

Hiking And Camping In Sumter National Forest

Sumter National Forest
Sumter National Forest is a place to enjoy fishing!


Ready to tap into your adventurous side? Look no further than this national forest! From rafting and biking to hiking and hunting, there’s something everyone can enjoy here. And with South Carolina’s mild weather, you can visit and have fun all year long.


If you love hiking, you’ll definitely want to check out the Sumter National Forest! With 41 miles of trails, there’s plenty of room to explore. Most of these trails are located in the southern half of the forest, but the northern half does have a few trails as well.

Just beware that the northern area is home to pine plantations, which might not be as picturesque as the trails in the south.


The forest is an amazing place to set up camp, with a total of 1,162 campsites available for dispersed camping, and 658 of these sites are developed. Unfortunately, there aren’t any designated sites if you’re looking for a more backcountry camping experience. 

However, dispersed camping is allowed throughout the forest, so you can pitch your tent just about anywhere. But, of course, you must follow the park’s rules and regulations!


If you’re planning a boating trip, the Sumter National Forest has got you covered. It has nine boat launches open all year, most of which are located in the southern half of the forest. So whether you want to go fishing, wakeboarding, or just want to enjoy a scenic boat ride, you’ll have plenty of options.

ATV Riding

Love riding ATVs? Then you’ll want to check out the Sumter National Forest. It has 53 miles of designated trails just waiting to be explored. Most of these trails are located in the southern half of the forest, so you’ll have plenty of room to tear up the terrain. Whether you’re an expert rider or a beginner, you’ll find trails that suit your skill level.

So rev up your engines and get ready for some off-road fun!

Tourist Attractions In The Sumter National Forest

The Sumter County Historical Museum is a must-see for history buffs! Located in Bush River near the Bush River Recreation Area, this museum is open all year long. Inside, you’ll find a treasure trove of historical artifacts, photographs, and historic documents that tell the story of Sumter County. Admission to the museum is also free, which is a huge plus!

If you’re looking for a more active adventure, don’t miss the Big Creek Trail. This 26-mile trail winds through a beautiful red oak forest and along the banks of Big Creek. Perfect for hikers, the trail is designed for low-water crossings and is open all year round.

Forest Closures And Restrictions

There are certain areas that are off-limits to the public to protect natural and cultural sites. And from time to time, the forest will close for building and maintenance work. So, keep an eye on the forest’s official website to stay updated on your visit.

Wildlife In Sumter National Forest

The Sumter National Forest is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including birds, mammals, and fish. Some species you might spot while visiting include deer, foxes, beavers, wild turkeys, and black bears. The forest is also an excellent place for birding, as it hosts a range of northern species that can only be found in this area. Keep an eye out for warblers, woodpeckers, herons, and more.

If you’re into fishing, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to catch bass, catfish, crappie, and other types of fish in the streams and rivers throughout the forest. All in all, it’s a great place to get up close and personal with nature.

Here are some of the animals you’ll spot in Sumter National Forest.


coyote in sunlight
The coyote is more active at dawn and dusk.

©Mircea Costina/

Coyotes are just one of the many incredible animals calling the Sumter National Forest home. You can spot these clever creatures all over the forest, but they tend to be more active at dawn and dusk. If you’re out hiking or camping, you might hear their distinctive howls echoing through the trees.

Coyotes are known for being adaptable and resourceful, making them such successful animals in various habitats. While they occasionally prey on small mammals, they also eat fruits, vegetables, and insects. As a result, coyotes are an important part of the ecosystem in the Sumter National Forest, and it’s always a treat to catch a glimpse of one out in the wild.


You’ll find both migratory and resident bats in the Sumter National Forest.


Bats are fascinating creatures known for their ability to fly, which makes them a lot of fun to watch. You might spot bats flying around at dusk when they’re out hunting for insects. In the Sumter National Forest, you’ll find both migratory and resident bats.

Bats are like the superheroes of the animal kingdom! Not only do they help keep the bug population in check, but they also help spread pollen and seeds as they fly from flower to flower. These amazing creatures play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of nature. So next time you see a bat flying around at dusk, give it a little nod of appreciation for all the hard work it does.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron catching a huge fish.
If you’re out hiking or camping in the Sumter National Forest, you might spot a great blue heron.

©David Byron Keener/

Great blue herons are one of the most iconic birds you’ll find in the Sumter National Forest. These majestic creatures are known for their long legs, graceful movements, and distinctive blue-gray feathers. They’re often found near bodies of water, such as lakes, streams, and marshes, where they hunt for fish and other small prey.

If you’re out hiking or camping in the Sumter National Forest, you might spot a great blue heron standing motionless along the bank of a river, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. These birds are also known for their elaborate courtship rituals, which involve a lot of head-bobbing and wing-flapping.

Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird
Eastern bluebirds are fairly common in the Sumter National Forest.

©Steve Byland/

The eastern bluebirds are known for their bright blue feathers, which really stand out against the green foliage of the forest. You might spot eastern bluebirds perching on a tree branch or flying through the air in search of insects to eat.

These birds are fairly common in the Sumter National Forest, so if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll have a good chance of seeing one. Eastern bluebirds are known for their cheerful songs, which are a joy to listen to on a spring morning.


You can find bream in the streams and rivers of the Sumter National Forest.

©Michal Pesata/

Bream are a type of fish that you can find in the streams and rivers of the Sumter National Forest. These small, slender fish are often found in shallow, slow-moving water, where they feed on insects and other small invertebrates. If you’re into fishing, try your luck at catching bream in the forest.

They’re not the biggest fish around, but they can put up a good fight and are a lot of fun to catch. Bream come in a range of colors, from silver to bronze, so they’re always a nice sight when you reel one in. They’re also a popular choice for a fish fry, so if you’re successful on the water, consider cooking up a batch for dinner.

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Sumter National Forest
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About the Author

I have been a freelance writer for the past 2 years. I have a huge love of animals and I love building my knowledge of animals through research. I love sea creatures in particular, my favorite being the octopus because of their intelligence, and I mean, come on, what's not to love! I have a rescue boxer named Dante who is the friendliest pup a man could ask for.

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