The Summer Trip That (Almost) Empties Your Bucket List

Jun 17, 2018

Meet the town that sits at the intersection of epic and efficient, where you can knock off a good chunk of your bucket list in one go: Greenville, South Carolina, the Blue Ridge beauty that's become the most happening of hamlets over the last few years. In fact, there's so much going on there, why not attempt a seven-adventure sweep this summer?

Drive yourself wild

Drivers ed was never like this. At the BMW Performance Driving School, make like a top road racer. Pro instructors take you out on a special track where you practice tight turns, panic stops and blink-of-an-eye lane changes in a built-for-speed Bimmer (some say "Beemer"; either way, there’s a BMW plant across the street). You’ll spin out of control (intentionally) on the wet skid pad and learn how to recover safely. And there’s a nice long straightaway where you can put the pedal to the metal—no cops or speed cams in sight. 

Spend a full day (or two) taking a class that includes a daunting off-road course in a BMW X3 or X5, test-driving different BMW models on the track and strapping yourself into the passenger seat for a heart-racing hot lap with an instructor. Short on time? You can always book a two-hour performance drive.

Fly like an eagle

Put the excitement back into air travel and prepare for takeoff from the rim of the fabled Green River Gorge before plunging 1,100 vertical feet through the treetops of stunning old-growth forest and unspoiled wilderness. The Gorge Zipline Canopy Tour (in Saluda, North Carolina, less than an hour’s drive from Greenville) promises the steepest, fastest zip-lining experience in the U.S. 

The 3.5-hour aerial adventure takes you zooming toward the base of the gorge via 11 zip lines, a gravity-cheating sky bridge and three long rappels. All the way down, you’ll get breathtaking views—with the roar of the Green River for a soundtrack. And if you don’t know zip about zip-lining, fear not. Ace instructors are perfectly accustomed to getting newbies up to…speed.

Throw caution to the wind 

It’s the new bowling, they say. Darts on steroids. Craft Axe Throwing offers 10 lanes (well-partitioned, thank you) for this trending-again game of skill (and thrill) in which you and your teammates score points by throwing axes at a giant target. On-site axe experts help you master this art practiced by medieval knights, early American settlers, generations of lumberjacks and "Tonight Show" hosts past and present—Johnny Carson and Jimmy Fallon. Walk-ins are welcome, though you can go online to book a time and target.  

Scuba dive for secrets

Go jump in a lake. Really. Clean and cold Appalachian rivers feed Lake Jocassee (about an hour from Greenville), filling the reservoir with some of the clearest waters in the Southeast—visibility averages 20–30 feet (and sometimes reaches 60 feet). 

And you’ll appreciate the bonus visibility once you’re diving with Lake Jocassee Dive Shop or Scuba John’s—and you start to make out what’s lying on the lake bed: Why yes, those are the remains of a flooded town. The backstory? When the local utility built Jocassee Dam and created the lake, not everything was moved or torn down. The Attakulla Lodge, once a motel and later a girls camp, still lurks beneath the surface, as does Mt. Carmel Cemetery, made famous as a location in the movie "Deliverance."  Sharp-eyed divers can even make out some of the names on headstones. 

Note to non-divers: Keep the lake on your list. The surface is epic, too, what with the gorgeous, secluded swim spots you can boat to—bald eagles and butterflies overhead for good measure.  Book through the Jocassee Outdoor Center or Jocassee Lake Tours.

Scale the Green Monster of the South

Talk about a field of dreams. "Go the distance" to Fluor Field at the West End, home of the Greenville Drive, the Class A minor league baseball affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The stadium mimics the parent club’s Fenway Park, right down to the eighth-inning "Sweet Caroline" singalong and a slightly shrunken version of the Green Monster, the iconic 37-foot-tall left-field wall in Boston. Fluor Field’s outfield dimensions match those at Fenway, and there’s even a knockoff of Pesky’s Pole in the right field corner for pull-hitting lefties to target. 

The mini-me monster includes a vintage-looking manual scoreboard and swiveling wall-top seats for choice views of future big leaguers in action. At $16 bucks a pop (in advance, $17 at the gate), they’re way more affordable than coveted “Monstah” seats at Fenway, which can fetch $200–$500 on the secondary market.

Do go chasing waterfalls

One of the worthiest hikes you can take near Greenville is the strenuous 5-mile (roundtrip) trek through Jones Gap State Park to Rainbow Falls, a mesmerizing ribbon of water that drops 100 feet over a black- and tan-streaked granite cliff.

Photo Credit: Seth Berry

Start your trek on the blue-blazed Jones Gap Trail, which follows the Middle Saluda River past primitive campsites. After about 3/4 of a mile, veer right onto the red-marked Rainbow Falls Trail and cross the river on a metal bridge, then Cox Camp Creek on smaller wooden bridges. The final 1.6-mile steep climb to the base of the waterfall includes a series of switchbacks. After a well-deserved rest while admiring the falls, descend to awesome views of the Jones Gap valley.

Chop chop

Get a whirlybird’s-eye view of the stunning local landscape aboard a chopper with Upstate Helicopter Tours. Choose the set tour that spins your rotors—or even better, create a custom itinerary.

Components to consider: an aerial climb up the face of Paris Mountain, a swoop across picturesque Furman University, a flyover of Saluda Lake and some window-seat shopping through downtown Greenville. While you’re in the neighborhood, see a series of landmarks—Falls Park on the Reedy, Liberty Bridge, Fluor Field and the Peace Center—from an eye-popping perspective. Glide over Glassy Mountain and the Greenville Watershed reservoir. Take a loop around Table Rock. And feel your heart stop while you hover off the side of Caesars Head. The Robinson R-44 helicopter offers everyone in your group an unobstructed view, as well as a headset that lets you talk to the pilot (and each other) during the flight.

Ready to go? Check out the best local hotels, and learn more about how Greenville—yeah, that Greenville—is creating such a buzz.

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