South Carolina is famous for the southern-charm-filled cities of Charleston and Beaufort, sparkling sea islands with Gullah heritage, and the up-and-coming capital city of Columbia.
When planning a visit, there’s no shortage of things to do – from prime fishing lakes and streams to champion trees towering above record-breaking bottomland forests or hiking trails through waterfall-filled woodlands.
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But before you book your trip, make a list of the top things you want to do in South Carolina and check the weather forecast. The last thing you want is to be sweating through Charleston’s cobbled streets in the unforgiving humidity or going to the beach during a hurricane threat.
Here’s our guide to the best time to visit South Carolina.
Escape the heat and humidity of high season on Myrtle Beach © wbritten / iStockphoto / Getty Images
The high season is the best time to go to the beach (June-August)
There’s no way around it – summer in this subtropical state is miserably hot and humid. The best place to escape the heat is along the palm-bedecked coast. Expect crowds, higher prices and lower availability. Pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and beachwear.
Consider visiting attractions that have air-conditioning, such as Columbia’s plethora of excellent museums like the South Carolina State Museum and Columbia Museum of Art. The restaurant scene in the capital city is a mix of traditional favorites and pioneering newcomers with Terra and SmallSUGAR at the top of the list.
Fishing and splashing in the Upstate lakes and rivers are an option, too. The temps are slightly cooler as you travel toward the hills of Appalachia, in the state’s northwestern corner.
The hardest time to get a room (or a cheap flight) in Charleston is during Spoleto (Memorial Day to mid-June), the several-week event when the city’s churches, theaters and outdoor spaces are filled with performances.
The city sees fewer visitors from July to mid-September, thanks to the heat. On the flip side, it’s a good time to go if you want to snag dinner reservations at one of the city’s coveted restaurants. Bring an umbrella to protect yourself from sudden thunderstorms.
Enjoy outdoor festivals during shoulder season (April/May and September/October)
South Carolina is in glorious bloom in April and May, with relatively fewer visitors and mild, sunny weather. Festivals explode throughout the state, celebrating food, wine, music and horses.
This is also a good time to explore the offerings of Charleston, Columbia, Beaufort and Greenville. Keep in mind that early spring is tornado season and there’s a chance of thunderstorms – pack light layers, an umbrella, and a jacket.
Fall brings spectacular foliage in the mountains and tolerable temps throughout. It’s a great time for mountain hikes, scenic drives, and golfing. Festivals continue with an autumnal theme, including beer, shrimp, food, and music. Bring a sweater for cooler nights.
Low season is perfect for budget travelers (November-March)
As winter blankets the land, the tourist crush subsides, and accommodation rates become less expensive.
The temperatures are mild, with crisp nights and brief cold spells. Along the coast, the average daytime temp is 60°F – perfect for a walk on the beach. Bear in mind that the farther inland you go toward Appalachia, the cooler it gets – nighttime temps can drop to freezing.
There is some snowfall, though snowstorms are rare. Pack a mid-weight jacket and sweaters. Though you’ll spot locals wearing scarves and mittens, it’s generally in the interests of fashion rather than warmth!
When is hurricane season?
Hurricane season kicks in late August through October, with September being the highest risk. Tornados threaten again in November.
Avoid the crowds in January
The state’s coldest month, the average daytime temp is 58°F – not too bad for a winter’s day. Though if you head to the mountains, the thermometer can dip into the 40s and below. Accommodations are at their lowest rates.
Key Events: Restaurant Week South Carolina, Charleston Boat Show
Nab a hotel deal in February
Winter is on its way out and temperatures start to climb, though it’s still chilly and there can be rain. Festivals gain momentum. Camellias start to bloom, especially gorgeous at Middleton Place. There are still deals to be found for hotels.
Key Events: Southeastern Wildlife Exhibition in Charleston, Lowcountry Oyster Festival in Charleston, Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival
Fans of bird watching should visit in March to witness the incredible start of the spring migration in South Carolina © Teresa Kopec / Getty Images
Go birdwatching in March
March can be wet, though temperatures are mild. Wildflowers start appearing everywhere. Birds start their spring migration along the Atlantic Flyway; hot spots include Huntington Beach, considered by many to be the best bird-watching spot along the East Coast. Triple Crown equestrian events take place in Aiken.
Key Events: Charleston Food & Wine Festival, Craftsmen’s Classics Art & Craft Festival in Columbia
Hike amidst wildflowers in April
Azaleas and dogwoods bloom, and the temps are mild, making this the ideal time to hike, bike, cycle and golf.
Extraordinary spring wildflowers ignite the landscape from April into May, from the Upstate to the Lowcountry. Local farmer’s markets open up throughout the region, their stalls laden with squash, zucchini, and sweet peas.
In late spring look for soft-shell crabs – Atlantic blue crabs that have recently molted their hard shell and are deep-fried or pan-seared and often tucked into a sandwich. You’ll find them on menus across the state, though the best places are in the Lowcountry.
Key Events: Aiken Horse Show, World Grits Festival in St. George, Charleston Jazz Festival, Historic Pendleton Spring Jubilee, RBC Heritage Classic Golf Tournament in Hilton Head
Visit Farmer’s markets in May
Everything, including prices, starts to heat up. Water parks and other summer attractions open their doors. Look for Georgia peaches, field peas, and okra at farmer’s markets and roadside stands.
Key Events: Freedom Weekend Aloft in Anderson, Original Gullah Festival in Beaufort, Artisphere in Greenville, Cook Out Southern 500 in Darlington
Head to the river in June
This month is one of the best times to be outdoors in South Carolina – summer wildflowers line the trails and the river rafting in the mountains is sublime. It starts heating up toward the end of the month. Shrimp is plentiful along the coast into late December.
Key Events: Brookgreen Gardens Art Festival, South Carolina Festival of Flowers in Greenwood
High season welcomes a vast array of fun outdoor festivals in South Carolina © Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images
Hit the beach in July
The state’s hottest month, it’s miserably warm and muggy (the seasonal norm is 94°F, plus humidity). It’s also the state’s wettest month, with an average of 5.5 inches of rain. It’s a good time to head to the beach or the mountains. Pack an umbrella, just in case.
Fourth of July events explode throughout the state, with some of the best in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Greenville.
Lake Murray hosts thousands of purple martins, which depart from their summer home on Doolittle Island in a flurry of flapping wings, returning at dusk in another spectacular show.
Key Events: Beaufort Water Festival, South Carolina Peach Festival in Gaffney, The Sweetgrass Festival in Mount Pleasant
Keep an eye on hurricanes in August
Peak tourism season arrives, with the beaches especially crowded with visitors. Keep an eye on hurricanes potentially brewing along the coast.
Key Events: Gullah/Geechee Nation International Music & Movement Festival in Charleston, Low Country Jazz Festival in North Charleston
Feast on food and wine in September
The heat slowly retreats, which is why September (and October) offer an inordinate amount of food, wine, music and arts festivals. Fall colors begin to show, especially in the Upstate, and U-pick farms are abundant. The oyster season kicks off; watch for oyster roasts along the coast.
Key Events: Euphoria in Greenville, MOJA Arts Festival in Charleston, South Carolina Tobacco Festival in Lake City, South Carolina Apple Festival in Westminster
Sports season kicks off in October
The festival season continues, including house tours, food-and-wine fests, and the state fair. Football is in the air everywhere; good luck finding a room in Columbia and Clemson if the Gamecocks and Tigers are playing at home. Polo and steeplechase tournaments take place in Aiken.
Fall foliage in the Upstate is at its crowning glory (though you’ll see color well into December in some places); enjoy it along trails in state parks including Caesars Head and Table Rock, which you can access along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway.
Late October into November is peak monarch butterfly migration season when thousands of these orange-and-black beauties stop by Lowcountry beaches to fill up with nectar; they prefer groundsel trees, a large shrub with stiff, spreading branches.
Key Events: South Carolina Jazz Festival, The Fall Tours of Homes and Gardens, Beaufort Shrimp Festival, South Carolina State Fair in Columbia
Bring your umbrella in November
The temps start dipping into the 50s, with the possibility of rain. Fall foliage continues in the Upstate.
Key Events: Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival, Dickens Christmas Show & Festivals in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Pecan Festival in Florence
Ring in the holidays in December
As the temperatures cool – averaging in the mid-50s – the holiday season brings parades, holiday lights, and other festive events.
Key Events: Beaufort International Film Festival, Elgin Catfish Stomp, Holiday Lights on the River in Columbia