Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Travelers Rest is an emerging southern destination with the charm of small-town Appalachia and the bohemian spirit of nearby Greenville and Asheville. Once a stopover for weary pioneers, the fittingly named wayside in the Upstate of South Carolina offered solace to travelers before their ascent into the mountains.
Now re-branded with the moniker “TR,” the town’s eclectic synergy of backwoods and boutique comes alive down Main Street, where weekend pop-up markets intermingle with specialty eateries and shops. With Furman, Bob Jones and Clemson nearby, TR has the feel of a collegiate town saturated with academia and sports rivalries.
Mountain spirits converge with the craft beer movement here, and visitors can explore the moonshine distilling process at the Copperhead Mountain Distillery before heading over to the Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom, where brewmasters serve award-winning hop concoctions.
Down-home barbecue and fried Southern fare are abundant in these parts, but the refined gastropub delicacies at Hare & Field offer an alternative hip vibe. One-of-a-kind gifts await discovery at antique shops around town, and honey at The Carolina Bee Company flaunts the melodious tastes of wild mountainside nectar.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile network of multi-use greenways connecting Greenville and TR, winds through town, attracting outdoor enthusiasts and inspiring the theme of the region’s celebrated indigenous hare.
And with some of the best biking trails in the country, TR’s hilly terrain lures cyclists from around the globe to Hotel Domestique, a Tuscan villa-inspired boutique hotel with ties to the Tour de France.
Whether fulfilling a need for speed at TR Speedway or mixing history with tranquility at Poinsett Bridge, Travelers Rest supplies an equal bounty of activity for the wandering traveler and weekend tripper.
Temperatures are moderate in fall and spring months, but summer and winter bring less favorable climates. Snow and chilly gusts drift down from the mountains, and summertime brings South Carolina’s infamous scorching heat to the region.
Some call it white lightning, while others simply refer to it as hooch or hillbilly pop.
Once-steeped in taboo and created under the clandestine light of the moon, the distilled high-proof spirit flows with easy abundance through the South nowadays.
Moonshine is a commercial product for Travelers Rest, where Copperhead Mountain Distillery specializes in the corn mash liquor and other tasty libation-infused treats.
Along with its classic 100-proof Snakebite moonshine, the distillery crafts other corn whiskeys with distinctive flavors such as Tropical Moon Pineapple, Polar Peppermint and Apple Crisp.
Time-worn little copper stills line the distillery’s gift shop, delivering a sneak peek of the humbler and less lawful tradition of Appalachian moonshining over a century ago.
But the true distilling magic happens past the shop’s back door, where the Master Distiller takes visitors on a flavor-filled tour of spirits and snacks, including a sampling of 16 liquors along with an assortment of moonshine-infused jellies, pickles, boiled peanuts and hot sauce.
A batch of award-winning moonshine chili is cooked for each tour, and guests can finish their exploration of distilling while savoring the heartiness of mountain fare.
Beer lovers can take a quick walk from Copperhead and rejoice at the award-winning brews on tap at Swamp Rabbit Brewery & Taproom. The family-owned business blends a melody of hops and spices to create classic favorites such as its “O’Festivus for the Rest of Us,” a German Pilsner with a distinct malty taste.
A hare’s foot down Main Street in an unassuming tiny gray building, a quaint gastropub feeds locals and trail-wanderers alike with its rendition of comfort bar-food elevated with quality ingredients.
Embracing the area’s adoration for the swamp rabbit, the rustic yet sophisticated Hare & Field delivers attention to taste and freshness right down to its lemon and rosemary-infused water.
The eatery’s exceptional selection of wines, ales and spirits seamlessly balances the more concise food offerings and complements their spectrum of flavor. With menu items like hot buttered pretzels alongside beer cheese fondue and ale mustard, there’s no doubt Hare & Field serves up a classy comfort food twist that’s rooted in homage to American bar culture.
If visiting Hare & Field for brunch, the rabbit bowl ($12) is a superb choice if craving the savory embodiment of the surrounding mountains. It’s a robust dish of grits, goat cheese, caramelized onions, rabbit sausage and wild mushroom gravy.
The lamb pot roast melt ($13) with a side of French onion soup is fitting for a chilly day, and the braised lamb atop challah bread with cheese and gravy mayo will effortlessly heat up your palate.
To satiate a sweet tooth, Hare & Field’s chocolate cake with Earl Grey-infused icing is divine alongside a glass of Six and Twenty Carolina Cream. The notes of bergamot throughout the chocolatey concoction add warmth to the neighboring distillery’s smooth Southern take on Irish cream.
Be sure to also check out Whistle Stop at American Café, a locomotive-themed restaurant that serves up unique eats such as shrimp and grits pizza. For barbeque lovers, Monkey Wrench Smokehouse satisfies any carnivore cravings with its pulled pork sandwiches and crispy brisket and cheddar-stuffed jalapenos.
With a rich abundance of wild flowers and herbs budding along the mountainside, Travelers Rest is an idyllic setting for honeybees to craft their sweet creations.
In a little shop on Main Street, The Carolina Honey Bee Company caters to both beekeepers and honey lovers with its assortment of raw gourmet honey, nourishing beeswax skin-care, honey-covered treats and beekeeping supplies.
Nectar concoctions tasting of sourwood, wildflowers and tulip poplar fill the store, and specialty types, such as the hot pepper or lavender-infused, bring an added complexity and uniqueness to the company’s honey offerings.
A proponent for quality that’s local, the family-owned business also showcases orange blossom, tupelo and gallberry flavors when seasonally available.
The honey-glazed pecans are a delicious delight, and the natural body butter with royal jelly is an excellent defense against the dryness of winter.
Customers can sample the shop’s variation of honeys, and for those interested in the honey-making process, beekeeping beginner kits and occasional beekeeping classes are available.
But if beekeeping veils aren’t your taste, the nearby Silver Lily Boutique satisfies the trendier sense of style with its up-to-the-minute apparel.
And for those that prefer a more vintage feel to their wardrobe, Through the Looking Glass is a collection of used and consignment pieces. Additional shops around town include My Sister’s Store, an eclectic spot that’s perfect for the keen eye and brimming with used books and eccentric curiosities.
A hidden oasis ensconced by rolling emerald hills speckled with grape vines, Hotel Domestique brings a taste of Old-World rustic charm to the Travelers Rest countryside.
Founded by world-renowned cyclist and Tour de France domestique George Hincapie, the boutique property attracts nature aficionados with its central proximity to unrivaled cycling and hiking trails, manicured golf courses and angling locales.
A fusion of Hincapie’s European travels and athlete mentality, Hotel Domestique provides specialized experiences with each guest in mind. Lodging cyclists can rent from the hotel’s collection of top-of-the-line bikes while staff members design a custom cycling route with attention to skill level and sightseeing desires. Cyclists are also provided a complimentary GPS with the route pre-loaded for their journey.
For guests with a less athletic disposition, there is nearby shopping and dining along TR’s Main Street, and a short trip to Greenville or Asheville allows for additional possibilities.
The hotel’s on-site Restaurant 17 is an exhibition of South Carolina’s culinary landscape, and local farm-to-table seasonal ingredients make up the changing day-to-day menu.
With stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, guests enjoy curling up around the patio’s firepit with a glass of wine after a day of activity.
For visitors who want to stay closer to the bustle of Main Street, Swamp Rabbit Inn TR is a fitting option. Guests can stay in the main house or rent from one of the inn’s more private options such as the coach house, studio or cottage. Those interested in glamping should check out the inn’s tastefully cozy vintage camper.
On a chilly Saturday afternoon in TR, smiling ladies hand-out hot chocolate to cyclists under the Main Street gazebo while friends stroll with eager pooches past a weekend pop-up market smelling of toasty cinnamon and steamy coffee. Farther down the street, a fashionable posse of twenty-somethings dart to a late brunch making sure to maneuver around focused joggers unyielding in their speed.
A town bustling with never-ending animation, TR was just a figment of its current self a decade ago.
Unused railway once ran through the sleepy little town connecting it to Greenville. But in a rail-to-trail endeavor, the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail was generated, setting off a chain reaction of rejuvenation down TR’s Main Street.
Now over half a million nature and exercise aficionados– along with the curious wanderer– come annually to explore one of the nation’s esteemed greenways.
With no set rules of direction, trail-goers can commence or finish their trek in either Greenville or TR. For those who end their journey in TR, they’ll discover a swamp rabbit theme abounds as businesses pay homage to the trail for a renewed economy.
Although lengthy, the trail is a smooth run or ride with limited elevation but plentiful scenery.
Individuals looking for more of a challenge in their physical endeavors have their choice of nearby state parks. Paris Mountain, Caesars Head, Table Rock and Jones Gap are expansive parks with suitable trails for all skill levels.
Off the beaten path near TR, illegible red graffiti stains a block of South Carolina’s oldest bridge while a babbling creek runs through its moss-covered gothic stone arch. An overpass for centuries of forgotten footsteps, Poinsett Bridge’s history perseveres into the modern day.
Built in 1820, the bridge was a segment of toll road that linked Charleston to Columbia and continued into North Carolina.
With much of the structure still standing, passersby now picnic against its scenic backdrop and unwind to the tranquil murmuring of Little Gap Creek.
Winding trails guide hikers through untouched landscape where indigenous flora and fauna thrive in the protected 120-acre Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve. The extensive and generally unfrequented paths offer peaceful surroundings for hikers seeking solitude and meditation.
But when daylight expires, local lore comes alive and curious individuals set out to witness the bridge’s alleged paranormal activity. Several visitors report seeing lights and hearing unexplained sounds, while some unfortunate spectators even experience car trouble. The purported activity has attracted the attention of paranormal investigators from all around the region.
For less spine-chilling excitement, go where the locals go and check out a beloved Southern tradition at Travelers Rest Speedway. Speed enthusiasts rally around the dirt track to watch souped-up cars and bikes race to the finish line.
Bring a cooler of beer, some ear plugs and a cushion for your bottom, and it’s guaranteed to be an exhilarating night.