Top Ten Tent Camping in the Carolinas

Leroy's Campground: McCormick, SC

The shores of Thurmond Lake, or J. Strom Thurmond Lake, as it is formally known, abound with campgrounds along its shores. While scouring them for this [guide], most were just too big and overly developed. But on arriving at Leroy's Ferry, I knew it was a winner. It was so small, primitive, and quiet compared to other campgrounds. The ones that didn't make the cut resembled campground cities, strung out along the shore with signs pointing me here, there, and everywhere while I searched for good campsites. I even got lost in the campground of one unmentioned state park along Thurmond Lake. After that experience, small Leroy's Ferry seemed like home, and was a relief in its simplicity.

And Leroy's Ferry is simple. This Army Corps of Engineers campground is more about what it doesn't have than what it does have. It doesn't have a ranger station, confusing signs, hordes of bustling campers, or cars and trailers constantly coming and going. Furthermore, it doesn't have much to do in the way of organized recreation. There are no trails to hike or bike, no nature interpretive centers, no boats to rent, no piers from which to fish. The only amenity, in addition to the campground, is a boat launch. You have two choices here, make your own fun on Lake Thurmond, or just relax at the campground, which is a fine thing in itself. And for five bucks a day, the price is right. Making your own fun could also include bank fishing or swimming on the shoreline.

Just because this campground is primitive doesn't mean it's not well taken care of. The Army Corps of Engineers generally takes good care of its property, which ultimately belongs to us. Reach the end of the dead-end road and pass the fee station that is near the pump well. A gravel road leads right a quarter mile to campsites 4 through 1. Reach the campsites in reverse order. The hillside slopes toward the lake but the campsites are mostly level. Campsite 4 is large and overlooks the lake. Campsite 3 is a good distance away in thick woods. Pine grows highest above these sites, followed by a thick bank of winged elm, sweetgum, and oak. Smaller trees and brush create more than ample campsite privacy. Campsite 2 is less shady. Campsite 1 is close to the lake.

Return to the main road that shortly splits. The paved road leading left dead ends at the boat ramp. A second gravel road splits right. It has campsites 10 through 5. Campsite 10 is large and is closest to the boat ramp. Campsite 9 is well above the lake while sites 8 and 7 are separated by thick woods, but open toward Lake Thurmond. I stayed in campsite 6 because it provided good afternoon shade on a hot summer day. Campsite 5 is at the road's end. Informal trails lead a short distance from these campsites to the lake. Although the campground has 10 sites, it fills only on holiday weekends. Other than then, you should get a site.

People come here for water recreation, whether it be fishing, boating, skiing, or swimming. And Lake Thurmond is a huge recreation destination. Completed in 1954, the lake now hosts 7 million visitors annually. But it doesn't seem that way at Leroy's Ferry. After all, a tent camper can still find a little solitude along the 1,200 miles of shoreline here. The lake also has over 100 islands that add a scenic touch to the impoundment. It seems the lake also has 100 campgrounds, but you will likely find that the few sites at Leroy's Ferry offer the best in tent camping.

Key Information

Address: Leroy's Ferry Campground, Route 1, Box 6, Clarks Hill, SC 29821; (800) 533-3478; 

Open: Year-round

Sites: 10

Assignment: First come, first served; no reservations

Fee: $5 per night

Elevation: 340 feet


Pets: On leash only

Fires: In fire rings only

Alcohol: At campsites only

Vehicles: None

Other: 14-day stay limit

Getting There

From McCormick, take SC 28 north for 7 miles to SC 81, veer left, staying with SC 81 north for 5.5 miles to the hamlet of Willington. Turn left at the signed turn for Leroy's Ferry Campground, going just a few feet over defunct railroad track, then immediately turn right on SC 196. Follow 196 for 0.5 miles, then turn left on SC 135 and follow it 4 miles to dead end at the campground.


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