Harbison State Forest
Harbison State Forest in Columbia enjoys the unique designation as one of the largest greenspaces within city limits east of the Mississippi River. Particularly suited to mountain biking enthusiasts, the forest’s 18 miles of trails offer riders, hikers and joggers an up-close and personal view of the wilderness without ever leaving town. Bounded along its northeastern edge by the Broad River, Harbison State Forest encompasses 2,137 acres of forestland only nine miles from the capital city's center. More than 30 miles of roads and trails weave through the mixed pine and hardwood forest, crossing wandering streams and descending through leafy glades to the river's edge.
A working forest in the city
Like all the state forests, Harbison is a working forest, meaning it is actively managed for multiple uses. Those purposes include wildlife enhancement, soil and water conservation, timber sales, research, sheer aesthetic beauty, recreation and, particularly in Harbison’s case, education. Although Harbison’s primary emphasis is on providing an educational and recreational greenspace for metropolitan Columbia, it is also used to demonstrate the value of various forestry practices, from prescribed burning to thinning, harvest, site preparation and planting.
The forest mix is roughly 40% loblolly and shortleaf pine, 40% natural longleaf pine and 20% percent bottomland flood plain hardwoods and hardwood drains. The soil types on Harbison indicate that it once formed one of the first ocean ridges on the coastal plain. As the oceans receded, longleaf pine was established. Today, steep bluffs on the forest rise along the Broad River, which regularly floods several times a year.
Of special note
Like all the state forests managed by the South Carolina Forestry Commission, Harbison State Forest receives no state appropriations from the General Assembly and is 100% self-sustaining. Operating funds for the forest, as well as salaries, are generated from the sale of timber products and recreational use permits.
Additionally, Harbison State Forest pays 25% of its gross income to the local school districts in Richland County.
Environmental Education Center
With the opening of the Harbison Environmental Education Center in 1997, the Forestry Commission made the facility the hub around which most of the agency’s conservation and natural resource educational programming revolves. The 5,000-square-feet log building is used for environmental education workshops, teacher trainings, educational forest hikes and field trips and other natural resource-related meetings.
The Ed Center has a large conference room that seats 100, a screened-in porch and a 1,500-square-feet deck. A series of trails and outdoor classrooms wind through the majestic pine and hardwood forest that surround the center, making it an ideal setting for schools and other visitors to enjoy learning in a natural environment. Visitors can view a working sawmill or visit a fire tower and steam loader as they stroll the grounds. Each year, thousands of children and adults enjoy the many educational programs offered free at Harbison.
Ed Center reservations
The center is available to environmental education groups and programs free of charge, and is available to other groups on a rental basis. Reservations may be made up to four months in advance. The large conference room can accommodate a maximum of 100 people in theater type seating, and approximately 60 around tables. However, due to parking and restroom facilities, it is generally recommended that groups be limited to 60 or fewer. The large conference room rents for:
- $300/day Tuesday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
For information about renting the conference room for meetings, please call the Harbison State Forest office at (803) 896-8890.
Forestry and environmental educational programs
SC Forestry Commission Environmental Education staff offer a vast array of learning opportunities, classes and programs on the forest, off-site and even as part of day-long and extended field trips. Please visit the “Other Programs” page of the Education section of this website for more information about available programming and scheduling.
The history of the forest dates back thousands of years. Catawba and Cherokee tribes frequently traversed the woodlands to reach an ancient fording location on the Broad River. Early roads and paths leading to the ford made the area an attractive location for the first European settlers who formed a community that came to be known as Dutch Fork (from “Deutsche volk”).
In 1945 the South Carolina Forestry Commission purchased 2, 201 acres of land on the Broad River from the Board of National Missions for the Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church. The church stipulated that the land be named “Harbison Forest” in honor of a major benefactor, Samuel P. Harbison.
>>>Read the full history of Harbison State Forest, as originally researched by Pat Aiken
Other facilities at Harbison
Encircling the Education Center, the Learning Trail offers four outdoor classrooms with lessons designed to increase one’s awareness of the complexity of forest ecosystems. Located a short walk down the Discovery Trail is a pine gazebo surrounded by a meadow and woods dotted with smaller picnic areas. Visitors who head north about 1/3 mile up the trail across from the Gazebo Field will find the Eagle Shelter. This rectangular picnic shelter provides a great setting for outings where the goal is to get away from the hurried pace of urban living.
Things to do
You will need a permit for any activity at Harbison State Forest; parking passes are required of all visitors. Recreational permits can be purchased online through sc.gov, at a fee box in the main parking lot, or at the Harbison State Forest office during regular business hours. Daily passes are $5, and annual passes are $25.
In addition to the main roads connecting various parts of the forest, Harbison Environmental Education Forest offers 10 different trails – totaling more than 18 miles – for walking, jogging, hiking and bicycling that range from moderately easy to difficult. The gates providing access to the interior of the forest are temporarily closed Monday-Friday due to staffing limitations, but all portions of the forest can still be accessed via the trail system, which can be joined at either the main parking lot on Broad River Road or at the Environmental Education Center. Wet weather may prompt the trails to be temporarily closed; for trail status, please call (803) 896-8897.
Main gate hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Visit Harbison’s Maps page to view/download a printable trail map of the forest, or you can navigate the trails on your smartphone with our free geo-referenced map, which can be downloaded to your mobile device.
- Bicycles permitted only on designated trails.
- No motorized bikes or off-road vehicles are permitted on trails.
- Use caution when overtaking another, and make your presence known in advance.
- Stay on designated trails ONLY.
- Always wear an approved helmet when riding.
A canoe landing located near the Broad River provides access for kayaks and canoes as a put-in or take-out from the river. To use the landing, Harbison rules require that boaters file a simple float plan (Richland County Riverside Dock Consent Form) that allows paddlers access to the landing. Float plans can be completed at the Environmental Education Center or by calling (803) 896-8890. There is no additional fee to use the canoe/kayak landing.
Visit Harbison’s Maps page to download a float plan (Richland County Riverside Dock Consent Form).
In recognition of the Forestry Commission’s 90th anniversary in 2017, Harbison State Forest created a geocaching course! Geocaching is a great family-friendly activity for all ages to get outside and explore our beautiful forests. The purpose of the course is to educate the public about the South Carolina Forestry Commission (SCFC) and the importance of forestry in our state.
The course follows the established 0.7-mile “Learning Trail” and 0.5-mile “Discovery Trail,” which both start at the Harbison Environmental Education Center. There are seven individual geocaches hidden along these trails, which can be found in .50-cal ammo cans. Each cache contains a log book and information regarding the divisions and duties within the Forestry Commission. There is an accompanying set of seven questions (one for each cache) that can be completed and turned into the Environmental Education Center. If you answer all seven questions, you will receive a specially designed SCFC geocaching coin!
For more information about the program, how to locate the coordinates for the caches and where to download/obtrain the answer sheet, please call SCFC Assistant Environmental Education Coordinator Beth Foley at email@example.com or (803) 896-8855.
Activities NOT allowed on Harbison State Forest
- Altering of trails
- Drugs or alcoholic beverages
- Picking or cutting plants
- Pets (unless on a leash)
To view all laws and regulation pertaining to SCFC State Forest please see Section 8 of Forest Laws in South Carolina
Harbison State Forest is managed on the public’s behalf by the South Carolina Forestry Commission. For more information or questions, please contact Harbison State Forest at HarbisonStateForest@scfc.gov or (803) 896-8890. To find out the status of the trail system please call (803) 896-8897.
Harbison State Forest
5600 Broad River Road
Columbia, SC 29212
Phone: (803) 896-8890
Office hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.