Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Rock Hill, SC

  • Published 2023/01/16

Extraordinary sights and experiences await tourists of Rock Hill, some of which are free.

Rock Hill is a city in York County, South Carolina, situated along the scenic Catawba River and only 75 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The city was established in 1852 when a significant railroad run through it, but it wasn’t incorporated until 1892, much after the Civil War had ended.

Rock Hill served numerous vital purposes for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

The sit-in protests, Freedom Riders, and other Civil Rights acts of resistance in Rock Hill attracted national attention.

The city is more than just home to museums and landmarks; it is also a center for culture, the outdoors, academia, and the arts.

Experience this historic city with this list of free things to do in Rock Hill, South Carolina:

Explore the History of Downtown Rock Hill

Buildings along Downtown Rock Hill

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What’s known today as Downtown Rock Hill was formerly the city’s commercial district.

Many of the older homes in the region have been restored to their original form in the 1840s.

Tourists and locals alike love Flipside Restaurant, one of the many unique shops, businesses, and restaurants in Downtown Rock Hill.

Water fountain at Downtown Rock Hill

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Concerts, parades, festivals, and races are events the whole family may enjoy in the downtown area.

Even if you have no budget to spare for commercial establishments, you may take in the city’s downtown charm and historic buildings and go window shopping in the many shops.

A brewery at Downtown Rock Hill

Nolichuckyjake /

Salute the Bravery of the Friendship Nine at McCrory’s Civil Rights Site

After being refused service at McCrory’s Five and Dime in February 1960, nine black students from Friendship Junior College sat at the counter and stayed there until they received good service.

They took a brave step that would eventually become an integral component of the Civil Rights Movement: they sat in.

Students faced detention for refusing to leave the building.

However, their actions galvanized the country and inspired similar demonstrations for over a year.

Residents and visitors may pay tribute to the Friendship Nine and their vital role in the civil rights movement by visiting McCrory’s Civil Rights Site.

In front of McCrory’s Five & Dine stands a marker to commemorate such a significant event in history.

You can see it on East Main Street.

Learn about Civil Rights Movement in Freedom Walkway Rock Hill

Rock Hill has constructed a lovely mural and walkway off Main Street as part of an ongoing effort to celebrate diversity, freedom, and justice.

The Freedom Walkway Rock Hill pays tribute to the people who fought for these three fundamental freedoms.

The mural reflects diverse aspects of liberty, the civil rights struggle, and the pursuit of justice.

It also has informational panels that provide background on the civil rights movement and highlight contemporary activists fighting for social justice.

A great way to learn about Rock Hill’s rich history is to stroll down the Freedom Walkway Rock Hill and marvel at its design’s artistic expressions and symbolic meanings.

See the Breathtaking Plants at Glencairn Garden

Sunny day at Glencairn Garden

Hlecroy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Glencairn Garden was established in 1928 in the backyard of David and Hazel Bigger.

Even though its prime flowering time is late March/early April, this city garden is packed with magnificent blooms and foliage all year round.

The annual Come-See-Me Festival, the largest festival in South Carolina, takes place on 11 acres of what was originally private land in Downtown Rock Hill.

The lovely Come-See-Me tiered fountain, the Veterans Area, and the Vernon Grant Wall of Whimsy are just a few of the noteworthy features of the garden.

Anyone visiting Rock Hill should stop by this delightful spot on Crest Street.

Take Photos with Public Art at Alleys as Galleries

Through the initiative Alleys as Galleries, regional artists transformed well-visited byways in York County into exhibition spaces.

The displayed artworks are faithful reproductions printed on vinyl banners and hung in a safe location.

Alleys as Galleries has brought new life to underappreciated community areas by transforming them into vibrant gathering spots.

Cotton Alley Gallery and White Street Gallery, located in Rock Hill, are two well-known alley galleries in York County.

It is possible to get from the parking area behind Wells Fargo and the Center for the Arts on White Street to East Main Street through Cotton Alley.

ArtPop Street Gallery participants from York County were among the first to be asked to showcase their work at Cotton Alley Gallery.

It features the works of five local artists.

Meanwhile, the White Street Gallery currently features works of high school students from York County.

Learn How the Telephone Came into Existence at Comporium Telephone Museum

There is a museum dedicated to the history of telephones right in the middle of the city called the Comporium Telephone Museum.

The museum educates visitors on the history and technology of older telephones, such as those used by phone operators, switchboards, phone line repairs, and associated equipment.

You may explore the permanent exhibits in the museum in a one-hour tour.

The museum also has restaurants and textile factories.

This museum has several interesting exhibits, and you can take the kids here for an interactive experience.

Visits to the museum are always free.

You can find it on Elk Avenue.

Have a Break at Fountain Park

Entrance to the Fountain Park

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One of Downtown Rock Hill’s newest attractions is the park with the fountains aptly known as Fountain Park.

It occupies what used to be the city’s most unsightly parking lot.

The location has undergone renovation and is now a stunning public plaza with a large interactive water fountain, a lovely open green area, and a cozy performance stage.

Fountain at Fountain Park

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Fountain Park is more than just a quiet place to read or contemplate; it also hosts various annual events and celebrations, such as Movies in the Park, Oktoberfest, Halloween parties, and Christmas and holiday activities.

Its convenient downtown location makes it an excellent spot for a short lunch break, sightseeing, or a quiet day in the fresh air.

The grounds of Fountain Park

Jon Bilous /

Meet South Carolina’s Native Indian Tribe at Catawba Cultural Center

Learn more about the history of the Catawba Indian Nation, the only South Carolina tribe to get federal recognition, at the Catawba Cultural Center.

At least 6,000 years ago, the tribe established a settlement near the Catawba River; today, they consider the area around York County a traditional tribal territory.

The Catawba Heritage Center on Tom Steven Road features exhibits, displays, and artwork that allow visitors to learn about the history of the Catawba people.

The center also features a gift shop selling native-made pottery, jewelry, and other handicrafts.

On the grounds of the cultural center, you may explore a nature path, see a live exhibit, and learn about the history of the Catawba people by walking along the Yehasuri Trail, which dates back to 1810.

It includes a heritage garden, a reproduction of a 19th-century historic dwelling, and an archeological site from that era.

After the short route, guests may take in the breathtaking scenery of the Catawba River and relax to the soothing sounds of the river’s current.

This fantastic resource provides an engaging and personal look at the history of the Catawba Indian Nation in South Carolina.

Appreciate Local Talent through Winthrop University Galleries

Winthrop University, established in 1886, has a long tradition of academic distinction.

The lovely campus is conveniently located near the heart of Rock Hill and offers several undergraduate and graduate degree options.

The university’s galleries often host exhibitions by regional artists, works by professors, and works by students.

Both the Rutledge and Elizabeth Dunlap Patrick Galleries may be found in the Rutledge Building, while McLaurin Hall is home to the Lewandowski Student Gallery.

They showcase many forms of art and artistic expression, and artists are frequently present for talks at related events.

The galleries welcome visitors at no cost to view their many displays.

In addition to Johnson Hall, a performance center designed in the Classical Revival style, Winthrop University is home to the Barnes Recital Hall, a 200-seat facility for vocal and instrumental chamber music events.

Hike the Piedmont Medical Center Trail

View of a river from Piedmont Medical Center Trail

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The Catawba River runs parallel to the paved Piedmont Medical Center Trail, which is 3.35 miles long.

This tree-lined route is shady and scenic, with views of the river on each side.

Riverwalk and River Park are accessible from each other through a walkway 10 feet wide.

The trail alternates between flat stretches and challenging ascents and descents.

There are also restrooms in the parking lots along River Park and Riverwalk.

It also features a ramp for launching canoes and kayaks near the trailhead.

Feel free to jog, walk, or ride a bike if you keep a speed limit of 10 miles per hour.

Benches are placed at various points throughout the trail so guests can relax and take in the scenery.

You may also let your dogs tag along at Piedmont Medical Center Trail; however, keep them on a leash.

Catch a BMX Race at Rock Hill Outdoor Center

You may find the Rock Hill Outdoor Center in the nearby outdoor recreation area of Riverwalk.

The Catawba River runs through the middle of the city, making it ideal for various outdoor pursuits, including strolling, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, playing sports on the field, and riding bikes.

It has plenty of areas to kick back and take it easy, as well as beautiful greenery, animal watching, fishing, and more.

In addition to the Rock Hill Criterium Course and the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track, there is also a Velodrome in the area.

Visitors may use the river and other natural features at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center throughout the year.

Catch a Softball Game at Cherry Park

If you’re a sports enthusiast and happen to be visiting Rock Hill, you should catch a softball game at Cherry Park.

The grounds are well-kept and feature a great playground with slides and swings for youngsters to use in Cherry Park.

It’s also dog-friendly, but owners keep their dogs on a leash.

You may go on a bike ride, stop at one of the snack bars, or have a picnic with your friends along the paths.

Feel free to bring some meat to cook at the picnic areas’ environmentally friendly tables and grill pits.

Enjoy Paddling at Catawba River

The waters of Catawba River

Joe Herlong /

It’s impossible to compile a comprehensive list of things to do in Rock Hill without including water activities on the Catawba River.

The river is ideal for canoeing, sailing, fishing, and swimming.

Take note that each adventure has recommended starting points and travel itineraries.

A heron at Catawba River

Joe Herlong /

The Catawba River flows through 24 North and South Carolina counties, providing potable water to an estimated two million people.

Remember that many people depend heavily on the river, so treat the area with the respect it deserves while you’re there.

Play with Your Kids at Confederate Park

The gorgeous Confederate Park is a favorite among local families, featuring a playground, basketball courts, and picnic areas.

There is a playground with swings, sandboxes, and slides for the kids to use at this park.

It also has an outdoor theater that hosts local performances.

Its picnic tables are perfect for school field excursions.

Confederate Park offers easy access and plenty of parking, plus it’s near the city and the neighborhood.

Moreover, the facilities are always clean and well-maintained.

Celebrate Come-See-Me Festival with the Locals

Come-See-Me Festival celebrates Rock Hill’s finest citizens and culture.

The festival started in 1962, marking the start of spring.

It also began as a weekend celebration and was expanded to a 10-day celebration featuring activities and entertainment for people of all ages.

The 10-day Come-See-Me Festival welcomes over 100,000 people each year.

Guests from around the world come to enjoy the festival’s music and other attractions.

Final Thoughts

Rock Hill, formerly a mill town, is today a vibrant community that combines the best of both worlds—the charm of a little town and the modern conveniences of a large city.

Because of its long and intriguing history, Rock Hill is always full of exciting events and museums to visit.

The best part is many of them are free!

Keep in mind these free things to do in Rock Hill, South Carolina, for a budget-friendly itinerary.

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