Chattooga Wild and Scenic River: Long Creek Falls and Homer's Falls, Westminster, South Carolina
Nearly every tributary of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River has waterfalls of some sort. 40-foot Long Creek Falls is a particularly spectacular drop only 100 feet above the Chattooga River. Long Creek Falls is accessed by a lesser-known yet easy unofficial trail from Turkey Ridge Road (FS 755), about 1.7 miles long. The great swimming hole and large flat rocks around Long Creek Falls make it an excellent summertime destination. The Long Creek Falls Trail additionally passes a steep side path to a seldom-visited cascading waterfall on Pinckney Branch called Homer's Falls. Flowing only in wet weather, Homer's Falls flows 20 feet through an incredibly lush and mossy rock grotto before emptying into the Chattooga River. Hikers who go to Long Creek Falls even have the option of making a side trip to the top of Raven Rock Cliff, a 100-foot cliff that towers over the Chattooga River and features great gorge views. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Long Creek Falls from the end of FS 755, making the side trip to Homer's Falls along the way.
Sumter National Forest: Yellow Branch Falls and Lohr's Falls, Walhalla, South Carolina
Yellow Branch Falls is an absolutely phenomenal waterfall in Oconee County, South Carolina (although it needs a lot of water to look its best). Over 50 feet high, Yellow Branch Falls features a stunning clamshell-shaped drop that spreads out in countless mini-trickles across a jagged rock face. From the Yellow Branch Recreation Area off Highway 28, an easy-to-moderate hiking trail leads 1.65 miles down the Yellow Branch valley past several smaller cascades to the falls. In addition, an unnamed tributary of Yellow Branch features a 35-foot cascading waterfall called Lohr's Falls. Lohr's Falls is only for experienced waterfallers, as there's no trail whatsoever to it. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike the trail out and back to Yellow Branch Falls. Along the way back, I would bushwhack to Lohr's Falls.
Lee Falls is often cited as one of Upstate South Carolina's top ten most beautiful waterfalls. Over 80 feet high, Lee Falls is an absolutely stunning free-falling drop in a 'tropical paradise' setting, surrounded by lush greenery on all sides. Although the moderate trail to Lee Falls isn't official, it's easily followed for 1.5 miles all the way to the falls. Along the way, you'll pass through several overgrown wildlife clearings and make six creek crossings as you scramble up the Tamassee Creek valley to Lee Falls. The best time of year to visit Lee Falls is during late spring after a good rain, when all the lush green growth around Lee Falls is particularly eye-popping and beautiful. Just be sure to go when the water levels are high. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Lee Falls.
Ellicott Rock Wilderness: Chattooga River Trail from Burrells Ford to King Creek Falls, Spoonauger Falls, Ellicott Rock, and Fowler Creek Falls, Walhalla, South Carolina
The Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area covers over 8000 acres across Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The wilderness's namesake is Ellicott Rock, located in the very heart of the wilderness at the point where all three states come together. From Burrells Ford, one can follow the Chattooga River Trail north into the wilderness all the way to Ellicott Rock and beyond. Besides passing Spoonauger Falls, the Chattooga River Trail affords numerous views of the river that it closely follows all the time. The other waterfall in the vicinity of Burrells Ford, King Creek Falls, is also easily-accessed and is among the most breathtaking waterfalls of the region. Intrepid waterfall chasers can also pick up the Bad Creek Trail from Ellicott Rock and make a challenging bushwhack to a secluded and pristine waterfall on Fowler Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 27th, 2018. My plan was to first hike the Foothills Trail from Burrells Ford Campground to King Creek Falls. Then, I'd take the King Creek Trail and connect to the Chattooga River Trail. I'd follow the Chattooga River Trail north into the Ellicott Rock Wilderness all the way to Ellicott Rock, making the side trip to Spoonauger Falls along the way. From Ellicott Rock, I would follow the Bad Creek Trail and bushwhack down to Fowler Creek Falls. I would retrace most of my steps from Fowler Creek Falls, but when I would return to the vicinity of Spoonauger Falls, I would take the Foothills Trail straight to Burrells Ford Campground.
Caesars Head State Park/Mountain Bridge Wilderness: Naturaland Trust Loop, Cleveland, South Carolina
The west half of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness is encompassed by Caesars Head State Park, named for a prominent rock outcrop with striking views of the South Carolina Upstate. One of the area's main highlights is Raven Cliff Falls, a majestic waterfall on Matthews Creek that is cited to be 420 feet high. Among the wilderness's most scenic trails, the Naturaland Trust Trail provides direct access into the Matthew Creek gorge, passing views of Raven Cliff Falls after crossing an elegant suspension bridge at the waterfall's top. Several other trails in the park can be used to create the 12-mile loop Naturaland Trust Loop, which is not only among South Carolina's top hikes but also a very strenuous one. An added bonus for hiking the full loop, however, is optional access to two more gorgeous waterfalls on the property of Asbury Hills Camp: Moonshine Falls and Confusion Falls. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 20th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Naturaland Trust Loop clockwise from the Raven Cliff Falls parking area, although I came away with the feeling that hiking the loop counter-clockwise is better.
Chattooga River Trail: Sandy Ford Road to Dicks Creek Falls to Russell Bridge, Clayton, Georgia
The Chattooga Wild and Scenic River is one of the longest and largest remaining wild waterways in the southeastern US, with no dams and very little human development for all of its length down to Lake Tugaloo. In fact, it is the only wild and scenic river east of the Mississippi River that is actually commercially rafted. For nearly twenty miles, the Chattooga River Trail stays near the river or even follows it along its Georgia side. Unfortunately, the Georgia Chattooga River Trail leaves something to be desired, as there are surprisingly few views of the river throughout the length of the trail. Still, the Chattooga River Trail passes by several points of interest, including Dicks Creek Falls on Section Two. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 5th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Chattooga River Trail from the Sandy Ford Road/Dicks Creek Falls trailhead to the Russell Bridge Trailhead. This is also known as Section Two of the Chattooga River Trail. Along the way, I would take side trips to Dicks Creek Falls and Adline Ford. I arranged to have two cars for this point-to-point hike: one car was placed at the Sandy Ford Road trailhead, and another car was placed at Russell Bridge on Highway 28.
While this hike is actually in Georgia, the parking for it is in South Carolina, and you'll walk across the state line as you cross the Highway 76 bridge across the Chattooga River. In fact, the entire hike stays close to the state line. This is because the Chattooga River straddles the Georgia/South Carolina border for much of its length. The Chattooga River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River. It is a whitewater kayaker's paradise, as there are many Class IV and Class V rapids throughout the river's course. In fact, you will get up close to Bull Sluice - a Class V rapid - on this hike, and you may even see some kayakers make their way down it. Leaving Bull Sluice, this hike will follow the Chattooga River Trail across a number of ridges near the river. Along the way, you'll be treated to several good views of this mountain river. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 11th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Chattooga River Trail from the Highway 76 bridge to Sandy Ford Road, making the short side trip to Bull Sluice along the way. I arranged to have two cars for this point-to-point hike: one car was placed at the Highway 76 trailhead and another car was placed at the Sandy Ford trailhead.
Foothills Trail: Musterground Road to Hilliard Falls to Horsepasture River, Salem, South Carolina
The 77-mile Foothills Trail straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina border for much of its trek through the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. One particular section between SC 130 and US 178 is nearly 30 miles long and is known for very limited road access. A very rough ATV road - used mainly by hunters - called Musterground Road, is open during hunting seasons. This road provides access to the Foothills Trail several miles east of the traditional Lower Whitewater Falls Trailhead. The section of the Foothills Trail east of Musterground Road visits Hilliard Falls, a tall waterfall on Bearcamp Creek, before using forest roads to wind through hills before reaching the Horsepasture River. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 30, 2016. My plan was to use an abandoned forest road to get to the Foothills Trail from Musterground Road. From there, i would follow the Foothills Trail to the Horsepasture River, with a side trip to Hilliard Falls. I would return the same way.
Jones Gap State Park: Pinnacle Pass Trail and Rim of the Gap Trail, Cleveland, South Carolina
When someone mentions Jones Gap, you may think they're referring to a low point on some sort of ridge... just like you would imagine with any other Gap. Jones Gap is actually the name of a deep depression, the Saluda River valley, that is located in the extreme northern tier of Greenville County, South Carolina. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness provides many hiking opportunities throughout the Jones Gap area. On this particular hike, you will ascend out of Jones Gap past seasonal views for a loop that circles along the south rim of the gap. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 13, 2016. My plan was to hike a short stretch of the Jones Gap Trail, and then to hike the Pinnacle Pass Loop by hiking the Pinnacle Pass Trail and the eastern half of the Rim of the Gap Trail.
Palmetto Trail: Oconee Station to Oconee State Park, Tamassee Knob Trail, Station Cove Falls, and Oconee Station Nature Trail, Walhalla, South Carolina
The Palmetto Trail is South Carolina's master trail, and when finished, it will extend across the entire state from the mountains to the coast. The trail starts off with a bang, and it's very first section is packed with interesting features, from a 60-foot waterfall to a historic site at Oconee Station to a breathtaking view from Tamassee Knob. Go in the winter, and you'll be treated to great views throughout the entire hike. This hike occurred on Saturday, December 19th, 2015. My plan was to first hike the Oconee Station Nature Trail, and then hike the Palmetto Trail's "Oconee Passage" from Oconee Station to Oconee State Park. Along the way, I would stop at Station Cove Falls. After reaching Oconee State Park, I would hike the Tamassee Knob Trail along a narrow ridge extending to a small summit with a fantastic vista.
Sumter National Forest: Winding Stairs Trail, Big Bend Trail, and Foothills Trail (Big Bend Junction to Cheohee Road), Walhalla, South Carolina
Big Bend Falls is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Upstate South Carolina. Located on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, the falls is one big mass of rapid whitewater, tumbling around 30 feet. To the east of the river, the Chattooga Ridge separates the main waterway from Cheohee Valley, which is a large area that lies at the base of the Cherokee Foothills. Several streams tumble down the steep eastern slopes of Chattooga Ridge, and a couple of these streams create several wonderful waterfalls that can be reached from the Winding Stairs Trail. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 4th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Winding Stairs Trail, the Big Bend Trail, and the Foothills Trail from the end of the Big Bend Trail to Cheohee Road. Since this isn't a loop and I didn't have a shuttle vehicle, I would finish with several miles of roadwalk on Cheohee Road.
Foothills Trail: Lower Whitewater Falls and Upper Whitewater Falls via Bad Creek Access, Salem, South Carolina
I have hiked a bit on the Foothills Trail, but in general I have underestimated it. This primer on the Foothills Trail in extreme upstate South Carolina is about as good as it can get while hiking - in fact, this is one of my favorite hikes not only this year, but in the past few years. The Whitewater River starts in the mountains near Cashiers, and grows on its way to Lake Jocassee. There are six waterfalls on the Whitewater River, but two waterfalls are the biggest ones, and more importantly, will take your breath. First, Upper Whitewater Falls is a gigantic double-tiered waterfall, claimed to be the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Following this, the Whitewater River plunges with whitewater through the Whitewater River Gorge, exiting the gorge with another dramatic drop at Lower Whitewater Falls, into Lake Jocassee. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 11th, 2014. My plan was to take the Bad Creek Access Trail to the Foothills Trail, and first take the Foothills Trail east to the Lower Whitewater Falls Trail, and follow it to the Lower Whitewater Falls Overlook. Following this, I would backtrack to the Bad Creek Access Trail, and take the Foothills Trail northwest to Upper Whitewater Falls. After this, I would return the same way to the trailhead.
Jones Gap State Park/Mountain Bridge Wilderness: Tom Miller Trail and Jones Gap Trail to Jones Gap Falls and Coldspring Branch Trail, Pumpkintown, South Carolina
While I do most of my far away hiking in North Carolina, there are a few places in South Carolina that stand apart from the rest, and are equally beautiful to North Carolina. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness area in Upstate South Carolina has around 50 miles of rugged and remote hiking trails. They pass by rivers and streams, waterfalls and cascades, and even some fantastic views. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area consists of two state parks: Caesars Head State Park and Jones Gap State Park. I am not entirely sure, but I think that the two are separated by US 276. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 29th, 2014. My plan was to start at the Raven Cliff Falls Access parking lot on US 276, take the Tom Miller Trail into Jones Gap, from there follow the Jones Gap Trail to Jones Gap Falls, and then backtrack to the Coldspring Branch Trail, taking it up the mountain back to the parking lot.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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