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.
R/T Length of Trail: 3.3 Miles (4.4 Miles with Lohr's Falls included)
Duration of Hike: 2:30 plus 1 hour of stopping and photography
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 935 Feet
Pros: Absolutely stunning waterfall
Cons: Relatively popular trail; waterfall needs a lot of water to look good
Points of Interest: Yellow Branch Falls - 10+ stars; Lohr's Falls - 3 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: Yellow Branch Falls Trail - Lime Green
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter; Spring
Beginning Point: Yellow Branch Recreation Area
Directions from Walhalla, SC: From the junction of SC 183 and SC 28 in downtown Walhalla, follow SC 28 North for 5.3 miles to the Yellow branch Recreation Area entrance on the left. Drive down the short entrance road to the Yellow Branch Falls parking area.
Click the link below to download a .GPX file with a track of this hike.
Yellow Branch Falls
After hiking to Lee Falls earlier in the day, I decided to make my first visit to another waterfall best seen in high flow: Yellow Branch Falls. It had stormed all morning, and another storm moved through while I was at the falls, so crowds were kept at a minimum along this typically-popular trail. Look for the start of the Yellow Branch Falls Trail by a kiosk near the rather small parking area. The trail begins a gentle descent along Yellow Branch, passing a 6-foot cascade referred to as Little Yellow Branch Falls on the left after 150 feet. Between 0.2 miles and 0.25 miles, the trail makes three crossings of Yellow Branch in quick succession - the second one features very scenic and neat stepping stones. The Yellow Branch crossings on this hike can normally be completed dry, but if the water flow is really high, you may need to wade.
At 0.3 miles, just after passing a series of cascades sometimes called Middle Yellow Branch Falls, reach a junction. Straight ahead is an alternate access trail to Highway 28. The Yellow Branch Falls turns right and crosses Yellow Branch on a wooden footbridge. Out of the trail's five crossings of Yellow Branch, this is the only bridged one. A gentle descent through pretty forest continues. Reach the final crossing of Yellow Branch at 0.5 miles (fourth unbridged crossing). Note the path that leaves right immediately before the crossing - this is the access to Lohr's Falls, described farther below in this trail report. The path is also the start of the old trail to Yellow Branch Falls, but that trail is now closed to the public. So continue straight across the stream toward Yellow Branch Falls. A large log provides a good way across.
After this, the trail passes through a small gap and temporarily swings out of the Yellow Branch drainage. This is where a slightly steeper descent starts. The trail passes an especially large tree on the right, crosses a tiny rivulet, and begins swinging in and out of countless hollows east of Yellow Branch. Although the general trend is downhill, some uphill is mixed in. Portions of the trail in this area can be very muddy and slick after rain - I speak from experience! Finally, around 1.4 miles, the trail returns into the Yellow Branch drainage, paralleling the creek from high above downstream from Yellow Branch Falls. The trail terminates at Yellow Branch Falls at 1.65 miles.
It's wonderful to have such a pleasant, well-maintained trail to a waterfall as stunningly beautiful as Yellow Branch Falls. This terrific waterfall is one of Upstate South Carolina's star waterfalls - definitely in the top 10. The waterfall's clamshell shape makes it so unique. Yellow Branch cascades in countless trickles and free-falls on all three sides of the jagged, multi-faceted rock face, which is over 50 feet high. In low water, all the different trickles aren't quite as pronounced. The waterfall is still beautiful, but it truly lives up to its "10+" rating only in high flow. If you choose to cross the creek and explore the other side of Yellow Branch Falls, you'll find that it looks totally different from that angle! I took the cover photo at the top of this trail report from the same side of the creek that the trail ends on, whereas the photo above was from the other side of the creek. For the same reason, it's extremely difficult to adequately capture all of the waterfall in one photo. A wide-angle lens or panorama will give you the best results. While you're exploring the falls, be sure to not take the old scramble trail to the top of Yellow Branch Falls. This trail is now closed to all traffic due to erosion, and you could be fined if you're seen on it. It might be tempting to take this old trail to get to Lohr's Falls more easily, but please stay away from doing so.
Simply retrace your steps back to the Yellow Branch Recreation Area from Yellow Branch Falls. If you aren't an experienced waterfaller and want to skip the side trip to Lohr's Falls, you'll conclude the hike at 3.3 miles. Otherwise, keep reading to learn more about how to see Lohr's Falls.
The hike to Lohr's Falls begins along the path on the right at the 0.5-mile mark along the Yellow Branch Falls Trail. In 200 feet, turn left off the old logging grade and onto a narrower path. In another 200 feet, the main path curves left and ends at a pretty 10-foot cascade called Jade Falls. However, this hike continues straight on a much fainter path downstream along Yellow Branch. 0.15 miles from the trail, the path - which has been following the old route of the Yellow Branch Falls Trail - disappears completely. Simply keep picking the route of least resistance downstream, which will involve crossing a number of big downed trees. 0.25 miles from the trail, you'll cross a small stream. Continue 0.1 mile farther along Yellow Branch. Then, scramble up the hill on the right. It is best to leave Yellow Branch and climb this hill around halfway between the little stream you just crossed and the stream with Lohr's Falls. On the topo map, the "hill" is a small ridge separating the Lohr's Falls stream from Yellow Branch.
Once atop the hill, hike west toward the unnamed stream with Lohr's Falls. There are fallen trees and some overgrowth here too. The bushwhacking isn't very thick, but it's still a bit tiresome. You're likely to reach the Lohr's Falls stream at 0.5 miles from the Yellow Branch Falls Trail. From here, simply hike upstream along the route of least resistance (probably on the north, River Left side). Reach Lohr's Falls 0.55 miles from the trail. The coordinates for Lohr's Falls are N34° 47.841' W83° 08.154'.
Lohr's Falls needs a lot of water flow to look good due to its small watershed. The falls is a 35-foot stairstep cascade. It's not overly impressive, but it's scenic enough, so it's a good one for hardcore waterfallers. Lohr's Falls is named after Stu and Kathy Lohr, who in 1994, accidentally stumbled upon this waterfall due to a navigational error on their way to Yellow Branch Falls. Just above the main drop of Lohr's Falls is a scenic 15-foot corkscrew-type drop, which I chose not to hike to. If you choose to include Lohr's Falls on this hike, keep in mind that it would add 1.1 miles roundtrip, making the total hike 4.4 miles long. You should also know that this is not a very easy bushwhack, especially in the warmer months, thanks to the large amount of downed trees.
0.0 - Yellow Branch Recreation Area
1.65 - Yellow Branch Falls
2.8 - Lohr's Falls Turn-Off
3.35 - Lohr's Falls
4.4 - Yellow Branch Recreation Area
Hike out and back just to Lohr's Falls - 2.1 Miles
Just up the road from Yellow Branch Recreation Area is Isaqueena Falls. This is a particularly spectacular waterfall in high flow, and it's relatively easy to reach along a well-defined, steep scramble path.
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