Published: October 02. 2012 6:32PM
Written and photographed by Renata Parker
It’s no surprise that hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in our region. Blessed with a treasure of natural resources, South Carolina’s state parks and trail systems are framed by dramatic mountain views, towering waterfalls, historic sites, winding rivers and abundant wildlife.
For hikers, nature is only part of the lure. Each trail offers its own experience and the excitement lies in the discoveries made along the way. Here are few favorite hiking spots as recommended by those who regularly take to the trail.
Jones Gap State Park
A scenic route along the Middle Saluda River, Jones Gap Trail stretches over 10 miles along the Blue Ridge Escarpment to Caesars Head State Park.
“There are several trails to choose from in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area,” says avid hiker Jessica Earley, who has led backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. “We chose a lollipop loop combination of trails which included 2.5 miles on the Jones Gap Trail, 2.3 miles on the Coldspring Branch Trail, 2.3 miles to Raven Cliff Falls, seven-tenths of a mile on the Tom Miller Trail, and back on Jones Gap for 4.5 miles. There are beautiful views of the river. We crossed streams and viewed several waterfalls along the way. (The) level of difficulty is moderate to strenuous.”
Caesars Head State Park
Positioned more than 3,200 feet above sea level, Caesars Head State Park offers panoramic mountain views like no other. Highlights include Raven Cliff Falls, a 420-foot waterfall with a suspension bridge, camping and trout fishing. Each fall, hikers get a rare sight of hundreds of migrating hawks, eagles and falcons through the Hawk Watch program.
“Raven Cliff Falls will be near the top of most lists,” Mercedes Bartow says. “It’s not too far and suitable for most levels of ability. The falls are beautiful with a nice viewing platform — a big payoff for the hiking effort.”
Table Rock State Park
Located off scenic S.C. Highway 11, Table Rock National Recreation Trail offers a demanding day hike with rewarding sights. Features of Table Rock State Park include campgrounds, cabins, lakes and a historic lodge.
“I love hiking Table Rock in October, when the leaves are starting to change, and the air is cool and crisp,” Earley says. “I went with a friend who has a family tradition of hiking the same trail. From the nature center, we began the challenging 6.8 mile hike. The 3.4-mile ascent is strenuous and very steep, as the elevation changes about 2,000 feet. The spectacular views from the summit make the hard work worthwhile. About 2.5 miles up, we climbed steps chiseled into Governor’s Rock. I suggest wearing comfortable hiking shoes, bringing plenty of water, and packing a lunch to enjoy at the top. We started early so we could take our time and make it down before sunset.”
Paris Mountain State Park
Close to downtown Greenville, Paris Mountain State Park is busy year-round. Park Center, a renovated historic bathhouse, serves as a base for activities. Features include camping, fishing, bike trails and boat rentals.
“Most of my recent hiking experiences have been with my husband, 4-year-old son and our Yorkie, Yo-Yo,” Bartow says. “For an easier, but still fun time, we love Paris Mountain State Park. What a gem. The one-mile loop is flat and easy and has a nature center with hands-on info for the little ones.”
Katherine O’Leary-Cole Waldrep says she takes her puppy, Lucy, hiking at Paris Mountain State Park a few times a month.
“We usually go to Paris Mountain because it’s so close and has a variety of trails with beautiful scenery,” she says. “Fall is absolutely my favorite time because the gorgeous leaves and the crisp temperatures make the strenuous hike a bit easier. We usually hike Sulphur Springs Trail and tack on Brissy Ridge if we feel ambitious. The first time my now-husband Taylor said ‘I love you’ was at the mountain lake.”
|Caesar's Head: A great place to hike.Renata Parker|