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South Carolina’s Steepest Hike

<em>By Danny Bernstein</em>

The mountains in Upstate South Carolina are the Rodney Dangerfield of the Blue Ridge – they don’t get no respect. Perhaps it’s because they’re so much lower than in North Carolina. Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina, is only 3,554 feet high compared with Mt. Mitchell’s 6,684 feet. However, the gorgeous views, amazing rock outcropping and outstanding waterfalls makes these mountains a great place to explore almost anytime except the height of the summer.

South Carolina’s northwest corner, known as the Blue Ridge Escarpment, is the meeting place of two tectonic plates, where the Blue Ridge Mountains end and the land tumbles into the foothills. The result is sculpted boulders that you have to maneuver over, under, around, and sometimes even through. All this ruggedness is maintained in several state parks clustered along the South/North Carolina state border.

One of the best is Table Rock State Park, close to Pickens, S.C., which is dominated by a monadnock, a mountain that has resisted erosion and stands isolated in a level area. When you are on Table Rock, you can really feel that you’re at the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

Table Rock only has one spectacular and steep all-day hike, but it’s one of the best around- an 11.2 miles roundtrip trek with 3,900 feet of total ascent). With its outstanding views of mountain ridges, valleys and lakes, the hike will take longer than most with the same distance and ascent because you’ll stop frequently to admire the vistas. A hand-drawn map is available at the park entrance where you’ll pay two dollars per person.

The hike starts at the rear of the Nature Center on the wooden walkway. Cross the bridge and register at the kiosk. The loop with two tails goes clockwise and climbs to Pinnacle Mountain and Table Rock. Start on the Pinnacle Mountain Trail (blazed yellow) where you’ll pass huge boulders, fringed with trees holding on precariously, and Mill Creek Falls, a high, thin waterfall.

At Bald Rock Overlook (3.5 miles), a huge sloping rock, you’ll have an outstanding panorama of Greenville, the Greenville reservoir and in the distance, the towers on Paris Mountain. At 4.1 miles, reach Pinnacle Mountain – no views – and gradually descend on the Ridge Trail (orange). The hump in front is Governor’s Rock. At Panther Gap, make a left on the Table Rock Trail (red).

You’ll find more people on the Table Rock Trail, a gentler climb than what you’ve already done. Climb to Governor’s Rock on steps chiseled in the rock. The top of Table Rock (3,124 feet) has no view. Continue down the trail for three outstanding lookouts of the Greenville Reservoir, a golf course and valley laid out below you.

Retrace your steps to Panther Gap and continue down the Table Rock Trail, passing a CCC Trailside shelter back to the Nature Center.

Direction to the trailhead: From I-26, Exit 54, take U.S. 25 south for 17 miles. Turn left on SC 11 and drive for 17.5 miles to the turnoff for Table Rock State Park’s west gate on the right. Follow the signs to the nature center.
From Greenville, take U.S. 276 north where it meets SC 11 South. Drive for about 13 miles to the turnoff for Table Rock State Park’s west gate on the right and follow the signs to the nature center.

Danny Bernstein’s guidebook, Hiking the Carolina Mountains, will be published next spring. She can be reached at [email protected].


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