Oconee County, tucked in the most northwest corner of South Carolina, is bordered by three lakes. From the Cherokee word “Ae-quo-nee” meaning “land beside the water,” Oconee County lives up to its name with waterfalls, lakes, and streams a-plenty. We saw more wildlife here in a few days then we have during the rest of our time on the East Coast. Check out below our suggestions of how to enjoy this part of the country to the fullest.
We had the pleasure of staying at the Lofts on Main ($125/night) in Walhalla while we were exploring Oconee County. We were impressed with the history of the space. Structural components, decorations, and fixtures all had history and purpose. The lights were rescued from an old building down the road, and the brick was original to the building. With all the charm and depth, it felt like coming home to an old friend. It was the perfect place to relax after a long day adventuring. And as an added bonus, there is a gear shop and brewpub right below the lofts! More on that later.
For a more traditional stay, the Rodeway Inn & Suites ($88/night) is on the edge of Walhalla and has all the expected amenities. There are also plenty of options in Seneca as well, a short drive away. AirBnB is alive and well in Oconee County and has copious options ranging from one room suites to full lake view properties on any of the three lakes, even a treehouse on Lake Jocassee. Lake Jocassee is a hidden gem on the northern border of Oconee County. It’s at the confluence of four rivers and stays cool and clear the entire year round.
For a more rustic approach for a basecamp while exploring Oconee County, there are campsites dotted around offering the perfect jumping off points for adventure. We spent a night at the campground in Devils Fork State Park ($23-$42/site/night) on the beautiful Lake Jocassee. There are also boat-in campsites ($25-$85/site/night) that double the privacy and ensure a lake view all to yourself. Be sure to read up on what to bring and regulations. We had to skip out on this one because dogs aren’t allowed. For more traditional camping, check out Oconee State Park, or Mountain Rest Cabins & Campgrounds.
Who knew the northern tip of South Carolina could offer so much in the way of adventure? There are waterfall hikes, history to discover, mountain bike trails, and fishing galore. Missing something for your trip? Don’t worry, there’s a gear shop right in town. Stop by Twenty8 West to keep the adventures coming.
For all the waterfall lovers out there, have we got the place for you! We started with Yellow Branch Falls, a 1.7 mile (one way) hike to an impressive waterfall at the end. You wind through dense forest with peeks at old growth trees crossing multiple streams along the way. We also explored Issaqueena Falls, and found many more hidden falls along the edges of Lake Jocassee on a boat ride. For a full list of waterfalls to find the perfect morning excursion or day trip, check out this list by Visit Oconee South Carolina.
If you really want to see the beauty this county has to offer, then the Foothills trail is your best bet. It’s 80 miles one way and runs through four distinct boundary areas (national forest, wild and scenic river, wilderness, and state park). That means you will get a great variety of views and scenery. There is plenty of camping along the way.
Oconee County has a lot planned for its Mountain Bike trails. We played around on the four miles they have built in Phase I. We look forward to the next phases because what we rode was flowy, exciting, and a joy to explore.
There is so much more to see here. One of our favorite things to learn about and see was the Stumphouse tunnel in Stumphouse Park. It was going to be a railroad tunnel passage before the Civil War but ran into funding issues after the war. Now, it’s a super cool (pun intended- the tunnel stays at a cool 50 degrees all year long) and interactive look into the past. Dare to travel in without a flashlight and transport back in time to all the manpower that went into such a structure. One of our favorite fun facts about this location was that the temperature and humidity level was perfect for growing blue cheese. Clemson has since relocated the cheese production, but we wish it was still there to enjoy.
We spent a lot of time on Lake Jocassee. We were impressed with its beauty and clear waters. Boating around is a great way to see the lake. You can also take the man power approach and rent kayaks or SUPs. To get even more up close and personal, you can scuba dive down 300 feet and explore ruins left over from when the area was flooded to create the lake.
We did it! We finally did it. We got to go fly fishing. We have been looking forward to trying out this sport for so long, and it didn’t disappoint. We spent the morning with the Chattooga River Fly Shop on the Chauga River. Karl and Karen treated us like old friends. Karl was knowledgable, excited to teach, and taught these fishing newbies the basics. We had a great time on the river and we would highly recommend giving them a call. There are plenty of spots to fish around the area and if you have the equipment, you could fish at a different spot every day you visit!
You can get even closer to the river by jumping on a boat and rafting down the Chattooga. We have hung out with Wildwater White Water Rafting & Zipline Canopy Tours for a few years, and we’re still impressed. The trip down the Chattooga was exciting, safe, and scenic. Our guide Will was super entertaining. If white water isn’t your thing, head over to the zip lines and see the river from a different perspective.
There’s a range of food to explore here, from authentic Mexican to Japanese/American fusion. To try out the latter, head to Sole in Seneca. Show up on Wednesday for some BOGO sushi and try a craft cocktail while you’re at it. We also ate at 3 Amigos Mexican Grill right down the street from where we stayed. Pro tip- get the guacamole. For a faster stop, try King Taco, the food truck that hangs out in Walhalla. Carolina Pizza Co is a great option for before or after adventure fuel. Classis salads and slices at the joint on the main street. Another pizza option is Humble Pie tucked in the Chattooga River Resort & Campground.
We found some great options for drinks. Right below the Lofts on Main was West and Co., a brewpub with craft beers on tap, and plenty of wines to choose from. Partners in Wine has a bunch of events throughout the month, and some great wine to choose from. Did we mention we like wine?
We enjoyed exploring this corner of South Carolina. Send us more suggestions for when we’re back, or questions so we can steer you in the right direction! Thank you to Ken at Visit Oconee South Carolina for showing us around.
There is one way for this tour to be a reality– our sponsors! Sending a thank you shout out to all of our awesome sponsors that make this tour happen: Sea to Summit, Mountain House, Lowe Alpine, Leki, Big Agnes, Stio, Roofnest, and Franklin County, VA.