There’s a place tucked away in the mountains of South Carolina that calls to the traveler who wants more from a vacation than touristy attractions or overwhelming commercialization. You won’t find any condos or high-rises here. You won’t even find traffic unless you’re looking for it. What you will find is a place with untouched natural wonders and outdoor adventure in such abundance that it’s somehow magical, without being manufactured.
We call this place Lake Hartwell Country, but there’s so much more to the region than lakes. There are, however, three stunning lakes that call our region home; Lake Hartwell, Lake Keowee, and Lake Jocassee. To call it a land of water is to sell it short. It is a land of beautiful water, everywhere. In addition to the Big 3, there are lakes Cherokee, Cheohee, Tugaloo, Yonah, Mountain Rest, Becky, Chattooga, and Crystal, to name a few. We have hundreds of waterfalls, over 300 to be exact, and about 100 of those are accessible to the public. The creeks and streams are in the thousands, and there are rivers too.
Lake Hartwell Country is home to the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, which earned its designation back in 1974. As one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the southeast, it’s no wonder that the Chattooga is a nationally renowned paddling spot for whitewater kayakers and rafters. If you like your time on the river to be a little more relaxing, the Chattooga is also a premiere destination for some of the best fly fishing in the country. The distinct roar and power of this river is incredibly inspiring and almost palpable, and is something that you must absolutely experience in person.
Here, mountains and lakes grace the landscape in a way that just might take your breath away. Our region is blessed with some of the most uniquely beautiful views of the Appalachian Mountains. However, here, unlike other parts of the Appalachian chain which resemble layers of rolling blue hills, the mountains plummet a staggering 2,000 feet in less than half a mile down to the foothills of the South Carolina upstate. This is the Blue Ridge Escarpment, which the Cherokee Nation named the Blue Wall. The Blue Wall can be seen prominently from all corners of our region, standing tall in the distance as a majestic wall of blue.
Tucked into the steep ravines of the Blue Wall lives another unique wilderness; the Jocassee Gorges. With over 100 inches of rainfall per year, the Jocassee Gorges a Temperate Rainforest, one of only two in the lower 48 of the United States. This unique ecosystem is home to many rare species of flora and fauna, including the famous Oconee Bell wildflower, which does not grow anywhere else in the world. The Jocassee Gorges impressive list of wildlife also includes more black bears than any other wildlife preserve in the state of South Carolina, and the largest number of salamanders in the entire world.
Because of the natural wonder that is the steep drop of the Blue Wall, Lake Hartwell Country is home to hundreds of cascading waterfalls. Each trail that leads to a waterfall, whether it’s half a mile or six miles, is well worth the hike. Speaking of hikes, our region is a hiker’s dream. Maybe instead of taking a trail that leads to a waterfall, you’d like to reach the summit of beautiful Table Rock, Pinnacle Mountain, or Tamassee Knob for panoramic views of the upstate of South Carolina. For avid hikers, the Foothills Trail should be on your bucket list. This 77-mile long trail traverses the top of the Blue Ridge Escarpment from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park, and hiking it is sure to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. However you prefer to hike, there are countless trails to explore and magnificent views to discover.
Maybe you prefer adventure that’s a little more fast-paced. If that’s the case, then you’ll definitely want to check out some of the world-class mountain biking trails in our area. The most recent addition to our network of trails is the Stumphouse Mountain Bike Park, which opened in the Fall of 2019 and is already drawing in visitors from across the Southeast.
This is the place that personifies your desire to explore. It brings to life that feeling you just can’t explain, but may best be described as wanderlust. Just one breath of the crisp, mountain air, one step onto a dirt trail, or one glimpse towards the rolling hills will center your soul by seeing something real. There’s just something about it. Come see for yourself.