Explore South Carolina’s Stunning Mountain Wilderness on the Foothills Trail

By:Marie McAden

Date:10/17/2016

With its thickly forested mountains, deep river gorges and abundance of waterfalls, South Carolina’s upcountry is prime hiking terrain for both backpackers and day trippers.


This remote and rugged wilderness, stretched across the northwestern corner of the state, is home to some of South Carolina’s most spectacular natural attractions, including:


Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina’s highest point.


Table Rock, probably the most recognized natural feature in the Upstate.


The National Wild and Scenic Chattooga River, where the adventure thriller “Deliverance” was filmed.


Lower Whitewater Falls, part of a chain of waterfalls touted as the highest in eastern North America.


Jocassee Gorges, hailed by National Geographic as a “Destination of a Lifetime.”


All of these geological gems can be found along the Foothills Trail, a 77-mile woodland path rated one of the best long trails in the country by Backpacker magazine.


This iconic footpath follows the “Blue Wall” of the Southern Appalachians through untamed forestland, offering an extraordinary back-country experience with big payoffs around every turn, from sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the floral beauty of rare wildflowers found in quiet hollows.


Cut through with creeks fed by 75 inches of annual rainfall, the vast woodlands support one of the densest populations of black bears in the East, peregrine falcons and bald eagles, wild populations of brook, brown and rainbow trout and the greatest number of salamanders found anywhere in the world.


The botanical offerings are equally diverse and include many rare species of mosses, ferns and wildflowers. The floral showpiece is the Oconee Bell, a delicate white wildflower found growing naturally in only two places on earth. One of them is the Jocassee Gorges. The Foothills Trail takes you to several areas where the plant grows in abundance.


More than a dozen access points along the trail lead to sections that cover 1.4 to 16.4 miles and are rated easy to strenuous, providing hikers of every skill level the opportunity to enjoy the grand landscape.


The main route, divided into 13 sections and marked by a white blaze, links Table Rock and Oconee state parks, ascending to the 3,560-foot peak of Sassafras Mountain before making its way down to the Piedmont.


One of the prettiest sections winds along 8.5 miles of the Chattooga River—the natural boundary between South Carolina and Georgia and one of the longest free-flowing mountain rivers in the Southeast. If you’re backpacking, you’ll have your choice of several primitive campsites near water’s edge.


Hikers trekking the Burrell’s Ford Road-to-Cheohee Road section are treated to four major waterfalls: Spoonauger, King Creek, Pigpen and Licklog. But it’s the view from lofty bluffs overlooking the wild, rambling whitewater that will take your breath away.


In addition to the main pathway, the Foothills Trail offers 30 miles of spur trails leading to more waterfalls, overlooks and other significant points of interest, including Caesars Head State Park and Eastatoe Gorge Heritage Preserve, a 375-acre area protected for its unique botanical features, scenery and trout waters.


The Foothills Trail Conference website lists contact information for volunteer shuttle and commercial drivers available to help you with the logistics of your hike. Maps and coordinates of access points and an elevation profile of all 13 sections also can be found on the website.

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