It's wild, remote and rugged. But you don't have to be a trailblazer to experience the beauty of Jocassee Gorges, an unspoiled wilderness hailed by National Geographic explorers as a "destination of a lifetime." Within the 50,000 acres of protected forestland are two state parks, an extensive network of hiking trails, 35 seasonally open roads and observation platforms offering fantastic views of the gorges and its many natural amenities. Here are 10 things to do in the Jocassee Gorges.
1. Take a Driving Tour
Pick up a map and driving tour guide at the visitor center. It will take you to more than a dozen points of interest in the Jocassee Gorges and surrounding area.
2. Head to the Highest Point
From the 3,553-foot summit on Sassafras Mountain - the highest point in South Carolina - you can see three states: North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. An observation tower, standing 11 feet above the high point, offers a 350-degree panorma with a stunning vista of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
3. Kayak in Lake Jocassee
Surrounded by densely forested mountains with little development to spoil the view, Lake Jocassee is a paddler's paradise. The only public put-in is at Devils Fork State Park. If you don't own a boat, rent one from a local outfitter. Jocassee Outdoor Center also offers guided kayak tours and boat shuttles to the upper reaches of the lake where you can view a number of waterfalls.
4. Walk the Oconee Bell Nature Trail
This flat, 1-mile loop, located in Devils Fork State Park, offers the easiest access to view colonies of the rare wildflower when it's in bloom mid-March to early April. Look for the white bell-shaped flowers along the creek as you walk through the hardwood forest.
5. Drive to Jumping Off Rock
It's a bumpy 10-mile ride up the mountain, but you won't be disappointed with the view, billed as the best vista in the Jocassee Gorges. From the rocky cliff, you'll have an unobstructed view of Lake Jocassee and the surrounding mountains. In the spring, look out for Peregrine falcons who have been nesting in the area for years.
6. Hike to Lower Whitewater Falls
The moderate 2-mile hike to the overlook of Whitewater Falls is well worth the effort to watch the Whitewater River drop 200 feet across a rock face. The trailhead to the cascading spectacle is located at Duke Energy's Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station.
7. Take a waterfall tour on Lake Jocassee
More than a half-dozen waterfalls can be found along the 75 miles of shoreline of this scenic mountain lake. The best way to view them is by boat. Several local outfitters offer tours of the falls, including the stunning Laurel Fork Falls. If the water level is high enough, they'll even take you into the grotto behind the rocky tower to get a different perspective of the 80-foot cascade.
8. Go Trout Fishing
Flowing through the Jocassee Gorges, you'll find cold, clear waters brimming with rainbow and brown trout. The Eastatoe River, filled with naturally reproducing rainbow trout, is a hotspot for anglers. Devils Fork Creek, Howard Creek, and Corbin Creek are also popular. Learn when and where to cast your line by downloading the South Carolina Trout Fishing Guide.
9. Visit Twin Falls
It's an easy 15-minute walk along the picturesque Reedy Cove Creek to this side-by-side scenic wonder. One cascade of Twin Falls plunges 75 feet over a massive granite slab. The other thunders down chunks of rock before joining back with its twin. Bring your camera for this one!
10. Hike the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve
A 1.7-mile trail takes you deep into the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve, home to old growth hemlock, three rare ferns and a creek filled with naturally reproducing rainbow trout. The left fork of the trail takes you to the river; the right to a platform overlooking The Narrows.