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10 Fun Adventures in the Jocassee Gorges

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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Sun setting over lake surrounded by mountains
Sweeping views, hiking trails, waterfalls, fishing and rare plant habitats await you at Jocassee Gorges.

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

Gravel road lined with trees
With map in hand, hit the roadways to discover the hidden treasures of Jocassee Gorges.

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

Person on observation deck viewing mountains
From the easily accessible overlook at Sassafras Mountain, visitors can see as far as 50 miles on a clear day.

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

Man kayaking in lake with mountains in distance
Lake Jocassee in the South Carolina Upstate is a popular destination for kayakers.

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

Oconee Bell wildflowers
The rare Oconee Bell can be seen growing at Devils Fork State Park.

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

man, woman, lake, mountains
The overlook at Jumping Off Rock offers breathtaking views.

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

waterfall, rocks, trees
Lower Whitewater Falls is one of six in the highest series of falls in eastern North America.

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

waterfall, rocks moss
The beautiful Laurel Fork Falls is one of several waterfalls you’ll see on a boat tour.

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

Two men fly fishing in mountain stream
The waters coursing through the Jocassee Gorges make for fine 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

Waterfalls amid autumn foliage
Gorgeous views of Twin Falls are the reward at the end of an easy 1/4-mile hike.

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

Leaves and fungi growing on log
Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve is unusually humid, allowing a variety of fungus and ferns to grow in the gorge.

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.

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.