After learning the Jocassee Gorges was recently highlighted in National Geographic's "50 of the World's Last Great Places," I was inspired to take a trip to the Upstate wilderness.
But where to hike when you have your choice of 43,000 pristine acres? I opted for Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve, a steep mountain gorge with old growth hemlock, dramatic rock cliffs, rare ferns and a stream filled with naturally reproducing rainbow trout.
A 1.7-mile trail through the 374-acre preserve takes you to the namesake Eastatoe Creek at the bottom of the gorge. The stream falls 600 feet in elevation, tumbling across large rocks and boulders before plunging through a series of narrow channels aptly called "The Narrows".
The fine moist spray created by the fast-moving water helps maintain high humidity along the Eastatoe, enabling three species of rare ferns to thrive. One of these, the Tunbridge Fern, is not found anywhere else in North America.
To get to the Eastatoe Creek trailhead, you have to hike a mile from the Foothills Trail access parking area off US 178. From there, it's a relatively easy hike - at least for the first mile or so.
The woods are full of white, red and chestnut oaks, hickories, red maples and black locusts. It was a quiet scene until a gang of turkeys flew across the path, clearly irritated that we had invaded their space. For the record, hunting is allowed in the preserve in accordance with Wildlife Management Area regulations. Along with wild turkeys, game species typically hunted here include black bear, deer and squirrel.
After about a mile, the trail began its descent into the gorge. Switchbacks and stairs are provided in the steeper sections, so you don't have to worry about scrambling over rocks or down a hillside.
Two-thirds of the way into the hike, you'll get to a fork in the trail. The left fork takes you to the creek littered with large moss-covered rocks. If you packed your pole, this is a wonderful spot to fish for the signature rainbow trout. Be aware, you need a S.C. fishing license and only artificial lures are permitted.
Or you can just sit back and enjoy the beautiful riparian setting. On our visit, we walked along the river and marveled at the clever way Mother Nature has arranged boulders, rocks and logs to create an assortment of small falls and rapids.
If you go back to the main trail and take the other fork, it will lead you to a wooden platform overlooking The Narrows. From this elevated vantage point, you can see the river emerge from the forest and then drop dramatically through a chute cut into the earth by the powerful force of the water.