For a 350-million-year-old hunk of granite, Table Rock still has it going on. South Carolina's famed geological wonder continues to challenge hikers undeterred by the prospect of climbing 2,200 feet of mountain in 3.6 miles.
If you're planning on braving the punishing, but oh-so-rewarding trek, make a mini vacation out of it and treat yourself to some of the less grueling outdoor attractions in the Pickens area.
Enjoy a glass of wine from the terrace of a vineyard overlooking Table Rock's neighboring Stool Mountain. Visit a 19th-century gristmill and experience what it was like living in a log cabin and making moonshine from a still. Join the locals for a toe-tappin' back porch concert.
Hey, you made it to the top of Table Rock. You deserve a little rest and recreation.
Table Rock State Park's historic cabins might have been built during the Great Depression, but they're updated with all the modern amenities you'll need to enjoy a long weekend in the mountains. Even if you don't want to cook, bring the makings for breakfast, snacks and at least one lunch. You'll need to fortify yourself for the five-hour, round-trip hike to Table Rock.
Hit the trail early and beat the crowds. While not everyone will make it to the summit, lots will try. The first part of the landmark trail also connects to other routes, so you're bound to see some foot traffic as you start your adventure.
Don't be lured off track by Carrick Creek Falls, encountered just minutes from the trailhead. As tempted as you may be to dip your feet in the cool mountain water, save it for the end of the hike when you'll really appreciate it.
About halfway up the trail, you'll find a shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Take a seat on one of the benches and catch your breath as you enjoy the view of the South Carolina piedmont below.
Governor's Rock, with its breathtaking panorama, offers another opportunity to rest and recover before making the last push to the 3,124-foot summit. A third of a mile beyond the peak is the money shot. Standing on Table Rock's granite face, you can see a wide expanse of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area and the vibrant blue waters of the Table Rock Reservoir. Celebrate your accomplishment with a picnic lunch on the dome.
After recuperating from the hike, head to Aunt Sue's Country Corner, located two miles east of the park on the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway (SC 11). The "village" has an eclectic array of specialty shops, including Aunt Sue's Kitchenware & Bakery, The Glass House and Sticks & Stones, featuring precious and semi-precious jewelry.
After you've finished browsing, walk over to the restaurant for Aunt Sue's popular Friday night seafood buffet. Finish your meal with homemade fudge, cobbler or a double-scoop cone from the ice cream shop. You earned it!
Don't rush off after your post-hike indulgence. Pull up a rocking chair and make yourself comfortable. You'll want to stick around to hear one of the local bands perform on the back porch.
Sleep in or rise with the sun and listen to the morning call of birds from your cabin's screened-in porch. After breakfast, rent a canoe or kayak from the park boathouse and paddle the tranquil waters of Lake Pinnacle.
Midmorning, drive to Victoria Valley Vineyards. The road to the French chateau-styled winery is just before you reach Aunt Sue's village.
From the terrace of the winery, visitors can gaze over a hillside of grapevines and Stool Mountain, the smaller peak adjacent to Table Rock. Lunch is offered from the vineyard's opening until 3 p.m. Small plates and desserts are available until closing.
Inside is a tasting room and gift shop. For $5, you can try any five of their European Vinifera wines (excluding reserve wines).
Next stop is Hagood Mill, an 1845 gristmill that served generations of rural farm families until its closing in the mid-1960s. Visitors can tour the corn mill, along with two restored log cabins, a blacksmith shop, cotton gin and moonshine still.
The third Saturday of each month, the mill hosts a festival featuring live bluegrass music, traditional folk arts and a wide range of demonstrations such as milling, blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, woodcarving, flintknapping and chair caning.
In the evening, enjoy pork barbecue at The Spotted Pig.
After checking out at the park office, have a traditional country breakfast at Garren's Café at 133 E. Main St. in Pickens. Then, drive to the Rockin' Reverend Ranch in nearby Pumpkintown. It's base camp for the Horseback Waterfall Tours.
The amiable Rhett Leonard, a horseman with 20 years of equestrian experience, will take you on a three-hour ride through stunning backcountry terrain from the rugged Jocassee Gorges to the gently rolling hills of a Blue Ridge Mountain forest.
Leonard uses only Tennessee Walkers, known for their unique four-beat "running walk." The breed is especially popular in trail riding because of its smooth gait, stamina and easy temper.
For one last taste of the Upstate before you head home, stop for lunch at Pumpkintown General Store and Café, 3837 Pumpkintown Hwy. Their cheeseburgers and hot dogs are a favorite with locals.