The Palmetto Trail's Blue Wall Passage runs through the easternmost section of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, offering a breathtaking 1,400-foot climb in a little more than two miles.
I recently hiked the trail with my husband, a couple of friends and two dogs in tow. The unanimous opinion of all participants -- both two-legged and four-legged: this is one awesome hike!
It starts innocently enough at the entrance to the Nature Conservancy's Blue Wall Preserve, 575 acres of protected land designated by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area. More than 110 different bird species have been observed here, including the Black-throated Blue Warbler and Scarlet Tanager.
From the information kiosk, you'll walk across Vaughn Creek to the first of twin ponds. The still water offered a mirror-like reflection of the towering Hogback and Rocky Spur mountains to the west. At this point, we knew we were in for a beautiful, if not strenuous, hike.
When you get to the second pond, you'll have the option of taking a loop trail to the right that leads to a small waterfall or walking left and continuing along the Blue Wall Passage. During our visit, there wasn't much water coming down the 25-foot rock face, but it was still worth the mile-long divergence.
As you leave the Nature Conservancy property and cross into the Landrum Watershed, the trail narrows and takes an increasingly steeper ascent to Vaughn's Gap. The last half-mile was particularly grueling for those of us in the pack with only two legs to propel us up the mountainside.
At the saddle between Hogback and Rocky Spur, you'll arrive at a road that runs along the ridge. We stopped here to have lunch and let the dogs rest. (OK. So maybe it wasn't the dogs that needed the break.)
The trek down the mountain was equally challenging. The blanket of leaves covering the ground made it easy to lose your footing or stumble over rocks hidden under the foliage. Using hiking poles certainly helped keep me on my feet.
In total, we hiked about eight miles of the Palmetto Trail. If you wanted to extend the hike, you could continue from Vaughn's Gap another 6.6 miles on the Poinsett Reservoir Passage.
For information on any of the Palmetto Trail passages, click here.