On your way to the mountains, take a break from the black top and check out the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve, a beautiful 1,800-acre wooded sanctuary just off the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway.
Named after the prominent mountain that lies within its boundaries, the preserve features a moderately difficult, out-and-back trail you can knock out in three or four hours. It's a lovely 2.75-mile trek to the end of the trail and the preserve's big feature - the South Pacolet River.
The hike starts out as a leisurely stroll through a new growth forest. For a time, you'll be following a shallow tributary of Green Creek, gurgling at your side as it ripples over jumbles of rocks.
About a mile into the trail you'll find yourself surrounded by mature upland hardwoods as you begin the gradual climb up the south side of Squirrel Mountain. Standing on the ridge, you can get a great view of Hogback Mountain and an enormous rock face in the distance.
From there, the trail will take you down the north side of the mountain to the South Pacolet River. In the steeper areas, steps have been provided to make it easier to make the descent.
Within the boundaries of the property, the South Pacolet is more like a creek than a raging river. As you walk upstream, you'll notice some well-placed rocks that can be used to hop across the water. My yellow Labrador retriever didn't bother with the rocks when we hiked the trail this fall, simply wading through the ankle-deep stream.
The trail ends at a dirt road on the north side of the Pacolet. If you walk to the right, you'll see some large boulders and rock outcrops jutting out of Chestnut Ridge. In the spring, you may come across the rare white irisette, a perennial designated as federally endangered.
Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve is on Oak Grove Road, which turns north from the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, otherwise known as S.C. 11. For more information or directions, click here.