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Plan an Unforgettable Fall Trip to the SC Mountains

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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With stunning mountain views, thousands of acres of unspoiled wilderness and an array of unique attractions, South Carolina’s Upstate has the makings for the perfect family vacation or romantic getaway this fall. 

There’s no better place to enjoy the changing leaves and cool autumn air than in the mountains. Ready to pack your bags and head for the hills? Here’s an itinerary offering all the best the Upstate has to offer.

Make a stop in Pickens and enjoy the Southern charm and hospitality of this small town.

Day 1

On your way to the mountains, make a stop in the charming small town of Pickens to explore its walkable downtown and learn about the area’s rich history. Lining the picturesque Main Street is an assortment of antique stores, quaint family-owned businesses and contemporary boutiques and gift shops like Oh Joy! An Eclectic Boutique, offering apparel, jewelry, home accessories and fun Halloween and Thanksgiving decor. 

Around the corner from the main thoroughfare is the Pickens County Museum of Art & History, located in the old Pickens County jail. The eclectic collection of artifacts includes Andrew Pickens’ dueling pistols, Hitler’s radio, a 19th-century doctor’s field kit and the noose and jail room where the last execution took place. Admission to the museum is free.

Enjoy an early dinner at Burning Brick Tavern, a local watering hole serving up tasty burgers, sandwiches and wraps. When your belly is full and you’re ready to rest from your travels, make the drive to Salem and check in to your reserved accommodations at Sunrise Farm Bed & Breakfast, a lovely 1890 Victorian farmhouse once part of a large cotton farm. Before you call it a night, order a picnic basket for tomorrow’s outing.

Day 2

Rise early to enjoy a hearty hot breakfast in the dining room of the inn and check out the sweet farm animals who make their home at the farm. Then it’s off for a morning of fun at Devils Fork State Park on pristine Lake Jocassee. Start the visit with a tour of the 7,500-acre spring-fed reservoir, known for its cold, crystal-clear water, undeveloped mountain landscape and abundance of waterfalls. Jocassee Lake Tours offers four-hour, naturalist-guided trips with stops at several of the waterfalls, including Laurel Fork Falls and Wright Creek Falls.

Upon disembarking, grab your picnic basket and find a quiet spot in the park to enjoy your specially prepared lunch. Before hitting the road, stretch your legs with a leisurely walk on the park’s Oconee Bell Nature Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that follows a creek through a hardwood forest.

Then it’s off to Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina at 3,553 feet. It’s a beautiful ride up to the mountaintop and its observation tower, where you’ll enjoy a 360-degree view of the surrounding wilderness encompassing three states—South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. For a special treat, stay until the sun sets and turns the sky a spectacular kaleidoscope of colors.

End the evening at Jocassee Valley Brewing Company, offering indoor and outdoor seating, food truck cuisine, a collection of brews from IPAs to Hefeweizens and live music showcasing some of the best performers in the Southeast and beyond.

Day 3

For a truly memorable fall experience, book a Horseback Waterfall Tour with Rhett Leonard, owner of Rockin’ Reverend Ranch in Pumpkintown. Riding a Tennessee Walker, known for its smooth, comfortable gait, you’ll get a close-up view of the fall colors as you wind along forest trails that lead to several impressive waterfalls. 

After your ride, drive to Victoria Valley Vineyards, for lunch on the terrace of the winery, styled after a French chateau. The views of the vineyards and mountainside will make you want to linger over your meal. Choose from grilled paninis, soups, salads, cheese plates and sweets, then follow up your relaxing lunch with a tasting of Victoria Vineyard’s Vinifera wines.

Your last stop of the day is Table Rock State Park, one of South Carolina’s marquee recreational areas. While the park features 10 miles of trails, including the signature hike to the namesake Table Rock dome, you don’t have to venture far to enjoy one of its most popular attractions—Carrick Creek Falls. It’s a short walk on a paved path from the Table Rock trailhead to a large observation deck overlooking the picturesque cascade.

End your South Carolina fall vacation with an easy hike on the Lakeside Trail, a 1.9-mile loop around scenic Lake Pinnacle. Along the way you’ll pass several historic structures, most notably the Table Rock lodge, built in the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. As the sun begins its slow descent in the late afternoon sky, you’ll enjoy a fantastic view of the giant metamorphic rock that has become one of the state’s most recognized natural landmarks.

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.