Spartanburg’s Cottonwood Trail Is a Popular Destination to Hike, Bike and Enjoy Nature

By:Marie McAden

Even if you love the energy of a bustling downtown, every once in awhile nature calls. In Spartanburg, it’s just a five-minute drive away.

Edwin Griffin Nature Preserve is a 115-acre urban retreat outside the historic city center, offering an easy escape when you need a little quiet time in the woods. The heart of the popular green space is the Cottonwood Trail running along the scenic Lawson’s Fork Creek. From the 1.25-mile-long footpath you can connect to a network of trails winding through a beautiful eastern floodplain forest.

In Spartanburg it’s the go-to destination to hike, bike, run, kayak, canoe and observe the array of wildlife that call this place home. The wetlands, hardwoods and pine forest that make up the South Carolina Piedmont preserve serve as habitat for deer, wild turkey, fox, beavers, raccoons and dozens of species of birds.

Among the avian residents are red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, hairy woodpeckers, eastern phoebes, white-breasted nuthatches and pine warblers. In the summer, you also may see summer and scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, orchard orioles, red-eyed vireos and Acadian flycatchers, among others. A favorite spot for bird-watching is on the 550-foot boardwalk and observation deck in the 20-acre wetlands.

Created and maintained by beavers, the wetlands provide a refueling station for upland shorebirds like the spotted sandpiper. Look in the pond weed for egrets, herons, wood ducks and mallards. You’ll also find a variety of woodpeckers in the dead trees.

While you’re unlikely to catch any beavers out and about in daylight hours, you can see the many dams and lodges they have built in the water.

Most of the preserve is floodplain, but you’ll also find a section of uplands along the Highlands Trail. From the highest point on this half-mile footpath, you can view terraces dating back to the area’s cotton-growing era, as well as rows of loblolly pines planted for commercial forestry. Some of the pines in the preserve are more than 50 years old. You can see them up close on the Loblolly Trail.

The Ridge Trail provides another outstanding perch. It runs along a bluff on the western end of the Cottonwood Trail. If you want to get your heart pumping, take the Beaverdam Trail off the Cottonwood Trail and climb the steep set of steps to the quarter-mile overlook.

Throughout the preserve, markers identify more than 50 species of trees, including the Carolina silverbell, pawpaw, sassafras, tulip poplar, river birch, hackberry and, of course, the namesake cottonwoods. In early summer, these towering trees burst out in snowy flowers that look like balls of cotton. The best place to see them is near the pedestrian bridge.

The preserve also features a disc golf course and a large open space with picnic tables. Pets are welcome on the trails, but must be kept on a leash.

Open from dawn to dusk, the Edwin Griffin Nature Preserve can be accessed from three parking areas, including the main entrance at 403 Beachwood Dr. At each of the trailheads you’ll find a large map with all 12 trails clearly marked. For more information, click here.

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