With a name like "Winding Stairs," one would expect to do some serious climbing on this Oconee County trail. But the 3.5-mile passage has such a gentle grade and easy footing, it's often recommended for beginners.
Trailheads are located at both ends, allowing you to choose whether you want to tackle the 1,100 feet of elevation change at the start of your hike or make your way down the terrain and leave the climbing for the second half of the trek. If you have two cars to shuttle, you can leave one at the opposite end and avoid having to back track on the trail.
Winding Stairs' pleasantly sloping terrain and easy access aren't its only selling points. The trail also offers access to Miuka Falls, one of the upstate's most impressive cascades.
I hiked the trail this spring starting at the northern entry point just outside the Cherry Hill Campground. As we moved through the hardwood forest we were soon treated to a stunning display of brightly colored wildflowers, including pink trilliums, blue violas and purple irises. These harbingers of warm weather were popping up all along the trail, adding to the enjoyment of walking in the woods.
The hike only got better as the trail began its parallel descent along the West Fork of Townes Creek. After 1.2 miles, the soothing sounds of the creek were drowned out by Miuka Falls, a 75-foot cascade on a short spur trail off the main pathway.
The spur trail will take you to a rocky perch where you can see a portion of the falling water through the brush and trees. But to get the best view, you'll need to scramble off the path down the hillside. Although it's not part of the spur trail, the route is well-worn so there's no mistaking where to go.
It's a little tricky getting down to the clearing where the view opens up. It's a steep descent, so if you're not prepared for the return climb up, best to skip it.
Beyond Miuka Falls, the trail zigzags down the hillside, crossing a number of brooks and traveling through coves filled with rhododendron and mountain laurel. The weekend I hiked the trail, it was still early enough in the spring to get a view of Lake Cherokee to the southeast.
As you get to the last half-mile of the hike, the trail levels out before reaching a primitive campground on Cheohee Road (FS 710), where the southern trailhead is located.
For directions to Winding Stairs Trail, click here.