The mountains in the eastern United States are nice. These are the mountains I grew up with and hiking their trails is where I fell in love with the great outdoors. They have character and grace which come with their age, and it is always great to be in them. Having traveled the world though, and seen the Rockies and the Alps, the Andes and the Wrangells, the Cascades and the Brooks Range, it's difficult to look at the Appalachians with awe and amazement. They're gentle and rounded and beautiful, but "awesome" just doesn't come to mind when I crest a hill and they come into view. Hidden among them, though, are some absolute jewels of nature. The waterfalls of Appalachia are truly some of the most spectacular you will find anywhere. For three days last week, I went out to woods in western South Carolina to get some fresh air, soak in the cool spray of these magnificent waterfalls and practice the art of photography. I love photographing a good waterfall, and while I don't think a photo can ever do some of these justice, it was well worth the effort. Some of these waterfalls were right off the road and others were buried deep in the forest, but all of them were worth the time and energy to get to them.
When I came into South Carolina, I had picked up a brochure/guide called The Waterfalls of Upcountry South Carolina at the Visitors Center. It provided invaluable information on this adventure, including a map and descriptions of both the route to get to the trails and the trails themselves. While all of this information is available online and in many books on the subject, if you can get your hands on this brochure, you definitely should. I was hoping I could find a PDF copy of it to attach, but I could not. HERE is a link to a great website though, which has all of the same information plus much more.
I started this tour by visiting tiny Chau Ram Falls on Ramsey Creek. I'm glad this was the first one I visited because there wasn't much to it. It was pleasant enough, and you could drive almost right up to it, so it was very easily accessible. There were great picnic spots nearby and a very cool suspension bridge in the area of this county park waterfall near the town of Westminster. I wouldn't go far out of my way to see this one again, but it was a nice little waterfall in a really pretty county park.
Next on my list was beautiful Issaqueena Falls. Issaqueena Falls is another highly accessible waterfall. From the parking lot, it is just a few hundred feet to a wonderful overlook platform. From the platform you can descend on a steep and somewhat challenging "trail" a few hundred more feet to the base of the falls. If you are able to, it is definitely worth the effort to get down to the base and see this magnificent falls from below. If not, you won't be disappointed by the view from the overlook. While you are in the area, you should definitely go check out the Stumphouse Tunnel, a train tunnel that was begun before the civil war but never completed. You can walk in part of the way and it's dark and cool inside with water dripping down the walls. It's a fun little 5 minute side trip while you are there, but the waterfall is definitely the highlight.
From Issaqueena, I headed on to Spoonauger Falls in the heart of Sumter National Forest. You do have to travel on a well maintained gravel road to get to the trail head, but it's nothing you can't do in any car so long as it hasn't been raining really hard recently. From the trailhead, it is a short hike to the waterfall along the magnificent Chattooga River, mostly flat and then up a short hill leading to the falls themselves.
Heading the other way on the trail, you can visit equally as impressive King Creek Falls. There is some up and down on this mile and a half round trip hike, but the beautiful 70 foot waterfall is worth the effort. The pool at the base of the falls, where the trail leads, has a sandy bottom, so it makes for a nice place to take off your shoes and get into it. The water was still pretty cold when I was there though, and my feet were numb in just a few seconds, but it was nice to get them in the water.
As the day was coming to a close, I went for a quick stop at Whitewater Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the east. It actually starts in North Carolina and crosses over into South Carolina as it cascades down the mountain. From the well-signed parking area, an easy to follow trail leads you to a great overlook for these falls and a stairway leads down to a different overlook platform for those with the energy to climb down and back up again. While I only saw these falls from a distance, they were pretty impressive.
After a wonderful night at Devil's Fork State Park, I was up and off in the morning. My first stop was at Oconee Station State Historic Site which is the trail head for Station Cove Falls. This was a really nice and easy 1.5 mile round trip hike to a beautiful 60 foot waterfall. There were lots of place to sit and enjoy the falls and lots of different angles for photos.
After returning and spending a few minutes poking around the historic site, I headed off to my favorite waterfall of my trip, Lee Falls. Lee Falls was also the most challenging to get to which may have added to my enjoyment of it. It was a bit of a tricky route to get to the trail head, involving a few country roads and another well maintained gravel road into the National Forest. Once at the parking lot, I followed the directions across three beautiful green grassy fields to where the "trail" ducked into the woods. This "trail" didn't have any signs or markings, so you really need to have some hiking experience to follow it. I would call this an intermediate trail as it crosses several streams and I can definitely see people getting lost trying to follow it. As you get close to the falls, the trail gets steeper and more challenging and you have to climb over rocks and under fallen trees. The payoff, though, is a really beautiful waterfall. I didn't see another person on the hike or at the falls, and I loved feeling like I was off the beaten path and deep in the wilderness even though I was really only a little over a mile from my van. If you get the chance, this is a great waterfall, but come with good shoes, a walking stick for the creek crossings, a good set of instructions and a good sense of direction. I really loved Lee Falls. My photo of it is at the bottom of this post.
When I got off the trail to Lee Falls, I headed out to Table Rock State Park for the night, and then the next morning I was off to see Raven Cliff Falls. I was glad I got to the trail head early as this was a busy one and there was already limited parking when I got there. A two mile moderate trail (4 miles round trip) brought me to the viewing platform for this massive 400 foot falls. While there are trails that lead down to the falls, I decided to call this one at the overlook as I still had one more waterfall I wanted to visit.
My last waterfall was Falls Creek Falls over near Jones Gap State Park. This was a pretty strenuous hike to get to the falls, even though it was just a little over a mile each way. The uphill slog paid off though with another wonderful waterfall. While there were a few other people around, I think this hike would discourage the casual tourist, so it was pretty quiet when I was there, even though it was Saturday.
And with that, I was headed back to Greenville. I really enjoyed visiting all nine of these waterfalls, and even though that is only a tiny fraction of the waterfalls in the area it was a pretty good taste. I will definitely look forward to visiting more the next time I am in the area, and the next time you are in the area, you should check some out too. Whether you are an experienced hiker or you like to stick close to your car, there is definitely a waterfall out here with your name on it. The weather is getting warmer, I hope you can get outside and enjoy it.