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South Carolina Waterfall Adventure

posted Sep 6, 2013, 5:21 PM by Justin P   [ updated Oct 30, 2013, 4:47 AM ]

For the Labor Day long weekend, we planned a waterfall-hunting expedition to the high country of South Carolina, near the border with Georgia and North Carolina.  We had a target of 15 waterfalls, all of which had different trailheads spanning three counties, so we definitely had our work cut out for us.  So we started very early Friday morning, leaving from the Chapel Hill area around 6 in the morning.  We crossed into South Carolina along I-85 later in the morning, stopping at the Visitor Center and picking up a few brochures to help us in locating the waterfalls.  Just past the Visitor Center, we saw Peachoid, a water tower shaped like a peach (although it kind of resembled a very orange butt). 

We got off I-85 near Greenville and continued towards the upcountry region, taking US-76 past Westminster towards the small community of Long Creek.  We turned on Damascus Church Road, then Battlecreek Road, and finally the gravel Turkey Ridge Road (FS755) into the Andrew Pickens Ranger District of Sumter National Forest.  Grace had picked up a map of South Carolina that indicated this is the general area where the movie Deliverance was filmed…  But we were undeterred.  We followed this forest road to a parking area a couple of miles back and continued hiking down the road to a fork that followed an old logging road for a mile or so, approaching the Chattooga River.  There are no signs at the trailhead, but shortly before the waterfall, there was a sign indicating that we had entered the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River area.  Past here, there was a steep, but short trail down to the falls, which were just above where Long Creek flows into the Chattooga River.  It’s a nice 25-foot cascading waterfall with two distinct water flows.  We stopped for a few minutes to get some pictures and crawl around on the rocks, before heading back up to the logging road to head back to the car.  Along the way back, we saw a little green snake and a cute orange toad along the trail. 

Back at the cars, we headed back up Turkey Creek Road just a short ways to the trailhead for Opossum Creek Falls, our next waterfall.  There was a sign here for the Opossum Creek Trail, which is about 2.5 miles one way to the falls.  Although the temperature was not that hot, it was extremely humid, making the hike more difficult than expected.  And we were heading down to the river on the way out, so it would be even tougher heading back.  The trail winded through the forest and followed Camp Branch down towards Chattooga River.  We could hear a waterfall or cascade along Camp Branch, but didn’t try to bushwhack down to see it.  When we reached the river, we saw a couple of NOC rafts along the shore where some rafters had stopped to take a break and see the falls.  Only the guide was waiting with the boats.  As we continued on towards the waterfall, we crossed Camp Branch and then followed Opossum Creek upstream, passing the large group of rafters coming down on the narrow trail.  Shortly, we hit the falls, a very pretty large cascading waterfall with an upper section of cascades that was difficult to see through the foliage. 

When we were done here, we made our way back down to the river and then the grueling hike back up to the road.  By the time we got to the car, we were all drenched in sweat and looking forward to the drive to the next waterfall in air conditioning.  From here, we got back on US-76 and got off on Brasstown Road, going a couple of miles on this road past where it changes from paved to gravel.  We turned right on FS751 and parked at the end.  It’s a short hike to Brasstown Falls and we really got a lot of waterfall for our effort.  Brasstown Falls actually has three sections.  The first is a beautiful large cascade that levels off and then plunges down a 20-foot or so freefall (in the first picture below), followed by a narrow sluice.  We hiked around all three sections of the falls, taking pictures, enjoying the views, and getting a little wet to cool off.  Then we started to hike back, passing the trail that leads back to the parking area to see Little Brasstown Falls (in the second picture below).  There was a small creek blocking access, but a downed tree provided a way across with having to wade.  When we finished here, we made our way back to the parking area and stopped to ask some people who were just pulling in about where we could find a good place to eat.  They suggested Brasstown Creek Gathering Place BBQ, which was just up Brasstown Road right after it changes from gravel to paved.  We pulled into the parking lot of the big log cabin building and headed in what looked the front door.  One of the servers, recognizing it was our first time, directed us to the line to order at the other side of the building and we placed our orders.   We mentioned that we would be camping near Riley Moore Falls and a woman in line behind us offered to let us camp in her yard and make breakfast.  She had 300 pounds of sausage in the freezer.  I wondered to myself if that’s what’s left of the last people she let camp in her yard.  We politely thanked her for her offer, but said we were on a tight schedule and needed to camp near the falls.  The BBQ was very good and they had some great sauces.  I tried Hot and St. Louis, both of which were very tasty.  When we finished dinner, we took advantage of the flush toilets and running water before heading to our campsite.  We had planned to hit Riley Moore Falls today, but it was getting late and we decided to wait until morning.  Since we were camping nearby, it wouldn’t add much time.  According to the US Forest Service, there is a primitive Riley Moore Ford Campground, following FS748B off Spy Rock Road (FS748).  However, the road is really worn out and there was a steep spot that was muddy.  Jim was convinced his Jeep could make it down and back up, but certainly the Camry couldn’t.  So we went down FS748C and camped near the waterfall instead.  We parked just before sunset and quickly set up our tents before dark, going to bed shortly after the sun went down.  We were all exhausted after a very long day.  Unfortunately, it was still hot and humid so we didn’t get a great night’s sleep.

We woke up around sunrise on Saturday, quickly broke camp, and hiked down to see Riley Moore Falls. This is a 12-foot waterfall on the Chauga River.  Given the height, I wasn’t expecting to be too impressed with this one.  But despite the low height of the falls, it was nearly 100 feet wide, spanning the entire river and the water was really flowing, and it turned out to be pretty impressive after all.  Interestingly, the water appeared to be two different colors.  The upper cascades were a murky brown color, while the lower cascades were white.  I got some pictures of the falls from the front and side, before we headed back to the vehicles.  Along the way, we saw a turtle along the trail and a huge yellow mushroom.  Grace is in a mycology club and helped us find and identify many of the interesting mushrooms and fungi that we saw along the trails. 

Back at the vehicles, Jim was almost out of gas.  On the way out, we stopped at the first gas station, but since they didn’t take credit cards, we only got $20 of gas, not wanting to waste all our cash.  From here, we drove through Walhalla and up SC-28 to the Yellow Branch Recreation Area.  From the parking area we hiked the Yellow Branch Falls trail down to its namesake waterfall.  Right away, we had to make a couple of easy stream crossings over Yellow Branch Creek.  Well-placed rocks allowed for easy rock-hopping without getting our feet wet.  The trail continues through the a nice hardwood forest with a couple of wooden footbridges before reaching the falls.  The only steep part was right before reach the falls.  And what a magnificent falls it is!  The waterfall is a beautiful series of countless cascades flowing over dark rock.  With such a contrast, it almost looked magical!  We spent quite a bit of time here, climbing around on the rocks and getting wet under the cascades.  Although there were no other people here, we weren’t alone.  There was a large number of blackbelly salamanders living in the water beneath the falls.  They were camouflaged well and blended right in with the rocks, so we didn’t see them at first.  One was hiding in a hole in an old log, with just his little head poking out.  We also saw a water snake basking on a rock here. 

When we finished, we hiked back to the cars and made the quick drive across the street to Stumphouse Tunnel and parked for Issaqueena Falls.  According to legend, Issaqueena was a Native American maiden who fell in love with and married a white settler.  Upon learning of an impending attack by the Cherokee on the settlers, she tried to warn them, but was chased by the Indians.  She faked her own death by pretending to jump off the falls, but actually jumped down to a ledge below and was able to hide from her attackers.  No jumping for us; we would just hike down to the falls.  We hiked past the top of the falls and down to the wooden overlook and had lunch here.  The views of the falls aren’t that great from here as the tree branches and foliage obscures the view.  After eating our lunches, we took the short but very steep trail down to the base of the falls for some better pictures.  We were alone at the bottom of the falls for a little while, just long enough to get some good pictures, but soon more and more people made their way down here.  As the base got more and more crowded, we decided it was time to leave so we made our way back up to the cars 

We drove through Walhalla again, taking SC-183 to SC-11 to our next hike.  Along the way, we found a gas station that took credit cards and restocked on gas, Gatorade, and ice.  From SC-11, we took Oconee Station Road past the historic site to the trailhead for Station Cove Falls.  This one is a short hike, maybe a half mile, and so there were quite a few others along the trail and at the falls.  Station Cove Falls is a beautiful 60-foot cascading falls.  Similar to Yellow Branch Falls, it was very scenic, but the crowds of people took away from the serenity of the falls.  We got a few photos and then made our way back as we started to hear thunder.  About half way back, it started to rain, and not a light drizzle, but a heavy downpour.  Since the sun was out when we had started, we had not brought rain gear for this hike.  Worrying about my non-waterproof camera, I ran quickly back to the trailhead and took shelter under the sign until everyone was back and ready to go. 

We continued on Oconee Station Road to Jumping Branch Road and looked for our turn.  We were supposed to turn on FS715A, but we didn’t see it, so we turned on FS715.  This was a wrong turn and we were unsure of where to go.  The torrential rain didn’t help either.  We drove up and back on Jumping Branch Road until finally we saw an unmarked  gravel road.  On closer inspection, there was a sign with 5A.  It looked like someone had blasted the top two numbers off with a shotgun.  So we proceeded down this road to a parking area at the end.  There were a couple of cars here and some people were hiking back to them.  They confirmed that this was indeed the trailhead for Lee Falls and that it was spectacular waterfall, though a bit difficult to reach.  We started out on the first of several open field crossings.  The rain had lightened a bit, but it was still coming down and walking through the tall grass in the fields, we were getting soaked.  At the end of the field, we had to cross a creek.  The water was high enough that we were going to get our feet wet, but we were already soaked anyway.  Then another field and another stream crossing and then another.  Everything was so wet at this point that it didn't matter how many times we had to walk through the creek.  Finally, after the third field, we headed onto what looked more like a trail heading through the woods.  There were more stream crossings and the trail got narrower and harder to follow.  As we got closer to the falls, we saw a snapping turtle in the middle of the trail.  I had never seen one completely out of the water before (although it was raining enough that the trail was practically underwater).  We carefully moved him off the trail and continued on to Lee Falls.  The area around Lee Falls was very beautiful – almost like a tropical rainforest, and even more lush  with the light rain.  Unfortunately, the wet rocks and stinging nettle made for treacherous maneuvering to get good pictures.  It’s also hard to get the entire waterfall (there are two distinct streams) as well as the cascades below.  We stayed here for a while, and then made the very wet trip back to the cars.  By the time we made it back to the parking area, the rain had stopped although it was extremely humid. 

We dried off as much as possible and then took a windy forest road to SC-107 and went to Cherry Hill Campground to set up camp.  It was still relatively early in the evening, so after quickly setting up camp at site 29, we headed out to knock out two more waterfalls before dark.  We drove just a short ways up SC-107 to Burrells Ford Road (FS708) and proceeded down to the parking area for King Creek Falls.  From the parking area, we hiked down the forest road past the campsites and took the King Creek/Foothills Trail upstream on King Creek.  After crossing a bridge, the trail continued up King Creek for half a mile or so of a scenic stretch of the creek with several nice cascades along the way.  King Creek Falls is a very impressive 70-foot waterfall with powerful cascades.  The backwards slant of the falls makes it look even bigger than it is.  There were some logs to cross the creek at the base of the falls and get pictures from different angles. 

When we were done here, we continued back to the car and drove just a short ways further on Burrells Ford Road to the trailhead for Spoonauger Falls, our last waterfall for the day.  It was getting late in the evening and we certainly wouldn’t have any more time for waterfalls today, but Spoonauger is a short trail and we could get this one done quickly.  The short Chattooga River Trail leaves the road and enters the Ellicott Rock Wilderness before a turn to head towards the falls.  This short spur trail follows Spoonauger Creek upstream through an area of dense rhododendron, certain to be spectacularly beautiful in the early summer when in bloom.  After a few switchbacks, we made it to the falls.  This 50-foot waterfall has much less water flow than nearby King Creek Falls, but was still really pretty and in a beautiful setting.  The water cascades down a stepped rock with the late afternoon sun providing perfect lighting.  But it was getting late so we didn’t have a lot of time.  After a few pictures, we made our way back to the car and headed back to camp.  According to the GPS, there were no restaurants closer than 30 minutes away, so we made camp food and tried to get to bed early after taking advantage of the warm water showers.  Unfortunately, it was a noisy night with a generator going, dogs barking, and snoring.

We woke up early again and quickly broke camp, then made our way to Pickens County.  From the Cherry Hill Camp, we took SC-107 north almost to NC, then SC-130 down to SC-11 to cross Lake Jocassee/Lake Keowee.  Just across the lake, we turned on Cleo Chapman Highway and took this to Eastatoe Community Road and then turned on Waterfalls Road.  This road terminates at the trailhead for Twin Falls.  The hike to Twin Falls is an easy quarter-mile walk along Reedy Cove Creek, passing a a cute old, but functioning waterwheel on the way.  Just past this is a wooden platform overlooking the falls.  As the name implies, there are two falls – Reedy Cove splits into a tall 75-foot freefall to the left and a smaller drop and slide down a 45° rock face to the right, with the two streams meeting back up at the bottom.  The views from the platform were nice, but the cascades to the right were somewhat obscured by foliage so we climbed down to the rocks below the platform for a better view.  Between the recent rains and spray from the waterfall, the rocks were quite slippery, but we managed to get out and get some shots from various angles.  The spray from the waterfall was pretty strong, which did make it difficult to get good pictures, though.  I also ended up slipping on the wet rocks once, but didn't hurt myself too much.  After that, I was a bit more cautious and didn't venture too much further out on the rocks.  After enjoying this waterfall, we headed back to the cars. 

From here, we hopped on SC-11 to US-178 and drove north to Horse Pasture Road into Jocassee Gorge Management Area and the entrance to Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve.  We parked here, which is also a trailhead for accessing the Foothills Trail, and hiked into the preserve following an easy-to-follow old logging road.  Along the way, we saw several critters, including some toads, a garter snake sunning himself on the trail, and more mushrooms.  I'm not sure if it was the time of year or the recent rains or just the location, but we saw a tremendous number of really neat mushrooms on this entire trip.  The trail follows the old logging road along Narrow Ridge running parallel to Eastatoe Creek along the ridgelinefor about 2 miles.  Towards the end of the trail, it departs from the ridge and heads down into the gorge.  Although it was quite steep, a series of switchbacks and wooden stairs made it seem a little less steep.  Due to the humidity, I was sweating a lot going down, meaning going back up would be worse.  When we got to the bottom, there was a split and we initially went left passing a primitive campsite as we headed upstream.  Soon we realized we had gone the wrong way and turned around to take the right fork to a wooden platform overlooking The Narrows.  Eastatoe Creek drops 600 feet through the preserve, culminating at The Narrows, where it flows through narrow channels.  There was no climbing down from this overlook, so after a few pictures of the falls, we started back. 

The Narrows

Heading back up, we stopped to put some marking tape on a tree indicating that the falls are to the right, and then made the hike back up to the ridge.  It wasn’t as bad as I had expected and soon we were back on the old logging road.  This was the second and last waterfall in Pickens County, so back at the cars, we continued making our way east.  We got back on SC-11 going past Table Rock and turning onto US-276 towards Caesars Head State Park.  Our last waterfall for the day was Moonshine Falls, which can be accessed through Caesars Head State Park (although I believe the waterfall itself is on private property).  However, there is a somewhat easier way to visit this waterfall by heading through Asbury Hills Methodist Camp.  Justine had emailed the camp and got permission to hike through their property and the gate code to enter the camp.  Past the gate, we drove through the camp and parked near the basketball hoops.  As we were getting ready, a girl who worked there greeted us and gave us a couple of maps.  We thanked her and set out on the red-blazed Asbury Trail.  We passed a lake before heading through the woods.  A couple of side trails led to “waterfalls”, but these were barely cascades and not worth leaving the trail for.  I think these were marked more as challenges for young campers to find while staying at the camp.  Towards the end of this trail, we approached Matthews Creek and crossed the creek on a cable bridge.  The cable bridge consisted of two cables running between trees on opposite sides of the creek.  One was for the feet and the other was to hold on to while crossing.  I had never used one of these before and was a little nervous at first, but it was kind of fun once I got on.  Across the bridge, we followed the pink-blazed Naturaland Trust Trail.  We hiked for a ways on this trail, turning right at two rock cairns and then heading down a short side trail to the waterfall.  Moonshine Falls is named for an illicit moonshine still that used the cover and remoteness of the waterfall to hide the evidence of this illegal operation.  There are still several rusty old drums behind the waterfall from those days.  It is possible to get behind the waterfall near the drums and view it from different angles.  But to see the entire thing, we had to climb down to the base.  We had some fun playing around at the falls, but since we were parked on private property, we headed back so we would be off their land well before dark. 

On the way back, we started to hear thunder suggesting another storm was rolling in.  Luckily, it didn’t start to rain until right after we had gotten back across the cable bridge.  I really didn't want to try and cross that in the rain, so I felt relieved when the rain held out until right after we had all crossed.  And we were more prepared this time with our rain gear.  It rained most of the rest of the way back through Asbury Camp, but never too hard and had tapered off by the time we got back to our cars.  We were supposed to camp at Caesars Head State Park so heading out of Asbury Camp, we turned left on US-276.  Just past the camp, we made a quick stop at Bald Rock Heritage Preserve.  Bald Rock is a huge granite outcrop with great views of the surrounding foothills.  Unfortunately, the rock itself has been heavily vandalized by graffiti painted on nearly every available surface.  Although most of it is kind of trashy, there were a couple of spots of graffiti that were actually artistic in a sense.  Well, maybe if it wasn't defacing such a nice natural overlook, anyway.  We walked around here, enjoying the views from the rock and checking out the graffiti, mostly "so-and-so was here" or "I love so-and-so".  We found one that was an outline of a human body and all took turns getting our pictures taken playing dead in a "chalk outline".  Then we headed back to the cars and headed to the park to set up camp.  When we got to Caesars Head, the ranger told us that we were actually camping at Jones Gap State Park.  The two parks are connected as the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.  But it would be a bit of a drive and just as we were leaving, the rain started up again.  Although we were in the car to stay dry, it made driving on the windy and steep US-276 a little bit treacherous.  We had Subway for dinner in Marietta before heading to Jones Gap.  It was almost dark when we arrived, so we quickly backpacked our stuff to site 1 and set up.  The state park had warm-water showers so we took advantage of these before getting to bed.

View from Bald Rock

Monday morning, we again woke up right at sunrise, broke camp and started out on our first hike of the day.  Conveniently, Rainbow Falls is accessed through Jones Gap State Park, so we didn’t have to drive anywhere.  And getting an early start, we would beat the crowds.  It is a holiday, after all, so we expected that the parks would be crowded.  From the parking lot, we hiked along the Jones Gap Trail as it ran along the Middle Saluda River for a short ways.  At one point, Justine stopped ahead of me and was looking backwards.  She signaled for me to turn around and I saw rays of early morning light bursting through the dense foliage in a very pronounced beam.  We continued a short ways further along this trail, before taking a bridge across the river and got on the red-blazed Rainbow Falls Trail.  The trail is relatively flat at first crossing Cox Camp Creek a couple of times heading upstream, and then really getting steep as it moves away from the creek.  After a seemingly endless number of stairs, the trail leveled off a bit as it went past some huge rock cliffs with water flowing down the sides.  I don't think that these are any sort of permanent waterfall, but with the substantial amount of rain we had this weekend, they were pretty cool.  Past these cliffs, the trail was fairly level as it approached the base of the falls.  There were some nice cascades just before reaching the falls and a couple of tricky stream crossings, but soon we made it.  Having seen a few pictures of this waterfall, I was not expecting to be too impressed.  Boy, was I wrong.  Perhaps it was the very wet summer and recent rains or maybe pictures just don’t do it justice.  Either way, this was an amazing waterfall, my favorite of the weekend.  The waterfall plunges over a cliff with a freefall of near 100 feet.  And the high volume of water flow was creating lots of spray and nearly hurricane-force winds.  The spray and strong winds made taking pictures difficult, but nonetheless, this is definitely one of the most impressive waterfalls I’ve ever seen.  When I walked up the rocks to get a little closer (without the camera, of course), I ended up getting completely drenched, even more than I had been from all the rain over the weekend.  At one point, I couldn’t go any further, because the wind was so strong, I was afraid I’d get blown over on the wet rocks. 

Rainbow Falls

When we were done, we started making the hike back down.  Although we had the falls to ourselves, we saw quite a few people hiking up the trail on our way back down.  A nice thing about camping at the park is you can get an early start and beat the crowds.  Needless to say, these people were huffing and puffing making the climb up, but we assured them that it was worth the effort.  Back at the car, we left the park and got back on SC-11, stopping for a roadside waterfall on our way back to Caesars Head.  Wildcat Branch Falls is a nice cascading waterfall right on the side of SC-11 between US-276 and Jones Gap.  Wildcat Wayside, where the falls are located, is part of the Middle Bridge Wilderness, along with Jones Gap and Caesars Head.  There is a nice-sized parking area here along the highway and a vendor had set up a truck selling boiled peanuts, ice cream, and other snacks. 

We stopped for just a couple minutes to take some pictures then headed towards Caesars Head State Park on US-276.  We parked at the parking area for Raven Cliff Falls and headed out on the trail for our last waterfall of the weekend.  The trail is about 2.2 miles one way and moderate.  There is a kiosk at the trailhead with a map as well as maps at the two intersections with other trails, so it would be hard to get lost.  Along the way, we saw a cute little eastern newt on a tree.  He seemed to get real still when we got close to take pictures, but his bright orange color makes for lousy camouflage.  A the end of the trail, we reached the overlook for Raven Cliff Falls.  Raven Cliff Falls is a huge 400-foot waterfall and the viewing deck is very nice.  Unfortunately, it’s quite far away, so it’s hard to get an idea of the magnitude of the falls.  There used to be another viewing deck that was closer, but I think it was destroyed by storm.  It’s also possible to hike down to the falls, but there’s nowhere to really get a good view.  And we were tired from all the hiking this weekend, so we sat and had a snack for lunch at the overlook before heading back.  Victory!  17 named waterfalls in four days.

Raven Cliff Falls