South Carolina's mountains have always played second fiddle to their bigger kin just across the border in the other Carolina.
But areas of northern Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties are nothing less than spectacular.
The Blue Ridge Mountains stopped with a bang several hundred-million years ago along what would become the state line between the Carolinas. The escarpment, a precipitous drop where the mountains become the Piedmont, boasts more waterfalls than anywhere else in the country.
Some 40,000 acres of this land has been preserved through federal, state and private efforts. The resulting parks and wilderness trails are a state treasure that rivals the Lowcountry's ACE Basin.
With the notion of providing our readers a guide to the area's trails and waterfalls, the POINT staff went to the mountains to do some on-site research.
We started our journey with a visit to Ceasar's Head State Park, where 2,000-foot cliffs mark the start of 85 miles of trails to Oconee State Park.
The topo map in the rangers' station offers a bird's eye view of the trails system, and is a good place to start any journey in the area.
We chose to hike into a primitive camping area in Jones Gap State Park, which offers 12 sites along the scenic five-mile trail that follows the Middle Saluda River.
It costs $2.14 a head to stake out your own piece of wilderness.Where else can you get a deal like that?
The mile and a half the map said we had to hike up the mountain with our gear to our campsite was an obvious lie. Mountain miles apparently are designed to humiliate flatlanders with naive notions of distance.
After we set up camp on the bank of the Middle Saluda, we were so taken with the beauty of the place we decided it would be silly to rush off in search of waterfalls. Sitting on a boulder in the middle of the river, the noise precluded conversation. There was nothing to do but sit and drink it all in. Nobody was complaining.
We did, eventually, hike to see several of the falls in the area. Like most natural wonders, the place defies easy description. It must be seen to be appreciated.
Do yourself a favor: pack up the kids, your friends or your dog and get thee to the Upstate! We promise you won't be sorry.
Finding the Falls, a Guide to Twenty-five of the Upstate's Outstanding Waterfalls, is available from the Department of Natural Resources for $2. The brochure gives waterfall watchers enough information to get seriously lost in the mountain outback. Experts advise taking a topo map and a compass.
Call the Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at 803-734-0156 to get this and other brochures about the mountain area parks.
Mountain Bridge Trails is a 250-page detailed description of the trail system. The $18.50 manual is available from Naturaland Trust, Box 728, Greenville, SC 29602 and at Ceasars Head State Park.
The Mountain Bridge is a 40,000-acre wilderness area that forms a narrow, 45-mile corridor along the state line that "bridges" the watersheds of the Table Rock and Poinsett reservoirs.
Jones Gap State Park, a verdant 2,000-acre pass through northern Greenville County mountains, is both a natural and historical treasure. More than 400 species of plants call this pristine valley home, including rare and endangered species and state record trees.
Jones Gap State Park lets visitors experience the natural beauty of a mountain river flowing freely through a rock-bound gorge. Here the Middle Saluda River, designated South Carolina's first Scenic River, roars from headwaters down a boulder-strewn gash flanked by deep forest, little changed from the days of the Cherokees.
According to legend, Solomon Jones built a road across Caesars Head to a spot near Cedar Mountain, N.C. This 5 1/2-mile road leading up from River Falls was known as Jones Gap Road. Instead of using surveying instruments, Jones is said to have laid out the line for the road by relying on his own ability and instinct to judge grades. The road took him eight years to construct.
Originally used as a toll road, it was abandoned around 1910. Today the road is the Jones Gap Trail, used by hikers and trout anglers.
An environmental learning center offers nature exhibits, a meeting area and also serves as the park office. Portions of the old Cleveland Fish Hatchery, which was the first state-owned fish hatchery in South Carolina and occupied the site from 1931 to1963 have been restored and are stocked with trout.
Jones Gap State Park is open seven days a week year-round from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Picnic tables and grills are available for park visitors. For trout anglers, the Middle Saluda River and its tributary, Coldspring Branch, are especially significant for the presence of rainbow, brook and brown trout. Only artificial flies and lures are permitted, and the limit is seven trout per day.
Jones Gap State Park is 25 miles northwest of Greenville off US 276/SC 11. For information, write Jones Gap State Park, 303 Jones Gap Road, Marietta, SC 29661, or call (803) 836-3647
Caesars Head State Park is one of South Carolina's most famous natural landmarks. At 3,266 feet above sea level, Caesars Head provides a panoramic view of the rugged Mountain Bridge Wilderness area and a chance to witness the majestic soaring of birds such as broad-winged hawks, peregrine falcons, ravens and black vultures.
In the distance is Table Rock, a prominent mountain of granite that is in stark contrast to the heavily wooded peaks surrounding it. At the base of this mountain is Table Rock Reservoir, a pretty lake which is also the source of water for Greenville County.
The profile of Caesars Head can best be seen along the short scenic walkway leading from the bottom of nearby Devil's Kitchen. This narrow passage is a geological phenomenon formed thousands of years ago by intense pressure and heat.
Caesars Head State park is open year-round, seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Facilities include a park store and covered picnic areas.
A park naturalist conducts a variety of programs and workshops for park visitors throughout the year. A nature center features exhibits of plants, animals and geology of the upcountry.
Caesars Head State Park is 30 miles northwest of Greenville on US 276 near the South Carolina-North Carolina state line.
For more information, write Caesars Head State Park, 8155 Geer Highway, Cleveland SC 29635, or call (803) 836-6115.
© Copyright by POINT, 1995
Last modified 8/8/95