QUICK TAKE: Foothills Trail, South Carolina
DRIVE TIME: The Oconee State Park trailhead is about 150 miles (3 hours) northeast of Atlanta and 160 miles (3 hours) southwest of Charlotte.
THE WAY: To get to the Table Rock State Park trailhead from Greenville, South Carolina, take US 276 to SC 11. Turn east and continue to the state park. The trailhead is on the north side of the Pinnacle Lake parking lot at the Carrick Creek Interpretive Center. To reach the Oconee State Park trailhead from Greenville, take I-85 south to SC 28. Turn north, continue to SC 107. Turn north, continue on to the state park. Signs for the Foothills Trail lead the way.
TRAILS: The Foothills Trail is 76 miles long, but you can add a 19-mile spur trail that runs from Sassafras Mountain to Jones Gap State Park. A super 18-mile loop can be made by heading west on the Foothills Trail where it crosses the Walhalla Fish Hatchery Road (just off SC 107). Turn upriver on the Chattooga Trail at its intersection with the Foothills Trail, pick up the Ellicott Rock Trail and follow it 71/2 miles east through Ellicott Rock Wilderness to the intersection with Foothills Trail north of where you began. Head south back to your car. In the 32-mile stretch from Whitewater Falls to US 178, called the “Big Middle,” there is no public road access but there are four spectacular river crossings via footbridge. A few sections of trail are reached by boat only. For boat and car shuttle service, contact Hoyett’s Grocery and Tackle in Salem, South Carolina at (864) 944-9016.
ELEVATION: From the Table Rock State Park trailhead at around 1,500 feet, the trail trips over five peaks above 3,000 feet, including Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina’s loftiest at 3,554 feet.
CAN’T MISS: Upper and Lower Whitewater Falls, each of which boasts about 800 feet of cascading water-depending on the season.
CROWD CONTROL: Trail stretches in the state parks are heavily used, but solitude reigns elsewhere.
PIT STOP: Table Rock State Park restaurant plies fried chicken, candied yams, and other Southern staples.
WALK SOFTLY: Between Sassafras Mountain and Lake Jocassee thrives one of the densest black bear populations in the eastern United States. Hang your food and keep a clean camp.
MAPS AND GUIDES: The all-inclusive Guide to the Foothills Trail is full of elevation and topographic maps, detailed trail descriptions, camp and water locations, and historic and cultural background. Available for $12 from the Foothills Trail Conference, address below.
MORE INFORMATION: Foothills Trail Conference, P.O. Box 3041, Greenville, SC 29602; (864) 467-9537. Entrance to the state parks will set you back $2.