South Carolina claims only a small share of the southern Appalachians, but the state makes the best of it with a string of state parks strategically situated where the mountains meet the foothills at a dramatic escarpment known as “The Blue Wall.” At the heart of this lush, steep, and rocky region is 10,000-acre Mountain Bridge State Natural Area.
Trails within the wilderness connect with those in two adjoining state parks, Caesars Head and Jones Gap, to create a variety of trip options. A great backpacking loop starts on the busy Raven Cliff Falls Trail in Caesars Head State Park, then leads through the Watson Heritage Preserve to the point where Matthews Creek plunges over Raven Cliff. After the falls, the loop winds past a rock formation called The Cathedral, and eventually reaches superb overlooks on top of Little Pinnacle Mountain.
Another challenging loop starts at Jones Gap State Park. Once on the Jones Gap Trail, you pass a succession of swimming holes in the Middle Saluda River and backcountry campsites, then climb the Bill Kimball Trail through a graveyard of American chestnut trees before skirting the five-tiered cliff called El Lieutenant.
Return via the challenging Rim of the Gap Trail, a gauntlet of steep climbs and slippery descents made easier thanks to choice placements of cables and ladders. As it winds below the south rim of Jones Gap, the trail yields views across the valley and close-ups of overhanging cliffs, cascades, and small waterfalls.
As with most hikes at Mountain Bridge, the scenery on the loops described above changes with every twist in the trail, and there’s always the prospect of seeing white-tailed deer and wild turkeys, and even bobcats and black bears.