(77 miles, 6-7 days)
Between Sassafras Mountain (at 3,554 feet the highest point in South Carolina) and Lake Jocassee, the Foothills Trail enters a mountainous realm containing one of the East’s densest black bear populations. What’s good terrain for Ursus americanus—remote, thickly forested, and cut through with creeks—is prime habitat for backpackers, too. The FT’s three distinct and roughly equidistant sections all feature waterfalls, rivers, and creeks stoked on 75 inches of annual rainfall as the trail drops from the “Blue Wall” of the Southern Appalachians to the Piedmont. The Jocassee Gorges riddle the middle section, between miles 14 and 45. Here, the trail skirts the outstretched arms of Lake Jocassee and vaults four rivers on superbly engineered bridges, including a 225-foot steel suspension bridge over Toxaway River. Hemmed in by the lake and the Blue Wall, the FT crosses nary a paved road for 34 miles through here. Whitewater Falls, the East’s second highest waterfall, stair-steps 411 feet just a short distance from the trail at mile 46. In the last section, walk along the churning rapids of the Chattooga River, where parts of Deliverance were filmed. (864) 467-9537; foothillstrail.org
The way East trailhead: From Greenville, take US 276 23.1 miles north to SC 11 west. Head 6.6 miles, and turn left onto East Ellison Lane, which leads to the trailhead. West trailhead: From Walhalla, take SC 107, 12 miles north to Oconee State Park.
Shuttle The Foothills Trail Conference (foothillstrail.org) maintains a list of volunteers who offer free shuttles.
Season April for engorged falls. Late-October for autumn colors.