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The Foothills Trail: A 77-mile Taste of the Southern Appalachians

The Foothills Trail: A 77-mile Taste of the Southern Appalachians

The concept for the Foothills Path, a Nationwide Leisure Path situated in far western South Carolina, started in the 1960s as an effort to protect and shield the magnificence of the Appalachian Foothills. A path hall linking Desk Rock State Park in the north/east to Oconee State Park to the south/west, was accomplished in 1981.

The path options sturdy bridges crossing over quite a few rivers, lovely waterfalls, a jaunt round a nook of Lake Jocassee and, on the japanese half of the path, steep climbs of as much as 2,000 ft that rival something on the southern Appalachian Path.

The Foothills Path in South Carolina and North Carolina is a Nationwide Recreation Path. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans

Water is plentiful, tenting is allowed on all however a couple of miles of the path, resupply is pretty straightforward and the path is properly marked. Though principally well-built and -maintained, as of October 2018 there have been fairly a number of blowdowns, together with a pair that drive hikers into vital bushwhacking and route-finding again to the path.

As soon as as excessive as the Rocky Mountains or Alps, some 480 million years of erosion have considerably decreased the elevation of the Appalachian Mountains (which prolong, consider it or not, into Scotland). However the japanese/northern third of the path, particularly, is as steep and rugged as the southern Appalachian Path.

The Foothills Path is well-marked with white blazes. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans

General, south/westbound hikers (SWOBOs?) achieve roughly 10,900 ft of elevation, whereas north/eastbounders (NEBOs?) achieve about 10,000 ft (the Foothills Path Conservancy doesn’t supply actual totals; approximations are based mostly on an general elevation profile).

The tread on most of the path is essentially free of rocks and roots, apart from a couple of restricted areas, making for nice climbing. Nicely-built bridges cross main waterways and the FTC has laid tons of of wood-block steps into the steepest sections of path.

Foothills Path At-a-Look

Toxaway River Foothills Trail

The Toxaway River flows into Lake Jocassee alongside the Foothills Path. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans

Size: 76.2 miles (the Foothills Path Conservancy rounds this off to 77 miles)

Location: The path runs barely northeast-southwest in far western South Carolina, with a number of crossings into North Carolina.

Path sort: Shuttle end-to-end.

Surroundings: Principally forests, dominated by rhododendron, mountain laurel, oak and pine, with occasional panoramic views, rivers, waterfalls and the summit of South Carolina’s highest peak.

Terrain: Straightforward to average on the western/southern half of the path, with occasional brief, steep climbs. Average to strenuous on the japanese/northern portion of the path. Publicity is minimal, and lots of climbs function synthetic, wood-block steps.

Navigation: The path is well-marked with white blazes and simply navigable, although as all the time, you will get off monitor in the event you aren’t paying consideration. The Foothills Path Conservancy retailer presents an entire guidebook, map and pocket profile. Scott Lynch’s pocket information, “Hiking South Carolina’s Foothills Trail,” is one other fashionable choice.

Why Hike the Foothills Path

Whitewater Falls. Photograph:

The Foothills Path is a enjoyable, difficult traipse by means of basic southern Appalachian terrain. The path epitomizes the “green tunnel” phenomenon, however that simply makes its periodic panoramic views much more rewarding. For those who like water, the path presents fixed swimming alternatives, waterfalls and flowing rivers to lull hikers to sleep.

This can be a four-season path, hikeable even in winter. There’s ample wildlife and hikers have an excellent probability of seeing deer, snakes, toads, frogs, raccoons, waterfowl, raptors, and extra.

This can be a worthy path in its personal proper, however many hikers use the Foothills Path as a sort of shakedown, warm-up or training-wheel expedition for an AT thru-hike. The terrain, tread, and grades—from riverside meandering to lung-busting steep—all mirror the AT in its Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina incarnations. The local weather is delicate resulting from decrease elevations, which often means oppressive warmth and humidity in late spring, summer time and early fall—good coaching for the AT’s mid-Atlantic in July.

Whereas there are sometimes ore individuals round options corresponding to Whitewater Falls and Lake Jocassee, hikers will discover lots of solitude on most of the path, together with quiet, secluded campsites.

Getting There

There are a number of quick access factors to the Foothills Path. Through-hikers begin at the japanese terminus at Desk Rock State Park close to Pickens, S.C. or the western terminus at Oconee State Park very close to the Georgia and North Carolina borders in the far western tip of South Carolina.

The FTC web site lists shuttle providers that cater to long-distance hikers. Desk Rock State Park is about an hour’s drive from each Asheville, North Carolina and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Oconee State Park is about two hours from each cities. Oconee is about 2.5 hours and Desk Rock is about three hours from Atlanta.

There are additionally 10 different quick access factors between the two termini for non-thru hikers.

Which Path Ought to You Hike?

Pinnacle Mountain Foothills Trail

A view from the flanks of Pinnacle Mountain in Desk Rock State Park, alongside the Foothills Path. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans photograph

Through-hikers journey each north/eastbound and south/westbound, however there’s no query that those that journey south/westbound have it a bit harder. As on the AT, south/westbound Foothills Path hikers stroll straight right into a buzzsaw, tackling the highest, most difficult terrain instantly and gaining some three,000 ft in the first 9.eight miles to the summit of Sassafrass Mountain … on day one.

North/eastbound hikers begin with a mild descent to the Chattooga River and make the mere 2,000-foot climb to Sassafrass after a number of days of mountaineering. The western half of the path covers considerably much less grueling terrain general.

Local weather and Climate

A rat snake, coiled alongside the Foothills Path. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans

It’s solely believable to hike the Foothills Path in any season, although late-spring to early summer time and fall are hottest.

Nighttime temperatures in winter sometimes drop into the 20s, typically decrease, however daytime highs ceaselessly attain the 40s and even 50s. In summer time and early fall, the warmth and humidity is usually a killer—hikers who can tolerate strolling in gear actually soaked with sweat will avail themselves of frequent alternatives to swim and wash off chafe-inducing salt and dirt.

Bugs could be troublesome, particularly mosquitoes and biting flies in hotter months. And lots of a Foothills Path hiker has discovered herself sprinting away from the occasional swarm of irritable hornets, particularly in fall. The incidence of Lyme illness could be very low in South and North Carolina (lower than .5 confirmed instances per 100,000 residents), however the black-legged (or deer tick) is current, so be diligent about tick checks.

Gear for Climbing the Foothills Path

Campsites are plentiful all alongside the path, with just some restricted areas. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans

With the exception of the winter months, likelihood is that climate can be heat and sometimes extraordinarily scorching and humid. Most of the yr, hikers can depart cold-weather gear at house.

There are not any shelters alongside the path, and rain is frequent, so hikers ought to have an excellent shelter comparable to a tent, tarp, or hammock.

The Foothills Path, although steep in locations, just isn’t particularly rugged, so path runners are greater than sufficient.

Bears frequent these mountain areas, so it’s essential to deliver and adequately grasp a bear bag, or use an Ursack setup. A bear canister might be overkill. Don’t overlook the insect repellent… you’ll need it.


Tenting is allowed on most of the path’s 77 miles, with the following exceptions: 1.7 miles alongside the Whitewater River on Duke Power property, beginning at round mile 30 (northbound); Desk Rock State Park, besides in designated campsites at park headquarters. No permits are required, however for those who camp in both Oconee or Desk Rock state parks, there’s a charge.

The commonplace guidebooks for the Foothills Path present detailed details about plentiful tenting spots, and there are quite a few spots to camp alongside the method that aren’t listed in both e-book.

Alongside the sandy banks of the Chattooga River and simply above Laurel Fork Falls are two of many wonderful tenting spots on the path.

Foothills Path Highlights*

Tenting on a sandbar alongside the Chattooga River is a backpacker favourite. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans.

*Mileages listed heading north

-Chattooga River Valley (Miles 10.6-15.5): Many wonderful locations to swim and camp alongside the river, which was one of the places for the film “Deliverance” (however don’t fear; there don’t look like any crazed hillbillies in the space).

-Whitewater Falls (Miles 30-31.7): Six totally different falls that tumble a complete of 800 ft, making it the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

-Lake Jocassee (Mile 48.5): The rocks beneath the bridge over the Toxaway River make a great spot for lunch, relaxation or drying out your gear.

-Laurel Fork Falls (Mile 54.three) — a scenic cascade with a number of streamside campsites simply one-tenth of a mile to the east.

-Sassafrass Mountain (Mile 66.four): At three,553 ft, the highest level in South Carolina, with 360-degree views from the hearth tower on prime (observe: the tower was closed for development in late 2018).

-Bald Knob (Mile 72.5): Expansive view of Upstate South Carolina from knees of Pinnacle Mountain.

Water Sources

A footbridge throughout the Horsepasture River on the Foothills Path. Photograph: Clay Bonnyman Evans

In a traditional season, there’s plentiful water all alongside the path. Hikers ought to refill earlier than ascending Sassafrass Mountain, notably northbound; the climb is lengthy and steep, and there are not any water sources for four.5 miles.

Resupply Choices

There are quite a few street crossings, and hitching into small cities akin to Salem, S.C. or Sapphire, N.C. isn’t too troublesome. Some shuttle drivers additionally will do meals drops for a payment.

Closing Ideas

It’s unfair to scale back the Foothills Path to a warm-up for the Appalachian Path. That stated, it’s exhausting to assume of a greater path to assist newbies work out if they will take pleasure in the AT.

The path southern/western portion of the path is pretty mild, however don’t let that idiot you. Particularly in heat climate, the slog out of the Laurel Valley, up Sassafrass, over Pinnacle Mountain, and down, down into Desk Rock will tax many a hiker’s glutes and quads. Oh, and there’s the little matter of greater than 500 steep steps up “Heartbreak Ridge” as you allow Lake Jocassee.

Hikers spend a great deal of time in the “green tunnel”—identical to the AT—however ample alternatives to swim, beautiful waterfalls and occasional vistas to the south make this a very fulfilling path. There are a lot of non-thru choices, as properly, together with the so-called “crown jewel” route, southbound from Laurel Valley to only under Whitewater Falls


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