Greenville has something that not many cities have – mountains within a 30 minute drive. Along with Paris Mountain State Park and the dozens of hiking opportunities there, the Upstate also boasts the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. I’ve written about Jones Gap and the Foothills trail (two of the main attractions in the 11,000 acre wilderness area) here, but included in the expanse of protected mountain forest are plenty of other appeals. We’ve developed a tour of sorts, to show visitors a “best of” that is kid-friendly and fits into a day/half-day, and once again we found ourselves headed north with guests in tow – this time our Greek friends from our time in France.
Our first stop was Wildcat Branch Falls. The area around the lower falls, the signage and the trail loop leading to the viewing point for the upper falls have been immensely improved in the past year. For a detailed read about Wildcat Wayside, the historic picnic shelter and nearby trails you can visit the post by Outdoors in Upstate South Carolina. We made the roundtrip hike to see the upper falls, pausing here and there to throw some rocks into the water or take in the view. As the weather in Greenville had been cloudy with scattered rain we had the place mostly to ourselves, even though the clouds had mostly cleared and the temperature warmed.
On our way to Caesars Head SP we pulled into the turn-out for Bald Rock. A granite outcrop over two acres in size, the view faces out over Pickens and Greenville county with Table Rock and Paris Mountain clearly visible even on this partly-cloudy day. Tricked into leaving our coats in the car by the sunshine and warm temperatures, we soon discovered the wind still had quite a bit of bite, especially up here in higher elevations.
We didn’t make the same mistake in Caesars Head. Bundled up we headed out to the overlook, where visibility was surprisingly good considering weather conditions. Cutting through Devil’s Kitchen, the narrow pass between two large pieces of granite, we quickly reached the small overlook which provides the only view of the actual outcrop after which Caesars Head is named; the main overlook is from the top of this craggy cliff. Doubling back a side trail takes you to the parking lot, and we were soon back in the cars ready for the next leg of the day’s tour. It is actually just another mile past the parking lot that the two-mile Raven Cliff Falls trail departs, leading to the overlook for 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. Although Roberts and I have both made the hike (probably a decade ago), we have yet to take the boys on this more strenuous trail. I am also tempted each time we visit to hike the longer loop (that includes Dismal Trail), as the suspension bridge offers a unique perspective to these spectacular falls.
Leaving the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area we headed west, and paused for a snack at Pumpkintown Mountain Opry. With a restaurant, shops, seasonal entertainment and cottages for rent/sale, the complex is a quaint stop that we often make with guests. The coffee is good, the ice cream better, and the boys often leave with hard candy that ensures sticky fingers for the rest of the trip.
Our final stop was Table Rock State Park, with a view of the south face of the table and "Footstool mountain,” a fishing pond and the Visitor Center. The rocking chairs on the large porch were quite comfortable in the sunshine, and I lingered for a few minutes after the boys headed down to the lake to search for fish. A small fee or a State Park pass will gain you entry to the main section of the park north of Highway 11, but this section to the south is free, meant to provide information and a taste of the park. Backcountry campsites are accessible from the southern portion, although all the trailheads for trails leading to Table Rock are in the northern section.
We have completed this tour countless times: with parents, siblings and friends, just Roberts and I back in the day, or with both boys more recently. Despite the scenery remaining the same, I never tire of the views, the waterfalls, the trails and the nature. Variations on a theme with the changes of seasons, we also see the mountains differently with each new guest we bring to this corner of the Upstate. I’m glad we were able to once more share the beauty with our friends, but I can’t help but wonder who we will be taking on this tour next…