In our never-ending quest to visit all the waterfalls in the Upstate, last weekend we set out for the Stumphouse Tunnel Park in northwest South Carolina. About five miles north of Walhalla, the park is just across the street from Sumter National Forest. The last time that we made this trip was in March of 2002, to see the well-known 100 foot tall Issaqueena Falls on Cane Creek. One of the more popular falls in the Upstate, the waterfall is named for an Indian maiden who hid on a ledge to avoid capture as she fled to warn her English lover of an Indian attack.
|Issaqueena Falls (March, 2002)|
After paying the $2 park entrance fee we turned right into the waterfall parking area. Dotted with picnic tables that we later took advantage of, a wide, graveled trail leads to an observation deck that looks out over the falls. A 5 minute stroll, the scene is actually not very breathtaking, especially in the summer with so much foliage in the way.
|Halfway down the trail to the base of the falls|
There is a trail that leads down to the foot of the falls, and I’ve read this described as everything from an “easy 5-minute hike” to a “15-minute beginner excursion.” However, during the South Carolina summer this trail is NOT for children, dogs or pregnant women, as it leads down a steep slope through a poison ivy thicket. We braved the PI, taking our time to reach a spot halfway to the base of the falls, at which point we decided that we would not be completing the hike this time around, as the poison ivy was thigh-high in places, climbing trees that would serve as handholds and ensuring any tiny misstep would lead to an itchy several weeks. The majority of hikers we saw on the trail were oblivious to the fact that they (and their dogs) were wading through the stuff – it was hard to warn them without sounding like an obnoxious know-it-all.
After a snack at one of the afore-mentioned picnic tables we headed for the other section of the park, the Stumphouse Tunnel. The 1,617 foot long tunnel was started in 1852 to connect Charleston to Knoxville and eventually on to Cincinnati by rail. The Civil War brought construction to a stop. The tunnel measures 17 feet wide by 25 feet high, but visitors can only explore half as falling rock from the 60-foot airshaft in the middle of the tunnel has prompted a locked gate to be installed. The airshaft is the cause of the cool breeze flowing out of the tunnel, as well as the condensation which guarantees water on both sides of the path.
In 1951 Clemson University bought the tunnel and used it to cure the South's first blue cheese. (Sacre bleu!) The tunnel's environment was later duplicated at Clemson and the cheese making was moved, and although Clemson still owns the Park it is now managed by the city of Walhalla.
|An old rail car near the entrance of the tunnel|
A pleasant outing to the mountains, I was a little disappointed in the waterfall experience (and wary of what the next week might bring due to our poison ivy experience). Therefore, I suggest pairing a trip to Stumphouse Tunnel Park and Issaqueena Falls with a hike to Yellow Branch Falls...
(to be continued!)