While living in France we quickly learned that the Michelin Guide was a good gauge of the “must-see factor” of an attraction. The more stars, the bigger the effort we made to get there. Of course the stars weren’t everything, but they more than once proved an accurate measure of the wow! we experienced upon reaching our destination. I would like to present Jumping Off Rock, a top-rated must-see site in the Upstate according to the Femme au Foyer guide…
Located in northern Pickens county, this is the best view of Lake Jocassee you can find. The lake’s name Jocassee comes from the legend of a Cherokee maiden. An Oconee tribe inhabited the west side of the Whitewater river, while a rival tribe lived on the east. Nagoochee, a young warrior from the east, often crossed the river to hunt. During one such clandestine expedition he fell and broke his leg. Jocassee was the maiden who found him, nursed him back to health and fell in love with him, but it was her brother that eventually killed him. Legend has it that Jocassee walked on the surface of the river to meet the ghost of her beloved, and in honor of Nagoochee the name "Place of the Lost One."
The 7,500-acre, 300-foot deep reservoir was created by the state in partnership with Duke Power in 1973. Although most structures were demolished prior to the flooding of the valley, divers recently discovered the remains of a lodge. Another spot that is now underwater is Mount Carmel Baptist Church Cemetery, which was a setting for a scene in the film Deliverance (1972). You might recognize the current day lake from The Hunger Games, as it was one of the filming locations for the 2012 movie.
Jocassee is famous for the clear and cool water, fed by rivers descending from the Appalachians. The westernmost is the Whitewater River, which flows southeast into the northwest corner of Lake Jocassee. The Thompson River flows due south to the same corner, and the Horsepasture River and Toxaway River feed into the northeast corner. The Jocassee Hydro Station, located in the southeast corner, separates it from the beginning of Lake Keowee. The damn is 385 feet high and 1,750 feet long.
Ironic as the lake is man-made, the surrounding area is largely pristine mostly because the majority is owned by Duke Power and the State of South Carolina. The Oconee Bell (Shortia galacifolia), a rare wildflower growing wild only in a few counties in the Blue Ridge area was discovered in the area in 1788 by French botanist André Michaux. (Sadly, the creation of Lake Jocassee is thought to have caused the destruction of the heart of the species' range.) The Eastatoee Gorge Heritage Preserve was transferred from Duke Power Company to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in 1979 due to the extremely diverse flora occurring there; biologists have documented the occurrence of a number of rare, threatened and endangered species in the area.
It came as no surprise then that we had to travel almost twenty miles on unpaved, mountain roads to visit Jumping Off Rock. For detailed directions (as well as seasonal road closure info) please visit the SC Department of Natural Resources magazine’s article from 2006 here. We drove north from the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11 on US Highway 178 eight miles before turning onto a gravel road into the Jocassee Gorges Management Area. From there it was another 9+ miles on the winding, narrow and in some places steep Horsepasture Road before we reached the small pull-off for vehicles that marks the trail for Jumping Off Rock. Not more than a few hundred feet will take you to the rock and the view.
There are no guardrails or cables, so exercise due caution and keep those kids close. The deep blue waters contrasted nicely with the autumn colors, and the dark green mountains covered in firs stretched off into the distance – North Carolina and Georgia clearly visible. To fully appreciate the scenic beauty you must visit yourself. We made the return trip via Cane Creek Road and Shooting Tree Ridge Road, another 9+ miles to pavement, and the time spent in car from Greenville amounted to about 4 hours. It is suggested to make the trip in a vehicle with high clearance, although a Ford sedan works just fine if you take it slow and careful… which was just the way I liked it on a gorgeous fall day.