Friday, June 17, 2016

Pleasant Ridge falls

With temperatures in the upper nineties all week, we were looking for a hike in the foothills in hopes of lower temps and humidities. While it turned out to be a scorcher (and the humidity seemed even higher!), the Pleasant Ridge hike turned out to be a perfect solution for a hot summer day - a 0.6 mile hike followed by a cool-down at the base of Pleasant Ridge Falls.

In the 1940’s South Carolina’s State Parks were segregated. With Greenville’s African-American population exceeding 30,000, the Pleasant Ridge property was purchased in 1950 and Leroy Smith was hired as the first African-American superintendent of a SC State Park in 1951. The State Park finally opened in 1955, and Mr. Smith served as superintendent until his death in 1979. Pleasant Ridge didn’t see integration until the 1960’s; a class action suit was filed in 1961, and although an order was issued for the state parks to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1954 that July, the S.C. Attorney General responded by closing all the parks in 1963. By the following summer, however, they were opened on a limited basis and, by 1966, they were returned to full operation. Pleasant Ridge became a county park in 1988 and today is managed by Greenville County Rec.

rhododendron on the left, wild hydrangea with bumblebee on the right

The nature trail at Pleasant Ridge is named in honor of Mr. Leroy Smith, and it was this trail that was our destination. The recently-opened 5.2 mile Jorge F. Arango (JFA) mountain bike trail is also within the park (and intersects with the Leroy Smith trail), but the trails have separate trailheads and are easily distinguished from one another. Parking for both trails is in the first parking lot to the right upon entering the park.


From the parking lot we crossed a grassy field with a stream running through the middle. The trail is one-way going clockwise, and soon after entering the shaded trail on the right we found ourselves at the waterfall. However, we had decided to save further exploration of the falls for the end of our hike, and so headed on paralleling the creek. Before long we reached an unmarked intersection at what used to be an old moonshine still. Here the trail turns east and climbs a steep slope, but first we decided to take a left to see where the spur trail would take us. Climbing up the stairs we emerged to the 4-acre fishing lake, a small playground and a large grassy field.

The playground, with the lake visible in background

The boys immediately shot off to the fishing pier to investigate, but soon were called back out of the heat of the midday sun. A quick snack in the shade and we were off, down the steps, past the moonshine still and up the steep incline of the Leroy Smith trail. Here we added a frog to the list of animals seen (the baby turtle at the lake was the first entry) and reached another trail intersection.

The view from the opposite side of the lake

The map at the beginning of the trail is inaccurate. It shows a single trail going into the woods, where in reality, the Leroy Smith trail is a loop that circles the draw before emerging on the grassy field adjacent to the parking lot. In addition, the JFA trail transects the LST, making for two intersections on the trail. There are no signs at the first intersection, and intuition would insist on making a right turn to circle back towards the parking lot; however, this would put you on the JFA trail (not the LST), and so instead hikers should keep straight. The trail isn’t as well-traveled and leads up a tangle of roots, but once at the top you’ll see an informational placard on the spiders of the area and know you’re on the right track. Another short distance later you’ll cross the JFA trail again, this time carsonite posts marking the two trails. If you were to turn south onto the Jorge F. Arango trail you would emerge on the south end of the parking lot.

The map on the left shows the LST in red, when in reality it looks more like the line in blue on the right, the green being the JFA on both maps (source for map on the right here)

Once we finished the trail we dived right back into the woods, re-hiking the 0.1 miles to the Pleasant Ridge falls. The double tiered falls drops 8 feet, then runs for about 25 feet before plunging 15 feet over the second tier. Although the wooden bench (which at some point had a prime viewing spot of the falls) has toppled, one can find several downed logs for a quiet spot to sit and enjoy the waterfall. The base of the falls allows for a great spot to splash around in, only be careful of slick rocks and snakes, both of which we encountered on our visit. We also managed to catch a few crayfish, and spotted small fish in several of the pools.

After the snake incident we were quick to get back on the trail, this time retracing our steps back to the parking lot. While there are certainly other more-exciting and more strenuous trails in the vicinity (in Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Parks), Pleasant Ridge County Park provides a great Upstate experience with plenty of perks: a short (but interesting) hike, no fees, no crowds, and a waterfall to cool off in after your hike. Although the park has been closed to camping and swimming, please visit the website to learn more about the JFA trail, the fishing lake and the picnic shelters.


  1. I agree - if you are going to hike or otherwise exert energy on a very hot and humid day, typical of the South, you need to be near or preferably in the water!

    1. Do you have any favorites in your neck of the woods? We have a list of 'water hikes', some of which don't even involve a hike! One of my favorites is Campbell's Covered Bridge - know it?


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