Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nine Times Preserve

We ‘elected’ to go for a hike yesterday, and found ourselves just off the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (11) in Pickens County at Nine Times Preserve on Nine Times Creek. Named for the nine bridges built across the small, trout-filled creek to gain access to the property, the 560-acre nature preserve is one of the most biologically significant properties in the southeast. Located on the Blue Ridge Escarpment (where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Piedmont), three mountains are within the boundaries of Nine Times Preserve – and we hiked right in the heart of it all!

The Preserve is well known for its seasonal show of wildflowers, 134 species documented in the seven forest types. While we saw a few autumn flowers still hanging on, the real show this time of year was the colorful fall foliage. One hike that really showcases this gorgeous season is the 1.6 mile Rocky Bald Loop.

The name of the trail is a bit misleading. One of the unique plant communities within the Nine Times area is that of the rock outcrop, and the granite dome in Nine Times Forest is considered the most botanically intact example in the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. But while the Rocky Bald trail does scale the side of Rocky Bald Mountain, it does not include the actual summit, nor does it include any outcrops; nonetheless it is a gorgeous hike, and I especially recommend it for families due to the reasonable length and moderate difficulty.

We chose to hike the loop clockwise, parking at the Rocky Bald Parking Area (use 1750 E Preston McDaniel Rd. Pickens, SC 29671 for mapping software). The pull-off fits a handful of cars, but on this gorgeous autumn day we were the only ones there. You’ll find a large map at the kiosk, and the trail takes off behind it; it’s well-traveled, and although not blazed, it is easy to follow, orange arrows pointing the way at a couple of turns.

The first ½ mile ascends Cedar Rock Mountain through a series of switchbacks. Rated moderate, the trail does have some altitude gain to it; however it was nothing that my boys couldn’t handle with a couple of stops for water and snacks. We made quick work of the first section and soon reached the ‘waterfall.’

With the lack of rain these past months there was no water to be seen in any of the drainages we crossed on our visit; however after a rain this would be a pretty spot. We rested for a minute or two and continued on, soon coming to the intersection of Rocky Bald Loop Trail and Cedar Rock Trail. If we had taken a left we would have climbed up almost to the summit of Cedar Rock Mountain, and then descended on the other side down to the Cedar Rock Parking Area at Nine Times Rd. & E. Preston McDaniel.

Instead we continued on our loop trail, dropping down into a drainage before gaining altitude as we approached Rocky Bald. Soon after starting the descent, the trail hits an old roadbed which it follows for the remainder of the hike. One more slow ascent soon tops out, and then it’s a steep descent back down to Nine Times Creek and E. Preston McDaniel Rd. (To close the loop you’ll have to hike a few hundred feet on the road, but wide, grassy shoulders allow for safe hiking.) While we didn’t see any of the resident black bears or peregrine falcons that call the Preserve their home, we did see some coyote scat which made for lively discussions on the way home.

The gate at E. Preston McDaniel

Nine Times Preserve is a rather recent addition to the Upstate’s recreation areas. Upstate Forever purchased the property in 2007, selling it to the Nature Conservancy in 2009. Trails were installed in the winter of 2012, and today almost three miles of trail exist: Rocky Bald Loop Trail, 1.1 mile Cedar Rock Trail and the ¼ mile Trillium Trail that is located on the creek on the north end of the property (note to self: return next spring!).

The Nature Conservancy owns the Preserve while it is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. A designated state Wildlife Management Area, fishing and hunting is allowed on the property – see the DNR website for more information. This means that the area is open to hunters during October, November and April. For safety it is important to wear orange while hiking during hunting season.

For a downloadable map, trail descriptions and more, please visit the Nature Conservancy Nine Times Preserve website here.

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