Friday, March 10, 2017

Spring comes to Nine Times Preserve

As much as I love Nine Times Preserve in the autumn, spring there is simply magical; the light green buds on the trees, the moderate temperatures and blue skies combined with wildflowers and lack of bugs make for memorable hiking! On our previous visit we had hiked the Rocky Bald Loop trail at the very heart of the preserve, but there are two other trails on the Preserve, each with its own magic: Rocky Bald is a favorite for fall color, Cedar Rock Trail faces Nine Times Forest and its granite outcroppings, and Trillium Trail follows Little Eastatoe Creek.

trout lilies on Little Eastatoe

To hike the 1.1 mile Cedar Rock Trail, park at the Cedar Rock parking area at the corner of E. Preston McDaniel and Nine Times Roads. The trail starts next to the kiosk, behind the red fence, and climbs west almost up to the summit of Cedar Rock Mountain before descending on the other side and connecting with Rocky Bald Loop Trail. The 1.1 miles is one way, making this either a 2.2 mile hike if you choose to return the way you came, or somewhere between a 1.5-2 mile trek if you hike from the Cedar Rock parking area to the Rocky Bald parking area via a combination of the two trails.

The trail follows an old road bed about half way. Another benefit to spring hiking are the views of Big Rock Mountain on Nine Times Forest. Although there is no wide-open view with a sweeping panorama, the granite outcroppings are a constant companion to the north between the trees. Once you’ve reached another kiosk featuring a map and information on some of the forest inhabitants, the trail turns away from the roadbed and curves around to the north of the summit of Cedar Rock Mountain. After circling around a spur ridge it turns west again, descending some 200ft in elevation before hitting Rocky Bald Loop.

Big Rock Mountain visible across the way

On our way back we took a small detour in order to find the summit of Cedar Rock, elevation 1,667ft. A couple of enormous, gnarled oaks mark the spot, and after a short rest we resumed our hike, shortly after bumping into the old road bed that eventually becomes the trail.

a snack on the summit

Once back at the parking area we packed up and drove 2 miles west on E. Preston McDaniel Rd. to reach the Trillium Trail parking area. Located on the opposite side of the road at the intersection with Eastatoee Creek Road, the dirt and gravel lot has room for a handful of cars. We crossed the road (also crossing the creek in the process) and re-entered the Preserve. The Trillium Trail isn’t a big hike; it is less than ½ a mile there and back, with no gain/loss in elevation; however, we weren't there for the hike...

While it was a little early in the season for trillium, there was a carpet of trout lilies on both sides of the trail. The sound of traffic on Eastatoee was muted by the sound of running water, and we only encountered one other pair of hikers (although it’s possible they didn’t even see us as we were exploring down in the creek as they passed). The hours quickly sped by in the shade of the giant trees, and I knew the boys would soon be requesting dry clothes and more than just snacks to fuel their adventuring… it was time to head out.

If you have additional time in the area, other favorite spots nearby include Long Shoals Wayside Park, Keowee Toxaway State Park, Twin Falls and the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11. 

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