On this particular spring-during-winter day we were in Clemson, and when the program there had ended we piled into the car and set out for nearby Chau Ram County Park. Turns out that spring weather in winter doesn’t change seasonal hours, and unless we were willing to wait a week, Chau Ram was closed for the month. I flipped through my mental list of nearby places that I’ve wanted to visit, and finally entered Riley Moore Falls into our GPS. The SC tourism brochure “Waterfalls of the SC Upcountry” description reads as follows; “Once the site of a gristmill, this waterfall measures 12 feet high, 100 feet wide… End of road, follow short trail to falls. Moderate 15 minute walk.”
Well. That’ll teach me to skip the research before visiting a location.
To reach Riley Moore drive west on US 76 for 7.5 miles from Westminster, turning right onto Cobb Bridge Road. Drive 1.6 miles and turn left onto gravel Spy Rock Road (FS 748), an easy turn to miss. It was only after making a U-turn that we saw a small sign indicating the way to the falls – go by mileage. Drive 1.7 miles to FS 748C on the right, and unless you have a jeep, truck or vehicle with really high clearance, park on the side of the road. The Forest Service road descends towards Chauga River for 0.5-miles, at which point there is a small parking area before a gate. This is the trailhead with a “short trail to the falls… (and a) moderate 15 minute walk”!!!
Therefore, to reiterate – Riley Moore Falls is actually over 2 miles round-trip, descending close to 400 feet in elevation that will take about 45 minutes to traverse one way. The descent in elevation on your way to the falls means the way back to your car is steadily uphill the whole way. And because it is a Forest Service road, you might have pickups and jeeps passing you while en route on foot to the falls.
The first ½ mile of the hike is through a beautiful hardwood forest, and a few wildflowers were blooming on our trip with the promise of mountain laurel in a few months. We saw some traffic (two or three jeeps and pickups) on our way out, and there were another 4-5 cars parked at the two trailheads, but otherwise it felt like we had the trail to ourselves.
Once you reach the gate on FD 748C, make a left and continue on the foot trail for 0.6 miles. The trail skirts around a couple of drainages so we heard the rushing water long before we saw it, however soon we emerged from the forest out onto a broad, rocky beach. The waterfall isn’t very tall, it is the width that is impressive – 100 feet across. According to several sources Riley Moore is a Class VI whitewater rapid, but on our visit it was hard to imagine even a professional braving the waterfall.
While the boys explored the shallows of the large pool at the base, I climbed a steep trail to the top of the falls. Trout lily was visible here and there, and I can imagine that once the azaleas start blooming the whole valley will be simply magical. The only evidence left from the gristmill days are the anchor bolts near the top of the falls.
Although there were a few families enjoying the false spring, it was just the peace and quiet we were looking for after a crowded morning in Clemson. From the falls we followed the Chauga a short distance downstream, rock-hopping to the middle of the river to enjoy the warmth of the sun, the boys wading the shallows in their explorations.
On our return trip to the car we were trudging uphill in a race against daylight. I mused that we would possibly have not made the hike to the falls if we had known the true distance, but it is clear that part of the attraction of this waterfall is in its seclusion. It is clear that on our next visit we will bring a picnic and swimsuits; hopefully we’ll have the entire day to spend at Riley Moore.
For the Forest Service printable info sheet and area map, click here.