Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Croft State Park

Croft State Park might best be known for the horseback riding and mountain biking trails that zigzag its 7,000 acres, but once you’ve fished one of the two lakes, hiked on the 12-mile trail system, or set up a tent in the campground, you’ll discover that this versatile State Park just five miles from downtown Spartanburg is a perfect day-trip destination!

We most often visit Croft in the autumn when cooler temperatures make hiking more enjoyable, and as the forest is predominantly hardwoods, the fall foliage can be quite colorful. This autumn color often stretches into November, being as the park is further south than its Upstate counterparts. 

A short history:
The area was once home to a farming community, and old farmsteads and cemeteries can be found throughout the park. Whitestone Springs was a tourist attraction in the late 1800’s, and the foundation of a 4 story hotel still exists in the park today, along with evidence of the bottling business that was fed by the spring. During WWII the park became an Army infantry training camp that housed 250,000 soldiers. The camp was closed in 1947, and after two years was opened to the public as a park; today it is one of the largest State Parks in SC.

Getting there:
There are multiple entrances into the park that are connected with the network of trails. Lake Johnson on the north side and the Southside Parking lot are not accessible from Park Road (the main road that leads into the park from Dairy Ridge Rd.) by car, so consult a map beforehand so that you know where you are headed. The camping area, the equestrian facilities, the park office and access to Lake Craig are all located off Park Road, as well the 1.5-mile Nature Trail, our favorite Croft trail.

Things to do:
Although all of the horse & bike trails are open to hiking, I find the terrain and length of Nature Trail challenging enough for my 3 year old, without the stress of equine encounters. Parking for this trail is available just adjacent to the horse show ring; directly across the road is the Fairforest Creek trailhead and the Nature Trail entrance just a few hundred feet further. The Nature Trail lollipop loop trail offers a stroll through an upland mixed pine and hardwood forest before descending to the rocky shoals of Fairforest Creek.

The headwaters of Fairforest Creek are up near the intersection of Interstates 85 and 26, and after flowing through Spartanburg and Croft SP it eventually becomes Fair Forest River before emptying into the Tyger River near Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site. The creek is shallow and wide near the Nature Trail, with sandbars and large rocks that beg exploring; however, as with most rivers in the Upstate be warned that according to the State of SC “recreational uses are not supported at this site due to fecal coliform bacteria excursions.”

Upon emerging from the woods you’ll find yourself back at the Horse Show Ring. Horseback riding in South Carolina state parks is widely popular, and Croft is known around the region for its equestrian facilities and over 20 miles of trail open to horse traffic. The park regularly hosts shows in its arena, and has horse stalls available for those camping with horses.

Croft State Park also features 12.6 miles of the Palmetto Trail, the Mountains-to-the-Sea trail that will one day extend 425 miles from the Oconee County mountains to the Intracoastal Waterway in Charleston County. The Croft Passage of the trail utilizes the 65-ft Advance America Bridge over Fairforest Creek, the longest footbridge in the SC Park system.

A visit to Croft isn’t complete without a stop at one of the two lakes. Fishing is allowed on Lake Craig and Lake Johnson, and canoes, kayaks and jon boats (as well as paddles and life jackets) are available for rent.

A children’s playground and picnic shelters are also centrally located within the park. Croft does have a shooting range; for more information on any of the amenities, please visit the Croft SP website or stop in at the Park Office!

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