Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Spring Wildflowers on Chestnut Ridge

This time of year our hikes are all about the wildflowers. We head to Devils Fork to see the Oconee Bell and to Nine Times Preserve to see the trout lilies. Maybe the botanical gardens to see what is blooming. And while many of our favorite trails in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area (for example on Ashmore, Eva Russell Chandler & Wildcat Branch) and the Jocassee Gorges region (the Narrows, Laurel Fork) see the spring ephemerals put on a show, a more recent addition to our rotation is Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve.

Trilliums carpet the forest floor in multiple places

Located on Scenic Highway 11 not far north from Campbell’s Covered Bridge, the Preserve encompasses 1,886 acres of wilderness on the shores of the South Pacolet River. The namesake is north of the river, Chestnut Ridge being one south from Hooker Ridge; not much more than Hogback Mountain and Vaughn’s Gap lie between the Preserve and the NC/SC state line.

The trail is 2.75 miles long, stretching north from the parking area (1 mile north of Highway 11 on Oak Grove Road in Landrum, SC) to the Pacolet, for a roundtrip total of 5.5 miles. A kiosk at the trailhead maps several old roadbeds that could be utilized to make a loop, however I prefer the main trail which follows a tributary of Green Creek.


After emerging from the pines into hardwoods you’ll begin to see wildflowers: violets, phlox, chickweed, yellowroot, cranefly orchid, Solomon's seal, spring beauty, squawroot, and trillium, to name a few! The first mile of the hike is rather level, and if you want to shorten the hike the first set of stairs make a good turnaround point; you’ll still see dozens of different wildflowers without the 350 feet of elevation change.

Smooth Solomon's Seal

Or you can continue, the next mile taking you up the southwest face of Squirrel Mountain. On the ridgetop there is an intersection with one of the old roads I mentioned previously, but staying straight will take you all the way down to the South Pacolet River.

The South Pacolet where the trail ends

I’ve read that the area north of the Pacolet has views of Hooker Ridge, Hogback Mountain and the cliffs on Round Mountain as well as several areas of waterfalls, but there are no trails and the terrain is steep. I can suggest Brenda J. Wiley’s blog as a starting point for further exploration. She's got some links to galleries that are worth taking a look at as well.

An unexpected tiger swallowtail

But the spring wildflowers give us enough to explore, and with a hand lens and flower identification book we'll spend all day examining the rich flora of the Preserve. Autumn brings its own show of color, but it’s Chestnut Ridge in March that casts its spell with the ephemerals and vibrant greens that only a Carolina spring will bring.

This flowering ground pine is actually in the clubmoss family

squawroot, a parasitic plant also called bear corn or American cancer root

Wondering what other Heritage Preserves are in our area? These are my favorites:

star chickweed

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