Thursday, May 24, 2018

Hiking the Blue Wall Preserve

On a cool spring morning we headed north to the Blue Wall Preserve, a 575-acre property managed by The Nature Conservancy along the Blue Wall in northeast Greenville County. The parcel was acquired in 1997, and is part of a mosaic of protected areas that cover close to 22,000 acres within the Blue Ridge Escarpment of the Southern Appalachians.

Twin Lake West

The Blue Wall Preserve trail serves as a section of the Palmetto Trail, what will be South Carolina’s longest pedestrian and bicycle trail when finished. However, by utilizing a short connector trail that loops around the western of the Twin Lakes, visitors can hike into the heart of the Blue Wall Preserve and get a taste of the Blue Wall Passage of the Palmetto Trail in just over three miles.

The parking area and trailhead for the Blue Wall Preserve are on Pennell Rd. west of Landrum, across Bailey Ridge from Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve. The Preserve is named for the views, with Hogback Mountain and the surrounding peaks rising up over Twin Lakes forming a breathtaking backdrop to what is a comparatively easy hike. The Cherokee called the Blue Ridge Mountains the “Blue Wall,” but the Palmetto Trail doesn’t start aggressively climbing in elevation until a point past the loop trail, allowing for a pleasant family hike in the mountains without the difficult climbs of many other trails in the area.

The lollipop loop as we hiked it is a little over 3 miles long, basically an in-and-out with a loop around Twin Lake west. The majority of the trail is an old roadbed, easy hiking with the distraction of spring wildflowers and many different species of birds singing from the treetops. The Preserve was designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society, and the variety of habitats along the trail lend themselves to the presence of a wide range of interesting birds all year long.

Mountain laurel already blooming!

The view from the first of the two lakes is memorable, the Blue Ridge Mountains reflected in the calm blue waters, and several spots suitable for rest and reflection. Continuing west you’ll reach the split in the trail at the western of the two lakes; the Palmetto trail continues to your left while the connector cuts north of the lake to your right.

Hogback Mountain and Twin Lake East

This section of trail is the reason why we mostly hike here in the spring; already the poison ivy was stretching its oily branches across the trail, and I have no wish to test the abilities of the boys to stay focused on the task of avoidance. However hiking the connector is a must – just a short distance north is a small storybook waterfall.

On the day of our visit we saw multiple salamanders in the waters at the base of the falls, and the cool mist and gentle sounds coming off the cascade proved to be a perfect backdrop for a snack before continuing on. The hike in is worth it just for this experience alone…

Continuing around the western of the Twin Lakes we passed the marshy area, and then rejoined the Palmetto Trail on the opposite side. This hike could easily be extended and the intensity increased by headed further west, climbing to Vaughn’s Gap through the Landrum watershed. However we turned north to hug the shore of the lake and reach the point where the trail had split, then east to return the way we came.

Fantastic ferns!

The top reasons I would give for hiking the Blue Wall Preserve are the waterfall, the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains over Twin Lakes, the wildflowers and the birds. However, the hike is well-suited to hiking with kids, and provides the solitude I often crave heading into the tail end of spring. The drive up approaches an hour, but the scenery is gorgeous; you’ll pass Lake Lanier, and can always hike the Palmetto Trail in the other direction on West Lakeshore Drive all the way to the North Carolina border. Our route from Greenville also takes us close to Campbell’s Covered Bridge and Southern Hills Lavender; there are many possible itineraries for a daytrip. However you fit in a trip to the Blue Wall Preserve into your plans, you’ll find a mountain respite in the foothills of South Carolina – and you’ll be back for more before you know it.

A late spring trillium

For a map of the Blue Wall Passage of the Palmetto Trail, visit the Palmetto Conservation website here.
For the bird and plant species found on the Preserve, visit The Nature Conservancy website here.
Finally, for a photographic trip on the trail, check out this website.

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