Monday, September 24, 2018

The Rapids of Chau Ram County Park

The beauty of the South Carolina State Parks is no secret, nor is it a surprise that they can get quite crowded on occasion… The number of visitors on some weekends is so high that it’s one in for every one car out (such as at Jones Gap), or you get cars parking on the sides of curvy mountain roads (Caesars Head). While some measures are being taken to alleviate the stress of increased usage (including expanding parking areas and even purchasing additional acreage), we enjoy heading to lesser known areas now and then for a more solitary experience. The newest park to be added to this list is Chau Ram County Park.

Canopener rapid

Located west of Westminster on 200 acres along the Chauga River, the park is managed by Oconee County Parks, Recreation and Tourism. It takes just over an hour to get there from Greenville, but the drive is worth it as it’s easy to spend an entire day on the river and trails. To extend your visit, book one of the 26 campsites with water and electricity, or reserve a picnic shelter or the recreation building for a larger event. However, there are multiple picnic areas that are first come, first serve, so bring a picnic and plan on staying a while!

Map of Chau Ram County Park

Chau Ram is named for its location at the confluence of the Chauga River and Ramsey Creek. Park in the lower of the two parking areas adjacent to the rec building and office, and you’re just feet away from Ramsey Creek and right at the base of Ramsey Creek Falls. The creek cascades 30-40ft over large builders on its way to the Chauga, a large granite outcrop serving as an ideal picnic space if the nearby picnic shelters are occupied.

Ramsey Creek Falls, also known as Chau Ram Falls

Crossing a small bridge over Ramsey Creek will take you to additional picnic areas, Upper and Lower Falls Trail, and the beach area on the Chauga. The sandy area is shallow with easy access, allowing an alternative to playing in the deeper, faster-moving waters up and down the river.

Looking upstream from the bridge, beach to left and pump house visible in distance

There are five sets of rapids on the Chauga River which are accessible by the 4-mile network of trails and the 175 foot pedestrian suspension bridge over the river. The bridge is the longest of its kind in the County, and is easily set in motion while it’s being crossed – the kids definitely liked the swinging more than the parents!

Chau Ram suspension bridge

The trails criss-cross the west bank of the Chauga, with the orange trail creating a loop to the south, the blue trail creating a loop to the north, and the red trails extending from the primitive camp site in the middle to the scout cabin and north to the blue trail. To hike a 1.5 mile loop that passes all the rapids, head north on the orange, then blue trail, and follow it along the Chauga until you can see the Long Creek Highway bridge. Climb the stairs and continue on the blue trail until you reach the primitive camp site; just past that turn south on the orange trail to return to the Chauga River, returning to the suspension bridge along the river.

Hiking in this direction you’ll first come to Pump House Rapids, named for the pump house across the river. The noise from the pumps is ever-present, although it is interesting to see how the City of Westminster uses the river as a water-intake area.

Pump House Rapids on the Chauga River

The narrow trail continues along the river, and late summer and early autumn we paid extra attention to the poison ivy that seems ever-present in this region and in some spots reached out over the trail. Soon we reached Lost Paddle Rapids, where summer weekends you can watch kayakers navigating the rocky waters, and imagine how the rapids got its name.

Lost Paddle Rapid on Chauga River

Not too much further is Jump Off Rock (although on our recent visit there wasn’t going to be any jumping as the water was too low), and then soon after the Double Red Trail splits off towards the Primitive Camp Site area we began to hear the sound of traffic. Just when Long Creek Highway comes into view, the trail takes a sharp turn, climbs up several flights of stairs, and then heads steadily south along the park boundary.

After the Primitive Camp site you’ll reach a four way intersection. Going north on the Red Trail takes you to the Scout Cabin and the Double Red Trail, continuing east on the Blue Trail takes you back to the Suspension Bridge and Pump House Rapids, and turning right on the Orange Trail takes you on a steep descent south to Morgans Rock and the V Rapids. There is a short spur trial (the White Trail) that goes a few hundred feed further to the west, but at this point the Orange Trail turns east along the Chauga.

V Rapids on Chauga River

My favorite spot in the park is Canopener Rapids, about halfway from the V Rapids back to the bridge. The large, flat rock is ideal for a picnic, or to just spend a moment next to the water as it cascades down the boulders on its way to the South Carolina/Georgia border. The headwaters of the Chauga are up west of Oconee State Park; from there the river passes through the Chauga Narrows, forms the Chauga Scenic River area that is extremely popular with anglers, and runs over Riley Moore Falls before hitting the five sets of rapids at Chau Ram and continuing south.

#DestinationOconee #ChauRamPark

This corner of South Carolina is wild & scenic, with the Sumter National Forest to the northeast, dozens of waterfalls including Yellow Branch and Brasstown Falls, Stumphouse Tunnel, and the (officially) Wild & Scenic Chattooga River all within relatively short driving distance. But why hurry on, as you’ve got everything right here in Chau Ram County Park…

Chau Ram County Park is open from March 1 through November 11th and admission is $2/car. Click here to book a campsite, and here for the Oconee County Parks, Recreation & Tourism Chau Ram facebook page.

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