Monday, May 16, 2022

Thirteen years

Heavy rains for the first time in weeks, followed by a full flower moon, complete with lunar eclipse! Seems right on target with a thirteenth wedding anniversary!?

May the adventures continue...

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Femme au Foyer Guide to the Foothills Trail

Waterfalls, wilderness areas, wildflowers and epic views… No, I'm not talking about a national park somewhere out west, but our very own Foothills Trail! Backpacker magazine rated it as “one of the best long trails (fifty plus miles) in the country,” and it traverses the Jocassee Gorges, which National Geographic named one of "50 of the World's Last Great Places—Destinations of a Lifetime"… this isn’t just any walk in the park! Well-suited for a through-hike for families looking for a challenge, yet accessible even for the shortest day-trip ramble, the Foothills Trail is rapidly gaining notoriety as one of the premiere trails in the southeast.

Map via Foothills Trail Conservancy

Totaling 77 miles, the trail stretches from Oconee to Table Rock State Park with additional spur trails to numerous waterfalls and Caesars Head State Park. Major trailheads are located at the state parks, as well as US 178, SC 130 and SC 107. You’ll find all this and more on the trail’s website, and the following interactive map has access points, campsites, water sources and other info:

With 77 miles of trail, it can be daunting to choose the right hike for your family. I’ve put together a guide to help identify shorter hikes on/near the Foothills Trail and spurs that will take you to points of interest, as well as give you the info you’ll need to plan your trip: parking, hike difficulty, cost, etc. The trail is broken down into sections, the numbers corresponding to the system the Foothills Trail Conservancy uses on their website: “A” denoting access points and “S” spur trails.

A short history of the Foothills Trail

The push to protect the Appalachian Foothills began in the 1960s, with Clemson University and the US Forest Service (USFS) leading the way. The first component connecting Oconee to Table Rock was built in Sumter National Forest by the USFS, and by the early 1970s, the Foothills Trail effort was gaining momentum. Duke Power offered to build and maintain the central section of the Foothills Trail during the process of planning the Bad Creek Hydroelectric project, and in 1974 the Foothills Trail Conference was established.

The 77-mile trail linking Oconee and Table Rock State Parks was finished in 1981, and for the last 40 years the Conservancy has promoted and supported the trail through trail maintenance and developing the Foothills Trail Guidebook and map. To become a member, please visit the FTC’s website! Join Now – Foothills Trail Conservancy

The Trail

Table Rock State Park (A1)

Chances are, you’ve been on the Foothills Trail already, as a portion of this section shares trail with beloved Carrick Creek Trail in Table Rock. The one mile of trail that follows Carrick Creek up from the Nature Center has a waterfall, countless cascades, and a gentle grade with well-maintained trail - perfect for young children. From there you can keep hiking, although the trail gets much steeper. A short spur goes up to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain, though all the views are found along the Foothills Trail: Bald Knob (3.6 miles from Table Rock) and Drawbar Cliffs (4.6 miles from Table Rock). Both make great destinations, though be warned they are difficult hikes; less experienced hikers will want to stick to Carrick Creek!

The easy way out(side): Carrick Creek loop trail 

Know before you go: State Park pass required, hikers must register at kiosk at Nature Center.

On the top of Sassafras Mountain

Sassafras Mountain (A2)

Another spot on the Foothills Trail you may have already checked out is Sassafras Mountain. Remember, as it’s the highest point in the state, any direction you hike will be descending from the summit… which means you’ll have to go back up to get to your car!

The easy way out(side): The observation tower and the rock outcrops located adjacent to the medium-sized parking area guarantee that you will not have to go far to soak in those views! Remember to bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the picnic tables.

Know before you go: Parking is free, but the road up can be closed in the winter for inclement weather; to check on the status, call the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office at (864) 898-5500.

Beech Bottom Falls

Chimneytop Gap (A3)

Just two miles from the summit, the section of trail from Chimneytop to the top of Sassafras makes for a nice day hike. Start at the Chimneytop parking area to get the hard part out of the way first; the views at the peak will be so much more spectacular as for having earned them with the climb up!

The easy way out(side): Park at Chimneytop and hike the Beech Bottom Falls trail

Know before you go: Up until Sassafras the Foothills Trail has just been passing back and forth into the Jim Timmerman Natural Resources Area at Jocassee Gorges, but after Chimneytop it heads right into the heart of the wilderness area. Be prepared for fewer road access points and limited cell service!

Raven Cliff Falls from Naturaland Trust Trail spur

Caesar's Head Trail: Sassafras (S1) to Caesars Head (S2) spur

The 14.2 miles from Sassafras Mountain to Caesars Head are strenuous, but the trail borders Greenville watershed property, some of the most pristine forest in South Carolina. A highlight of this section is Raven Cliff Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state. To reach a viewing platform across the valley from the falls, hike in from the Caesars Head SP end (use the Raven Cliff Falls parking area) – the 4-mile in-and-out hike is moderate in difficulty.

The easy way out(side): Park at the Caesars Head Visitor Center and walk out to the overlook to get a birds-eye view of the terrain!

Know before you go: State Park pass required, hikers must register at kiosk. Parking lot fills up fast, plan to get an early start and have a back-up plan if overflow lot is full.

Jumping Off Rock

Laurel Valley (A4)

The medium-sized parking area on Horsepasture Road serves as a gateway to the Jim Timmerman Natural Resources Area at Jocassee Gorges, and marks the last vehicle access point to the Foothills Trail for many miles. A popular dayhike destination from this trailhead is Virginia Hawkins Falls, an 8.5 round trip, although by driving a bit further on Horespasture Road you can reach a second trailhead that cuts down the mileage to 2.6 miles in-and-out.

The easy way out(side): Take a slow, scenic drive on Horsepasture Road, with a stop at Jumping Off Rock to take in one of the most epic views of the Jocassee Gorges.

Know before you go: Horsepasture Rd. is a primitive road maintained by the SC DNR. It’s open year-round, but allow for extra travel time – the 9 miles to Jumping Off Rock can take around an hour.

The Narrows

Eastatoe Gorge: Laurel Valley (S3) to the Narrows (S4)

A moderate hike of 5.4 miles round trip (with a steep, if short section that might tend towards strenuous), a Foothills Trail spur takes hikers into the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve. This section is characterized by amazing spring wildflowers and a view of Eastatoe Creek as it funnels through a narrow rock channel called “the Narrows.”

Know before you go: Park at the Laurel Valley parking area, not at the gate a little further up the road where the trail enters the forest – the road there serves as emergency access, and blocking the gate can get you heavy fines and possibly towed.

Bad Creek Access (A7)

The Bad Creek Hydroelectric Site is a 360 acre "pump-back" storage facility that pumps water from Lake Jocassee and stores it until needed for peak energy demands. It has a scenic viewpoint over Lake Jocassee as well as a public parking area providing access to the Foothills Trail, the Jocassee Gorges Wildlife Management Area, and Lower Whitewater Falls.

The easy way out(side): It is 0.7 miles one-way from the parking area to the Foothills Trail and Whitewater River, a nice destination for those looking for a short hike with some time by the water. The viewing platform for Lower Whitewater Falls is a little more of a challenge, 4 miles in-and-out.

Know before you go: There are three boat access points to the Foothills Trail in the 33 miles from Laurel Valley to Bad Creek Access (Laurel Fork A5, Canebrake A6 and Horsepasture River) and a 5-mile connector trail (Cane Brake Trail from Frozen Creek), though no vehicle access save for a few intersections with 4WD forest roads. This is a popular section for camping, especially with families and novice hikers looking to get a feel for backpacking. The Foothills Trail Hiking group on Facebook can be very helpful for planning purposes, with advice from experienced hikers/campers as well as up-to-date trail conditions. It is very important to be well-prepared if entering this section, as there is little-to-no cell service, and you are crossing through the heart of the Jim Timmerman Natural Resources Area at Jocassee Gorges in addition to Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve, NC Gorges State Park and the NC Gamelands. 

Upper Whitewater Falls

Upper Whitewater Falls (A8)

The NC Hwy 281 Upper Whitewater Overlook parking area proves access to spectacular views of Upper Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rockies!

The easy way out(side): A paved, accessible, ¼ mile trail leads to the upper observation area, then 154 steps further you’ll have reached the lower observation area. You can continue on to descend to the river – just remember, you’ll have to climb back up!

Know before you go:  A parking fee of $3 per vehicle goes toward continued improvements of the park. Please don’t venture off-trail, as deaths and serious injuries have occurred here!

View from Wigington Overlook

Sloan Bridge (A9)

The 5.5-mile hike from Whitewater to Sloan Bridge is along a ridge, and has superb views of Jocassee in the winter, but the majority of visitors are drawn to Sloan Bridge for a picnic at one of the tables, to cool down in the East Fork of the Chattooga River, or for a short hike to one of the several waterfalls to the south.

The easy way out(side): After a picnic at Sloan Bridge, drive over to the nearby Wigington Overlook for a picture-perfect view of Lake Jocassee.

Know before you go: There are no trash receptacles at Sloan Bridge Picnic Area; remember, if you pack it in, please pack it out!

Fish Hatchery Road (A10)

It’s just 3.3 miles to Sloan Bridge from Fish Hatchery Road, and with multiple trails in the area, many hikers plan a loop to make a day out of their visit to this corner of the state.

The easy way out(side): Just a little bit further up the road is the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery: take a self guided tour, go fishing, have a picnic, and enjoy the natural beauty of the Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area!

Know before you go: A visit to the Walhalla State Fish Hatchery is free, but if you want to feed the fish, bring quarters for the fish food dispensers.

King Creek Falls

Burrell’s Ford (A11)

There is so much to do in this remote corner of the state! In addition to numerous major waterfalls, Burrell’s Ford offers camping, fishing and picnicking along the Chattooga Wild & Scenic River. For more on Burrell’s Ford, see my post King Creek Falls and Burrells Ford.

The easy way out(side): Enjoy a hike to King Creek Falls or Spoonauger Falls

Know before you go: Burrell’s Ford is free, but can be popular on weekends. Get there early for parking and first choice of a campsite!

Chattooga River, as seen from the Foothills Trail

The Highway 107 access points

Headed south on Highway 107 from Sloan Bridge you’ll pass several access points to the Foothills Trail. However, being small dirt lots that only have room for a handful of cars, we’ve grouped them together for this guide.

Nicholson Ford Access: This access point to the Foothills Trail is also the trailhead for hikes to Licklog and Pigpen Falls. The gravel road can sometimes get a little washed out, if you would rather stay on pavement park at Cheohee Road.

Cheohee Road (A12): Just off Highway 107, Cheohee Road is also known as Winding Stairs Rd. A gravel forest road leads to several popular waterfalls and a Forest Service campground.

Jumping Branch Trailhead (A13): The last access point before entering Oconee State Park!

Oconee State Park (A14)

The southern terminus to the Foothills Trail, Oconee also serves as a connector to Oconee Station via the Palmetto Trail

The easy way out(side): Enjoy Oconee State Park! From multiple hiking trails leading to historic sites, views and waterfalls, to putt putt golf, boat rentals and a beach – Oconee has got it all!!

Know before you go: State Park pass required, hikers must register at kiosk at Nature Center

The rest of it! 

Hikers who complete all 77 miles of The Foothills Trail—from Oconee State Park to Table Rock State Park – are eligible for the Peregrine Award, which was started in 2011 in honor of longtime FTC member Heyward Douglass. The word peregrine comes from the Spanish word peregrino, which means pilgrim. It is also the name of one of Heyward’s favorite birds; he was instrumental in the re-introduction of the Peregrine Falcon to the mountains of Upstate South Carolina. For more information, please visit the Foothills Trail website

Hopefully this guide helps you identify which sections of the Foothills Trail are closest to your home, and will assist in figuring out how you can best get your family out on the trail this summer! Please remember to hike within your comfort and skill level, and always plan ahead – research the trail, local regulations, weather, hazards, and what to do in an emergency. Happy hiking!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Latvian guides celebrate 100!

The Latvian guides were established on March 15, 1922, on the heels of the founding of Baden-Powell’s scouts (1910) in England and the Latvian scout organization (1917). When Latvia was illegally occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, the Latvian guides were forced to disband. However, the thousands of refugees fleeing death and labor camps during WWII brought the movement with them, and for the next 50 years the flame would be nurtured by Latvians first in displaced persons camps in Europe, later in Australia, Canada and the United States. When Latvia regained its independence in 1991, I was probably among the last to know; our guide troop was camping in the pine forests of Wisconsin where incidentally, the cub scouts had staged a campfire skit a few days earlier portraying Latvian soldiers defeating Soviet invaders. Over the last thirty years the torch has been gradually passed back to the LSGCO, the scout organization that was reestablished in Latvia in 1991, and the movement remains strong. Today the Latvian scouts are relentlessly working and organizing to help the thousands of refugees arriving daily from Ukraine, history repeating itself as Ukranian Plast scouts flee the same evil aggression as the Latvian scouts did 70 years ago

In the midst of the disheartening news coming from Europe every day, there is still the need to celebrate the good, and so a few days ago, Latvian guides (present and past) and their supporters virtually gathered to celebrate the centennial. We said a prayer, sang along with our sister scouts, and after a brief presentation of the history of the Latvian guide movement were asked what gaidisms – being a guide – means to us.

My immediate answers were along the lines of outdoor skills and friendships, but as I looked through albums and dug through old photographs later that evening, I could admit that the Latvian guides laid the foundations for much of what was to come in my life. From the love of nature that was nurtured by endless camping trips and excursions year-round, to my career of forestry and firefighting inspired by the love of outdoor adventure (all those backpacking and canoe trips, survival courses and ecology lessons), to our family’s explorations of the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills today. My Latvian heritage might have rooted before I gave my guntiņu solījums, but the friendships accumulated over years of jamborees helped nurture my sense of belonging, and today three of my sons are members of the Latvian scouts alongside BSA in hopes they might find a similar sense of place in the diaspora. My marriage might even be the result of scouting; Roberts recounts meeting me at a weekend scout camp, and although I don’t remember the particular moment he loves to narrate when asked how we met (I must have been 11 or 12 that February), looking back at group pictures from a dozen jamborees, camps and other events from a period of about 10 years, I can pick out both of our faces, smiling, unaware that we would be camping together for the next twenty years.

Gaidas are a family affair as well. More than one photo shows me standing with my grandmother, mother, aunts, siblings and cousins during a jamboree: when I received the dzimtenes lielgaida award, during the riverside ceremony where I received my leader’s neckerchief, and at the 10th jamboree in 2010 – which was especially memorable as four generations were represented (I carried 3-month-old Lauris in a carrier the entire week).

The opportunities offered through guides have been incredible also. I've camped with my sister guides from a canoe in northern Ontario, in the mountains of New York, even in the forests of Latvia. We learned to build and sleep in a snow structure, survived a day on an uninhabited island with only what we had in our pockets, decorated Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry Festival of Lights Latvian Christmas tree, performed elaborate theater productions such as Latviešu kovbojs (with the accompaniment of band "The Minnow Buckets," and learned to find the beauty in things, no matter how little we had slept or how badly we had burned dinner on the campfire. And yes, we even learned how not to burn dinner - along with the first aid, the woodsman skills, the navigational abilities, leadership, self-reliance... the list goes on. It will be a rare time outdoors when I do not utilize some aspect of my career as a guide, or reflect on a memory of one of the many wonderful experiences I've had over the years.

Our centennial celebration was also bittersweet. The Latvian guides I belong to, of guides outside of Latvia, have voted to disband as the organization has accomplished what it set out to do; to continue fostering young Latvian women through the principles of scouting, until the scouts and guides in Latvia were free to resume their work. While I completely understand the logic, the reasoning, it has still been heart-wrenching to watch this chapter of the Latvian guides come to a close. There is a sense of loss for all the Latvian girls growing up outside of Latvia who will never sing Kluss miers pār zemi, arms linked with dozens of friends under a starry night sky.

While the Latvian guide configuration may not look the same going forward, it is my hope that gaidas the world over will continue to fulfill the mission to engage the youth of tomorrow, instilling the values of scouting/guides while working towards the good of community and a better tomorrow. I hope you’ll join me in wishing the Latvian guides a happy 100th birthday – arvien modra!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Remembering Jānis Kukainis

A memorial service for Jānis Kukainis will be held on Friday, October 15th at Centerpoint Church at 12pm. (2345 North 10th Street, Kalamazoo, MI). Memorial contributions in lieu of flowers may be directed to either the Latvian Ev. Lutheran United Church of Kalamazoo or the Kalamazoo Latvian Association. (122 Cherry Hill Drive, Kalamazoo, MI, 49006). 

Jānis Kukainis

June 12, 1943 - September 15, 2021

Jānis was born in Rīga, Latvia on 12 June 1943. Latvia was under occupation by the Nazis, and the Russian communists would soon return and occupy Latvia until 1991. He fled Latvia from the invading Russian army with an aunt in October 1944, and was fortunate to reunite with his mother and father in a displaced persons camp in Germany. His mother reminded him never to forget the evil that was done to the people of Latvia by the invading armies.

After 6 years in the refugee camps in Germany, his family immigrated to the US through Ellis Island to Gettysburg, Ohio in June 1951 and later settled in Cincinnati in June 1952. The first years in the US were hard for his family, as for many immigrants, but these hardships would forge Jānis into the person he would become. He was raised to be an honorable man and a good citizen. He was a proud Eagle Scout, graduated from Western Hills High School in 1961, and earned a BS Aeronautical Engineering degree from the University of Cincinnati. When President Kennedy announced the United States was going to the moon, Jānis said he was going, too. That led to his Master of Science from the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He later earned an MBA from Michigan State University. He worked as an engineer in Tennessee, and then for 27 years at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI, first as an engineer, then as an executive. He led teams designing prototype automobiles and led the launch team of a production automobile design and initial automobile launch. He was the author/co-author of 20 academic papers on warplane aerodynamics and holds two patents on automobile structure.

Jānis was a Latvian patriot and was always extremely grateful for the freedom and security America provided. He lived and preached a can-do attitude and valued action over talk. He was elected to roles of increasing responsibility in the Latvian community starting in 1973. He was a Sunday school teacher at the Detroit Latvian School. He led his Latvian academic fraternity Talavija for many years in Michigan and globally. He served as the President and Chairman of the Latvian Center Gaŗezers in Three Rivers, MI. He led the American Latvian Association and then the World Federation of Free Latvians, both volunteer positions. Distrustful from experience of Latvia’s eastern neighbor, Russia, in this last role he led the global campaign to guarantee the security of the newly-independent Latvia by gaining its admission to the NATO Alliance, working with U.S. Senators, Representatives, and the highest levels of Latvian government. In the words of the current President of Latvia, the honorable Egils Levits, “his skillful work in the management of Latvian public organizations for many decades, contributed to ensuring the security and democracy of the restored Latvia, which culminated in the country’s accession to NATO.”
Jānis’ pride was to see others benefit from his mentorship, as he credited his own mentors throughout his life for his success. Above all, family was most important to Jānis. Jānis married Aija Ķeņģis in Kalamazoo in 1971. Aija, who survives Jānis, was born on her family’s farm near Valmiera, Latvia and together they formed a powerful team. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 26 June 2021 with 175 family and friends. Their marriage was blessed with three children, in whom the couple labored to instill good values. Ginta (Ryan) McNally of Ada, MI; Roberts (Liene) Kukainis of Greenville, SC; and Matīss (Līga) Kukainis of Rīga, Latvia. They have nine grandchildren; Ronald, Matiss and Inara McNally; Lauris, Mikus, Vilis and Zintis Kukainis; and Minna and Jānis Kukainis. Jānis took pride that all of his grandchildren learned the Latvian language and would only accept that they grow up to be good citizens. Surviving Jānis is also his sister Velta (Dr. Guntis) Kalninš of Springfield, OH. Jānis had three godchildren; Dr. Peter Matthews of Chandler, AZ, Asja Kalninš of Springfield, IL and Jānis A. Kukainis of Cincinnati, OH.

Jānis passed away from complications stemming from a heroic two year battle with cancer in Kalamazoo on 15 September 2021, with family by his bedside during his final moments. Preceding him in death were his parents, Roberts and Irene (Peterjanis) Kukainis and brother Valdis (Mary) Kukainis.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Best of SC, as seen on the South Carolina 7 Expedition

Introducing the state of South Carolina, as you’ve never seen it before! This summer my family teamed up with the SC7 group and Kidding Around Greenville for the month-long South Carolina 7 Expedition – adventuring our way from the mountains to the sea, stopping at epic sites along the way. The expedition is named South Carolina 7 for the seven wonders explored on our journey, including National Geographic-recognized ecological areas, historical sites and other natural wonders. The SC7 Expedition invites hikers, kayakers, nature enthusiasts and your family to enjoy the beauty of South Carolina and the great outdoors! Preparations are already underway for the 2022 expedition next July - are you in?

What is South Carolina 7?

The first SC7 expedition took place in July of 2020, following the Palmetto Trail across the state to highlight the ‘Carolina 7,’ seven geographic wonders unique to the Palmetto State. The purpose of the expedition was to bring attention to the natural marvels that need our protection, and the multitude of outdoor adventures that await us in our own backyard. 

Along the way the expedition discussed topics such as conservation, adult & childhood fitness, outdoor therapy, floodwater-mitigation issues, and more. In 2021 the SC7 grew to include a “family expedition” aspect, and the public was invited to join in on the fun of exploring the state that we call home – from the mountains, to the sea!

Our first encounter with SC7

A little over a year ago, my kids and I set out on a hike with SC7 one hot July day in Congaree National Park. My son Z had just been born, and while we had been out hiking with him, I didn’t know what to expect from the expedition. It turns out I shouldn’t have worried, because as we wandered in the shade of some of the largest trees in the state, we made new friends, saw plenty of cool things, and had an incredible summer adventure. (Read about that hike here!)

Afterward, I promised my children that we would make the effort to explore more over the next year; my husband and I have lived in SC for twenty years, but have seen surprisingly little of these gorgeous places.

This year, as the expedition expanded to bring families along on the adventure, I teamed up with local family website Kidding Around Greenville as their SC7 correspondent; if you couldn’t join us out on the trail, we brought the trail to you! As we hiked and paddled our way across South Carolina during the month of July, we shared articles, photos, videos and stories about the places we visited; here is a snapshot of the adventure!

The South Carolina 7 Journey 2021

Day 1: OCONEE COUNTY – “Garden of the Gods”

MISSION: Hike the Oconee Passage of the Palmetto Trail, 3.73 miles.

The Oconee Passage of the Palmetto Trail begins in Oconee State Park and ends at Oconee Station State Historic Site, a backcountry military garrison and trading post that dates to the 1790s.  A spur trail leads to Station Cove Falls, a majestic 60-foot, tiered cascade.

Alternate plan: Hike to Station Cove Falls from Oconee Station, 1.6 miles.


MISSION: Explore Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls, and hike a portion of the Ross Mountain Passage Trail from the Stumphouse parking area to Ross Mountain Road, 3.0 miles.

Stumphouse Tunnel is an historic railroad tunnel for the Blue Ridge Railroad, and just to the south is 100-foot Issaqueena Falls. We hiked 3 miles along the Ross Mountain Passage Trail, a connecter from the Stumphouse Mountain Trail to the Oconee Passage, after which we explored the tunnel and falls.

Alternate plan: Bring a picnic to enjoy at Stumphouse Tunnel Park, then head across the road to Yellow Branch Falls for a three-mile roundtrip hike to a gorgeous waterfall.


MISSION: Hike the Eastatoe Passage of the Palmetto Trail beginning at the Keowee Toxaway parking area and ending at Dug Mtn. Angler Access parking area, 4.6 miles.

Starting on Natural Bridge Trail, this hike climbs through a mountain forest in the acclaimed Jocassee Gorges, crossing two new bridges including the brand-new Zeke wilderness trail bridge!

Alternate plan: Park at Dug Mtn. Angler Access parking area and hike in-and-out to Zeke bridge, 2 miles. Or, head to Long Shoals Wayside Park for a natural waterslide adventure!


MISSION: Hike the Round Top passage of the Palmetto Trail, 5.0 miles.

This adventure will begin along the Foothills Trail, then take the Roundtop Mountain Passage of the Palmetto Trail to Sugar Likker Road. Along the way will be the Rock Mountain overlook; the view of its rock face can only be seen from this specific vantage point!

Alternate plan: Drive all the way up to the summit of Sassafras Mountain, and have a picnic at one of the picnic tables after exploring the summit and observation tower - see Day 5.

Day 5: SASSAFRAS MOUNTAIN – “Roof of the Palmetto State”

Mission: Hike from Chimneytop Gap Trailhead to Sassafras Mountain along the Foothills Trail, 2.1 miles.

Sassafras Mountain is the highest point in South Carolina, at 3,533 feet above sea level, earning it the title of 1st Wonder of South Carolina!  Our hike began at the Chimneytop Gap, and climbed some 1,200ft in elevation to the summit of Sassafras and the new observation tower.

Alternate plan: Hike to Beech Bottom Falls, a moderate 1.7-mile hike to a viewing platform for the 100-ft waterfall.


MISSION: Hike the Blue Ridge Electric Co-Op (Jocassee Gorges) Passage of the Palmetto Trail, 5.0 miles.

The Jocassee Gorges were named among the “50 of the Last Great Places” by National Geographic, earning the title 2nd Wonder of South Carolina. Here, the clear waters of Lake Jocassee wash the base of the seemingly endless ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Jocassee” is a Cherokee word meaning “Place of the Lost One.” 

Alternate plan: The Blue Ridge Electric Co-Op Passage starts in Table Rock State Park, which boasts stunning trails such as Pinnacle MountainCarrick Creek, and Table Rock Trail. The Foothills Trail can also be accessed from the Park. Spend the day at Table Rock, including a swim in Pinnacle Lake or splashing at the Carrick Creek trail waterfall. 


MISSION: Raft the Chattooga River

Famed as the location of the movie Deliverance, the Chattooga River is the crown jewel of southeastern rafting offering the best and most challenging whitewater in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain region. The Chattooga was named a National Wild and Scenic River in 1974, earning it the spot of 3rd Wonder of South Carolina. There are various outfitters that have Chattooga River rafting packages for children as young as 8.

Alternate plan: Head to Burrells Ford for a day exploring waterfalls, or to Bull Sluice on the Chattooga River to get your feet wet and watch some adventurous paddlers running the rapids!


MISSION: Hike from Jones Gap State Park to Rainbow Falls and back, 4.0 miles.

Continuing our exploration of the Jocassee Gorges, we hiked the Middle Saluda passage of the Palmetto Trail to Rainbow Falls, one of the many scenic waterfalls in the area.

Alternate plan: To skip the steep climb to Rainbow Falls, hike to Jones Gap Falls instead, 3.5 miles.


MISSION: Explore the historic battlefield, and hike the Battlefield Trail, 1.5 miles.

Step back into history at Kings Mountain! The battle of Kings Mountain was fought on October 7th, 1780, and was an important American victory during the Revolutionary War; it was the first major patriot victory to occur after the British invasion of Charleston.

Alternate plan: Head to the living history farm at Kings Mountain State Park and check out the two-story farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, carpenter/blacksmith shop, sorghum mill and cooker, corncrib, and cotton gin. Or if you’ve got some epic views in mind, head to neighboring Crowders Mountain State Park.


MISSION: Hike the Croft Passage of the Palmetto Trail, 3.5 miles

The Croft Passage is a roller coaster for hikers, cyclists, and equestrians that passes through historic Croft State Park. The day’s adventure will take hikers to and around Lake Johnson.

Alternate plan: Hike the 1.5-mile Nature Trail instead, stopping for a break on the banks of Fairforest Creek.


MISSION: Hike the Glenn Springs Passage of the Palmetto Trail, 5.0 miles.

In the 19th century, Glenn Springs was known for the health benefits of its mineral waters. Now listed on the National Register, the historic district includes 20 buildings from 1840-1940 as well as the site of a popular resort hotel.

Alternate plan: Visit Glendale Shoals Preserve, a 13-acre natural area on the site of a former mill that has trails, a dam, a waterfall, and the trestle of an old railroad that now serves as a pedestrian bridge.


MISSION: Hike the Blackstock Battlefield Passage of the Palmetto Trail, and explore Musgrove Mill Battlefield and Historic Site, 1.6 miles.

Blackstock Battlefield is situated along a remote section of the Tyger River, where Revolutionary War patriots defeated the British in 1780. Nearby, the vastly outnumbered Patriot militia outlasted the Loyalists in a surprising victory in the bloody Battle of Musgrove Mill. Blackstock Battlefield is the newest addition to Musgrove Mill State Historic Site!

Alternate plan: Cool down at the Horseshoe Falls swimming hole, after hiking the 1.7-mile Musgrove Mill Battlefield Trail to learn about the 1780 battle.


MISSION: Hike the second portion of the Enoree Passage, 4.5 miles.

The Enoree Passage of the Palmetto Trail contains 36 continuous miles of trail in Sumter National Forest, linking Newberry, Laurens, and Union counties.

Alternate plan: Visit Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site to learn about important themes and key events in South Carolina’s history: the cotton boom, secession and Civil War, slavery and sharecropping, emancipation and the fight for civil rights. Tour a plantation home, walk the historic landscaped grounds, or take a short hike through the forest to the Tyger River.


MISSION: Hike the urban portion of the Newberry Passage, from milepost 5 to milepost 2, 3.0 miles.

The Newberry Passage of the Palmetto Trail takes the visitor along shaded sidewalks passing antebellum homes: Newberry College (founded in 1856), several historic buildings such as the Old Court House and the Opera House and a renovated Main Street with shops, cafes, bars & ice cream parlors.

Alternate plan: Head to Ninety Six National Historic Site, where the 18th century comes alive. This site is managed by the National Park Service, and interprets the history of the area: the Cherokee Indian fight to keep their land, the struggle of the settlers in the harsh backcountry, two towns and a trading post, and two Revolutionary War battles that claimed over 100 lives.


MISSION: Hike the Peak to Prosperity Passage from Hope Station to the Alston Trailhead, 3.5 miles.

A total of 14 wooden trestles cross Crims Creek along the Passage that crosses through the heart of the area knows as the Dutch Fork. The highlight of the Peak to Prosperity Passage is the Broad River trestle, an 1890 railroad bridge that spans 1,100+ feet and offers fantastic views.

Alternate plan: Bring a picnic and a fishing pole for some time at the Alston trailhead; you can still take in the views from the Broad River trestle, without much of a hike.


MISSION: Hike the Fort Jackson Passage of the PalmettoTrail from milepost 11.5 at Century Division Road to the McCrady Army National Training Center trailhead, 4.5 miles.

Fort Jackson was established in 1917 to answer the call of WWI.  The Fort was named in honor of Major General Andrew Jackson, a native son of the Palmetto State and seventh president of the United States. Today the installation covers 52,000 acres and is the Army’s largest basic training center. This passage offers a great diversity in both plants and animals.

Alternate plan: Head to Sesquicentennial State Park for a day of fishing, hiking, and even a splash pad. This park offers canoeing, bike trails and camping.

Day 17: CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK – “Redwoods of the East”

MISSION: Hike the Weston Lake Loop Trail through Congaree National Park, 4.4 miles.

Congaree National Park contains the largest remaining area of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, along with the tallest known specimens of 15 species! The Congaree is currently home to six national champions, and 23 state champion trees, earning it the title of 4th Wonder of South Carolina.

Alternate plan: Spend the day on the water, kayaking the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail.

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MISSION: Hike the nature trail at Historic Camden site, and explore the history and the battlefield sites.

Camden was essential to the British plan to control SC, but soon after the fall of Charles Town and the defeat at Waxhaws in May of 1780, the Patriots suffered a devastating loss at the Battle of Camden. Although disastrous for the American cause, it ushered in changes in military leadership that altered the course of the war.

Alternate plan: Visit Historic Camden, the 18th-century property of the city’s founder Joseph Kershaw and the fortified Revolutionary War-era town occupied by British General Cornwallis and Lord Rawdon’s men from 1780-81.


MISSION: Kayak from Carolina King Retreat & Marina to Santee Indian Mound and Fort Watson Site, and explore the Santee Indian Mounds at Fort Watson, approximately 2 miles.

The Santee Indians were part of the Mississippian culture, living along the Santee River for thousands of years. The mound located on the Bluff Unit at Santee National Wildlife Refuge served as the ceremonial site and a burial for the Native American tribe, and is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old. At the end of the 18th century British troops used the site as an outpost, as it provided an elevated vantage point overlooking the Santee River and the road to Charleston.

Alternate plan: Explore Santee State Park and Lake Marion! The park is known for the fishing, but there’s plenty more to do, including biking and hiking trails, and pontoon boat tours of the flooded cypress forest on Lake Marion.


MISSION: Participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the gravesite Francis Marion at Belle Isle Cemetery.

Belle Isle Plantation Cemetery is the historic site of the burial ground of Francis Marion. Also known as the Swamp Fox, Marion served in the American Revolutionary War and is considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare.

Alternate plan: Visit Lewisfield, the 1774 Plantation that was the site of a major skirmish between British and Patriot forces during the Revolutionary War.


MISSION: Hike the Lake Moultrie Passage of the PalmettoTrail from Bonneau Beach to Hwy 52, 5 miles.

The Lake Moultrie Passage follows the eastern and northern shores of the 60,000-acre lake, which was created in the early 1940s by the South Carolina Public Service Authority.

Alternate plan: Enjoy Lake Moultrie by picnicking at scenic Overton Park, or hiking and biking in the Sandy Beach Wildlife Management Area.


MISSION: Hike and explore the trails through the swamp and gardens, 3.5 miles.

Cypress Gardens is a 170-acre preserve and gardens located in Moncks Corner South Carolina. The centerpiece of the garden is the 80-acre blackwater bald cypress/tupelo swamp, surrounded with both boat and foot trails.

Alternate plan: Explore Audubon’s Francis Beidler Forest, the 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary known for containing the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest; enjoy thousand-year-old trees, wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater, all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. Or, head a little further south to Caw Caw Interpretive Center, the former rice plantation that today is managed as a low-impact wildlife preserve with over six miles of trails including elevated boardwalks through wetlands.


MISSION: Hike/explore the grounds of the historic Revolutionary War Fort.

Of the more than thirty forts constructed in South Carolina during the American Revolutionary war, only two remain in their original condition: Ninety Six National Historic Site and Fort Fair Lawn.

Alternate plan: Explore Old Santee Canal Park, the 195-acre park that commemorates the building of the first true canal in America and showcases the area’s extensive history and habitat. Visitors to the park will see Stony Landing House, built in 1843, and can hike four miles of boardwalks that meander through the quiet backwaters of Biggin Creek and its surrounding swamp, making Old Santee a popular destination for bird watchers, hikers and paddlers.


MISSION: Explore the Wadboo Swamp from the Fox Passage of the Palmetto Trail via canoe along Wadboo Creek Canoe Trail from the canoe launch near mile post 43 to the intersection with SC 402.

The Swamp Fox Passage traverses four distinct ecosystems through Francis Marion National Forest, including swamps made famous as hideouts of Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, the mature long-leaf pine forests that are home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, and grassy savannas with abundant wildlife.

Alternate plan: In addition to canoe and kayak trails, Francis Marion National Forest offers hiking, biking, and motorcycle trails, and even rifle ranges and a boat launch. For a map of recreational opportunities, visit the USFS page. (


MISSION: Hike the Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail from the boat launch at trail post 4 to the Buck Hall Recreation Area Trailhead.

Awendaw Passage is the coastal terminus of the mountains-to-sea Palmetto Trail, traversing maritime forest with scenic vistas of the Lowcountry salt marsh along Awendaw Creek, emerging to palmettos at the Buck Hall campground.

Alternate plan: Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge houses a rich history across the refuge’s maze of tidal creeks, marshes, and barrier islands, and provides a wide range of recreation including fishing, wildlife viewing, interpretive tours, environmental education, hiking, shelling, and beach combing.


MISSION: Explore and hike the numerous nature trails in the preserve.

Brookgreen Gardens is a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve, located just south of Murrells Inlet. The 9,100-acre property includes several themed gardens with American figurative sculptures placed in them, the Lowcountry Zoo, and trails through several ecosystems.  Opened in 1932, Brookgreen is built on four former rice plantations, taking its name from the former Brookgreen Plantation.

Alternate plan: Just across the road from Brookgreen Gardens is Huntington Beach State Park with its beaches, sea-breeze camping, surf fishing and some of the top bird-watching on the East Coast. Visit Atalaya, the picturesque, Moorish-style winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, or head to the park’s freshwater lake to search for alligators.


MISSION: Kayak the Edisto River from Mars Old Field Landing to Givhan’s Ferry Landing, 6.4 miles.

The Edisto River’s name originated from the word edisto, the Native American word for “black.” It refers to the dark color of the river, caused by the decaying leaves and other plant material. The Edisto is considered the longest free-flowing blackwater river in the United States and is home to numerous rare, threatened, and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, southern bald eagle, wood stork, loggerhead turtle, and short-nosed sturgeon. The Edisto River is the 5th Wonder of South Carolina.

Alternate plan: Get a taste of the Edisto River at Givhans Ferry State Park, where you can hike the 1.5-mile River Bluff Nature Trail, or go for a swim to cool down before settling in at a campfire at the tent campground. 


MISSION: Explore the Ace Basin via ferry.

The Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Basin (abbreviated ACE Basin) is one of the largest undeveloped estuaries along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. The 350,000 acres are known for the marshes, wetlands, hardwood forests, and riverine systems, earning it the title 6th Wonder of South Carolina.

Alternate plan: There are 14 public parks, preserves and wildlife management areas to choose from in the area, including several state parks and the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. Visit the refuge office, a former rice plantation house built in 1828, which is one of a few antebellum mansions that survived the civil war in the ACE Basin area and today is on the National Register of Historical Places.


MISSION: Explore the natural wonders and historic significance of Bull Island via Charter Boat.

Bull Island is one of South Carolina’s most beautiful and remote places. The largest of four barrier islands found within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Bull Island is a 5,000-acre maritime forest with fresh and brackish water impoundments and a beach area. The six-and-a-half-mile uninhabited island remains virtually untouched and is home to countless wildlife and endangered species and has a world-renowned reputation for its bird life, earning it the title 7th Wonder of South Carolina.

Alternate plan: Head to the Sewee Visitor & Environmental Education Center for everything from interactive exhibits featuring forest to sea ecosystems, to a live endangered red wolf viewing area with scheduled feeding and interpretive programs!


MISSION: Explore the blackwater of the Cooper River via SCUBA to search for Megalodon shark teeth fossils.

The final exploration of the expedition will be black water diving for fossils in the Cooper River in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. For this portion of the expedition you must be certified in scuba, however that doesn’t mean you can’t head out on your own to do a little beachcombing…

Alternate plan: Shark teeth and fossils can be found on most of South Carolina’s beaches, and even inland along rivers, streams and drainage areas. Some beaches might offer better opportunities than others so it pays to do some research ahead of time, and hiring an outfitter or charter can help ensure a great time for your family.

Another option is to visit the sharks themselves at the South Carolina Aquarium overlooking the Charleston Harbor. The Aquarium is home to more than 10,000 plants and animals including North American river otters, loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, great blue herons, owls, lined seahorses, jellyfish, pufferfish, green moray eels, horseshoe crabs, sea stars, pythons, and sharks. The largest exhibit is the Great Ocean Tank, which extends from the first to the third floor of the Aquarium and is the deepest tank in North America!

Higher Ground

Coming soon is the documentary “Higher Ground,” exploring South Carolina’s Seven Wonders and the Local Impact of a Changing Climate. Filmed during the 2020 expedition, “Higher Ground” premiered during the 2021 expedition; you can watch the “Higher Ground” trailer on vimeo. For more information on how to view the feature length film, please visit the SC7 website.

SC7 Expedition Trailer from SC National Heritage Corridor on Vimeo.

How to join the expedition?

First, visit the SC7 website to see what upcoming events have been planned. In the coming year SC7 is planning to have the largest litter pick-up in the history of the state, as well as work on rebuilding the reefs along the coast. July 2021 is already in the works, and will feature events hosted by local organizations throughout the month.

You can also join the expedition by hitting the trail now, and experiencing South Carolina’s wonders for yourself. Check out the Digital Field Guide; it lists trailheads, park entry costs and other important information. Make sure the hike is within your family’s abilities, and pack as needed to stay hydrated and comfortable. If it’s a one-way hike, you might need to figure out a shuttle or make the decision to hike only halfway and then return to the trailhead the way you came. And don’t forget to invite a friend or two along for the adventure!

If you have kids looking to join the fun, download the Outdoor Adventure Book that features additional trail descriptions, activities, and information pertinent to the sights along the way. Your family might also be interested in the Flora & Fauna Guide, that contains descriptions of some of the common wildlife you might see on your adventures. And then all that’s left is to have fun!

The Adventure Continues…

There is so much to do and see in South Carolina that it will take far longer than just a month to get to it all. And, while it is exciting to join an expedition to explore your way across the state, it can be just as thrilling to discover new places with your children and family. It is our hope that the destinations featured here can serve as an outline to get you started, a framework for travel and exploration across the state!!  Happy adventuring, South Carolina!

Follow the South Carolina 7 Expedition on Facebook

SC7 on Instagram: @sc7wonders

Check out this article on the 2021 expedition that appeared on the National Park Service website: Exploring the Palmetto State's Seven Wonders

SC7 was also featured in this article: Palmetto Pride and SC7 clear nearly 2,300 pounds of trash in July

You'll find my guide to the Palmetto Trail here.


Portions of this article first appeared on Kidding Around Greenville as See South Carolina’s Top 30 Beautiful Natural Spots thisJuly with the SC7 Expedition.


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