Monday, February 4, 2019

Beech Bottom Falls (aka Pinnacle Falls)

Not only has the SC DNR rerouted the trail to Pinnacle Falls, they’ve renamed the waterfall Beech Bottom Falls! An improved parking lot awaits hikers on F Van Clayton Memorial Highway, located 1.5 miles north from the intersection of 178 (Moorefield Memorial Highway) and F Van Clayton in Rocky Bottom SC. The Chimneytop Gap trailhead also offers access to the Foothills Trail; it is 2.1 miles east to Sassafras Mountain and 2.1 miles to Laurel Valley. The Beech Bottom Trail heads west on the old roadbed 400 ft north from the parking lot; if you miss the little shortcut trail, you just go north to the gravel road with the red gate and head west.

After ½ mile, the old roadbed crosses Abner Creek. Hikers cross on a beautiful new footbridge, then immediately turn left onto another old roadbed – follow the signs to Beech Bottom Falls. You’ll recross Abner Creek on a second footbridge (a twin to the first), then start descending to the observation deck. The view of the falls is partially obscured by trees; I can imagine that in the summer the foliage blocks most of the falls. The view north across the mountains is also a testament to the destruction caused by the hemlock wooly adelgid; the tops of towering snags are eye level with the platform, with only a few hemlocks remaining to testify to their past dominance of the forest canopy. (Sure didn’t see any beech trees!) From your perch on the southern cliffs of Abner Creek you can see a second observation deck, lower on the cliff; it is accessed from Pinnacle Falls Trail / Moorefield Memorial Highway; do not leave trail or platform in this area, it is dangerous as well as damaging to sensitive plant communities.

A third route to Beech Bottom Falls (a.k.a. Pinnacle Falls) offers closer views of the falls. From the first footbridge crossing Abner Creek, stay on old Abner Creek Road. After rock hopping across Dogwood Creek, an old logging road heads southwest from the log deck. The road/trail is overgrown with brambles, but is pretty easy to follow as it descends along the ridge north of Abner Creek. After ascending a small knob, a trail drops off the side, endless switchbacks dropping almost 300 feet in elevation to the base of the waterfall. The page offers a great description of this trail.

View from base of falls via Pinnacle Falls on Abner creek trail

Not only is this variant much steeper than Beech Bottom Falls trail, but it is also in worse shape. Carefully constructed stairs and trail (even handrails in places) have been compromised by downed trees, and in multiple places the trail can be difficult to follow. As I mentioned previously, the old road is being reclaimed by blackberries, red maple, ferns and grasses, and lack of signage and blazes could make a visit in the growing season a little more complicated. However, the view of the waterfall from the viewing areas at the base of the falls are much better than from the southern viewing platforms, and if one is willing to make an effort, it is a rewarding hike in the Jocassee Gorges area.

View of falls from Beech Bottom Falls trail viewing platform

The hike to the viewing platform on Beech Bottom Falls Trail, plus circling around to the base of the falls from the north brings the hike total to 3.2 miles and 715ft elevation gain. Beech Bottom Falls Trail is less than 2 miles long, with somewhere around 250ft elevation gain. Both trails could be treacherous in wet conditions, and the rocks at the base of the waterfall should be approached with caution. From the Chimneytop Gap area to the Sassafras Mountain parking lot is an additional 3.2 miles and is definitely worth the drive. The visitor center/observation deck at the summit will be finished this year, and will feature 360˚ views from the highest point in South Carolina!

Map of combined route hiking both trails

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