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I had planned an overnight hike on South Carolina’s Foothills Trail when an unexpected surgery from which I was still recuperating precluded carrying a fully-loaded backpack. To help me, Heyward Douglass, executive director of the Foothills Trail Conference, devised a couple of day hikes incorporating side trails that enabled me to cover basically the same terrain and distances. He even offered to arrange shuttles and do the hikes with me.
As we walk the gently descending East Fork Trail, Heyward informs me that the 77-mile Foothills Trail starts at Table Rock State Park with views of the Piedmont, ascends South Carolina’s highest point on Sassafras Mountain, swings around Lake Jocassee and parallels the Chattooga River for more than eight miles before ending in Oconee State Park. He is relating that it possibly has more waterfalls (close to a dozen) than any other trail of its length when he stops so short I almost run into him. An entomologist by profession, he points to an elaborately constructed web strung across the trail and informs me, “Spiders expend so much energy building a web that, if they have to do any major reconstruction on it shortly after originally building it, they can exhaust themselves. In fact, it takes so much out of them to produce the silk that they eat web parts that are wearing out so that they can reclaim some of the energy it took to produce it.”
Continuing through rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets to turn onto the Chattooga River Trail at 2.5 miles, I find he appreciates and knows these forestlands well. Throughout our journey, he points out Fraser magnolia can be identified by the “Mickey Mouse ears” growing at the tops of its leaves, that Acadian flycatchers build nests on branches over water and that Louisiana water thrushes are ground nesters.
From here on, the Chattooga (yes, the river was the setting for the movie “Deliverance,” but it was filmed at whitewater rapids several miles downstream) is the focal point of the hike. It reminds me of Red Creek in West Virginia’s Dolly Sods, with a place to camp at 2.6 miles and a sandy beach that invites sunbathing or wading in the shallow water. We pass several anglers hoping to hook some of the trout the fish hatchery has raised and released.
At 4.5 miles, the Foothills Trail comes in from the left and the two trails are one for less than a mile, where the Foothills Trail rises to the left to continue to Burrell’s Ford Road. We stay beside the river to take the .1-mile side trail to Spoonauger Falls as it cascades 50 feet along a stair-stepped rock face.
Georgia is on the other side of the river when we cross Burrell’s Ford Road and, at 5.3 miles, come to a deluxe forest service campground, complete with picnic tables, pit toilets and poles with cables for hanging bear bags. This is your destination for the night if doing this as an overnighter. Heyward and I ascend the dirt road to the parking area to end our first day at 5.5 miles.
The following morning we leave the parking area on the Foothills Trail, arriving in .5 mile at the side trail to King Creek Falls. Maybe it’s the lighting at the time of day we arrive, but I find this a most welcoming place. Dropping 75 feet, the water sparkles in the sunshine, which is also highlighting the deep green of mid-summer’s foliage. The base pool has a sandy bottom and fallen logs provide places to sit and take it all in.
Back onto the Foothills Trail, we come to one of Heyward’s favorite places at 2.1 miles. A wide, nearly flat rock formation juts far into the river, providing a platform from which to take in the scene for hundreds of yards both up and down the waterway. Here we meet the Trail Boys, as they called themselves, a dozen young men on an overnight journey led by Cliff Stoltzfus from the Foothills Fellowship in nearby Westminster. As he is wont to do with everyone we meet, Heyward can’t resist telling them about the wonders of the trail they are hiking and how they can obtain more information and a guidebook from the Foothills Trail Conference. At 2.9 miles, Heyward directs me to bear left onto the gently-rising 2.7-mile Big Bend Trail to return to our shuttled car as my recuperating body was probably not up to the challenge of continuing on the Foothills Trail.
However, he has provided me with the particulars of the trail’s route for those of you who wish to complete the second day hike or are doing the overnight journey I had originally planned. The Chattooga River’s 30-foot Big Bend Falls is reached by a side trail 3.6 miles into the day, there’s a campsite at 5.1 miles and a section of rugged ups and downs high above the river that begins at 6.3 miles. Licklog and Pigpen Falls mark the trail’s left turn away from the Chattooga at 8.1 miles and the journey’s end is 8.9 miles in the Nicholson Ford Road parking area.