Friday, June 28, 2013

Aiken State Park (Blog Hike #405)

Trail: Jungle Trail
Hike Location: Aiken State Park
Geographic Location: east of AikenSC
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2012
Overview: A lollipop loop through jungle-like forest along the Edisto River.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Aiken, go east on US 78 13.2 miles to State Park Road.  A brown Aiken State Natural Area sign marks this intersection.  Turn left on State Park Road.  Drive State Park Road 4.8 miles to Old Tory Trail and turn left on Old Tory Trail.  Take Old Tory Trail less than 0.1 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park.  When the main park road forks to form a loop, stay left.  Pay the park entrance fee, then follow the park road another 0.3 miles to the trailhead parking area on the right.

The hike: Featuring facilities built by an African-American detachment of the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Aiken State Park protects 1067 acres of densely vegetated lowland on the south bank of the Edisto River.  Some publications call this park Aiken State Natural Area, but the park sign and official park website call it Aiken State Park, so that is the name I have used here.  Whatever you call it, this land has been in public ownership since 1934, and the old growth woodlands found here make for some of the best hiking in southwestern South Carolina.  In addition to hiking, the park offers 4 man-made fishing lakes, 25 campsites, 3 picnic shelters, and a 1.7 mile canoe/kayak trail on the river.  The park also features a loop road that offers a scenic drive through the deep woods.
            Hiking at Aiken State Park consists of a single loop trail called the Jungle Trail from which several spur trails lead to points of interest in the park.  There are many places from which to access the Jungle Trail, but this description will start at the main hiking trailhead.  I hiked this trail on a chilly December afternoon when a light rain was falling.  I would have had a very enjoyable hike were it not for the rain.
Jungle Trail trailhead
            Begin at the rear of the sandy parking area at a red wooden sign that says “trailhead.”  The trail heads north with one of the park’s fishing ponds ahead and to the left.  The trail never reaches the pond, but instead it curves right to head away from the pond and into the woods.  In less than 0.1 miles, the trail forks to form its loop.  As directed by a metal arrow attached to a tree, this description will turn right here and use the left trail as a return route, thereby hiking the loop counterclockwise.
Park pond near trailhead
            At 0.2 miles, the trail crosses what appears to be a dry ditch.  On the other side of the ditch, you enter the dense old growth.  As Axl Rose would say, “Welcome to the jungle!”  The wide white-blazed trail is easy to follow, and the undergrowth is so thick you would have difficulty wandering from the trail if you tried.  At one point along the loop I managed to send a large deer-sized animal running through the woods.  The undergrowth is so thick that it prevented me from seeing even a glimpse of the animal even though it was less than 100 feet away from me.
            The trail remains dry most of the year thanks to a series of short boardwalks that take you over the wettest areas.  As I found out too often on my hike, wet wood can be as slippery as ice, so watch your step if you are hiking in the rain as I was.  At 0.7 miles, the trail crosses the paved park loop road and enters an open grassy area on the far side.  Follow the white blazes as the trail curves sharply left to parallel the road in the narrow strip of woods between the road and the Edisto River.
Trail bridge over dark waters
            The river never comes into sight on the right, but the trail crosses a couple of small tributaries that let you see the dark waters that characterize this area.  The dark color is caused by the large amount of decayed organic material produced by the dense jungle-like forest.  At 0.9 miles, you cross back to the interior of the park loop road.
            1.3 miles into the hike, you reach a 4-way intersection.  A sign directs you to turn left, and this hike will eventually do that.  In order to get a view of the river, this description will turn right first and hike the short spur trail to the park’s canoe launch site, which gives your only view of the river along the park’s trail system.  Crossing the park loop road again will bring you to the canoe area and a wooden pier that gives a great view of the river.  As you might expect, the river water is just as dark as the water you saw earlier.  Notice also a stone fountain (another construction of the CCC) located beside the pier.  Many natural artesian springs are located near the Edisto River, and a stone structure has been built on this one, forcing the spring water to flow up through the stonework.
CCC stone fountain

South fork of Edisto River at canoe launch site
            Back at the 4-way intersection, the trail exiting right (straight as viewed from your initial approach path) leads to another of the park’s fishing ponds.  I wanted to get out of the rain, so I continued straight to begin the final leg of the Jungle Trail.  The trail heads straight through the heart of the old growth and passes several interpretive signs that help you identify flora and fauna that call this area home.
            At 1.8 miles, you reach the longest boardwalk on this trail.  Some carvings in the wood indicate that this boardwalk was an eagle project completed by Todd Hamilton of Troop 421.  The boardwalk takes you through a virtual tunnel of pine trees and more dense undergrowth in addition to over a few wet areas.  Some traction tape makes this boardwalk less slippery than the ones you crossed earlier.
Long boardwalk on Jungle Trail
            After crossing the boardwalk, the trail soon leaves the densest area of undergrowth.  At 2.1 miles, a side trail to the outward portion of the Jungle Trail exits to the left.  A black arrow painted on a metal sign directs you to turn right.  At 2.2 miles, you close the loop.  Angling left twice, once at the closing of the loop and again near the fishing pond, will return you to your car to complete the hike.

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