Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area (Blog Hike #358)

Trail: Cedar Bluff Nature Trail
Hike Location: Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area
Geographic Location: west of AbbevilleSC (34.10792, -82.62614)
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2011
Overview: A quiet stroll through Piedmont pine forest.

Directions to the trailhead: From Abbeville, take SR 72 west 15 miles to its intersection with SR 81 in Calhoun Falls.  Turn right on SR 81.  Take SR 81 north 1.1 miles to the signed recreation entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Pay the small park entrance fee, drive past the campground entrances, then turn right to head for the beach area.  After passing the signed trailhead but before reaching the beach area, park in a small paved parking lot on the left beside the park tennis courts.  You will need to walk back up the road a short distance to reach the beginning of the trail.

The hike: Consisting of 318 acres along the eastern shore of Lake Russell, Calhoun Falls State Recreation Area provides visitors a wide variety of recreation options for water-enthusiasts and non-water-enthusiasts alike.  On the lake shore itself, the park boasts a marina with 36 boat slips and a small beach area.  Away from the lake, the park features several picnic shelters, a tennis court, a basketball court, and a primitive campground. 
            The recreation area today is best known for its large 86-site developed campground, one of the best campgrounds in the South Carolina State Parks system.  Linking the campground and beach area is the Cedar Bluff Nature Trail described here.  While this trail is hardly a top-tier hiking destination, it does offer a nice quiet stroll with plenty of solitude.  When I hiked this trail on a warm Friday afternoon, I did not meet another single person on the trail.
Nature Trail leaves park road
            Begin by walking back out the park road to where the trail crosses the road, a point marked by a sign that says, “Nature Trail Length 1.75 mi.”  The poorly maintained trail heading right leads the short distance past the tennis courts to the beach area, so you should take the trail entering the forest on the left to begin the main trail.  The trail drops to cross a small creek on an old wooden bridge before climbing gradually to reach the fork that forms the trail’s loop.  I turned left here to hike the loop clockwise.
            The trail descends slightly through some older pine forest as it curves to the right.  The largest trees in the recreation area are loblolly and slash pines, while red cedars and some small broadleaf trees such as maple and oak populate the understory.  0.4 miles into the hike, you will pass an impressive wooden retaining wall on your right.  Structures such as this one indicate that this trail was once an excellent front-country/campground trail.  Unfortunately, erosion, downed trees, and some shaky wooden bridges now cause this trail to show signs of age and mild neglect.
Wooden retaining wall
            The trail meanders left and right as it heads generally downhill toward Lake Russell.  The broadleaf trees in the understory preclude any lake views except perhaps in the leafless months.  Just under 1 mile into the hike, the trail curves right to join what appears to be an old logging road.  You will have to step around a couple of downed trees, but the two-track road makes for easy hiking overall.
Trail leaves old road
            A few hundred feet later, a blue carsonite post containing an arrow directs you to turn left and leave the old road.  At 1.1 miles, the spur trail to the campground exits to the left.  Continue straight to remain on the main loop.
            The trail climbs on a gradual to moderate grade to reach the highest point on the hike.  At 1.4 miles, the trail re-crosses the old logging road and reenters the forest on a single-track path on the other side, as indicated by the blue blazes.  The road features are more evident here than they were earlier.  A few hundred feet later, you close the loop where the signed entrance trail intersects from the left.  Turn left and retrace your steps out to the park road to complete the hike.

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