Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Paris Mountain State Park: Mountain Creek and Lake Placid Trails (Blog Hike #361)

Trails: Mountain Creek and Lake Placid Trails
Hike Location: Paris Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Travelers Rest, SC (34.93133, -82.38359)
Length: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2011
Overview: A semi-loop hike featuring interesting Lake Placid.

Directions to the trailheadOn the north side of Greenville, take US 25 to State Park Road; there is a traffic light, Wal-Mart, and Paris Mountain State Park sign at this intersection.  Go east on State Park RoadTake State Park Road 9 miles to the signed state park entrance on the left.  Take a soft left to enter the park.  Pay the nominal entrance fee and remain on the park’s only road as it passes the campground entrance on the left.  The best place to start the Mountain Creek Trail is from picnic shelters #5 and #6 at the base of the mountain.

The hike: For my general comments on Paris Mountain State Park, see the Sulpher Springs hike.  The hike described here is the easiest one in the park in the sense that it does not climb the mountain.  Combining this hike with either the Brissy Ridge Loop or the Sulpher Springs Loop makes for a nice full day of hiking without pegging the difficulty meter.
            To access the Mountain Creek Trail from picnic shelters #5 and #6, cross the main park road and pick up the Sulpher Springs Trail as it heads north into the forest. After climbing moderately for less than 0.1 miles, you reach the signed beginning of the orange-blazed Mountain Creek Trail.  Turn right to leave the Sulpher Springs Trail and begin the Mountain Creek Trail.
Intersection-Sulpher Springs and Mountain Creek Trails
            The trail undulates gradually as it passes under a low-voltage power line.  0.3 miles into the hike, a spur trail exits right to the former CCC camp site.  The former campsite is now a large picnic area with restrooms.  If the parking area around shelters #5 and #6 is full, as often happens on warm-weather weekends, this trailhead would make a good alternate point to access the Mountain Creek Trail.
            For the next 0.7 miles the trail gradually descends to reach the banks of the trail’s namesake creek.  At this elevation, Mountain Creek is a calm, wide body of water.  A pair of brown ducks was bobbing for food in the water as I walked past. 
1 mile into the hike, an unmarked spur trail to the campground exits right.  Our hike continues straight to quickly lead you to the park’s amphitheater.  Be sure to appreciate the amphitheater’s stone construction: it is classic CCC style.  The CCC built amphitheaters of this style all over the United States, but this is one of the few that remain unaltered for visitors to observe today.  If you find yourself here on a summer Saturday evening, you may be treated to some “mountain music” performed here by skilled musicians on traditional folk instruments.
CCC Amphitheater
The trail passes between the amphitheater’s seating and stage to continue downstream.  Very quickly you come to a major trail intersection.  The trail exiting to the right leads across Mountain Creek on a bridge and provides access to the park office and the Turtle Trail, a short, easy trail linking the campground to the day-use area (it is not described in this blog).  To access the Lake Placid Trail, continue straight to remain on the north side of Mountain Creek.
At 1.3 miles, you reach the beginning of the Lake Placid Loop, which goes straight and right to circumnavigate the lake.  To hike along the undeveloped side of Lake Placid first, this description will start on the trail going straight and use the trail exiting right as the return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  Immediately a wooden platform sitting on the lake gives a fantastic view down the length of idyllic Lake Placid.
Lake Placid
The trail stays right along the lakeshore while passing through the dense broadleaf forest that surrounds this side of the lake.  Several numbered posts suggest the existence of an interpretive guide, but copies are not available on the trail itself.  Some short boardwalks or long bridges carry you over potentially wet spots, and some logs in the lake itself make for great spots to see turtles, frogs, or ducks.  On my trip around the lake, two white ducks were sitting on a single log just feet from the shoreline.
Two white ducks
1.6 miles into the hike, you reach the stone dam that creates Lake Placid.  The dam’s construction is similar to the Mountain Lake dam seen on the Sulpher Springs Loop described above, and likewise Lake Placid (or Reservoir 2 as it was known back then) was constructed to provide residents of the city of Greenville with a reliable supply of drinking water.  The dam was built in 1898, 8 years later than the Mountain Lake dam.  By only 1904, the city’s water needs would outgrow the lake’s capacity, and in the 1930’s the lake was converted to recreation use, which it remains today.
Dam forming Lake Placid
Past the dam, a side trail leads straight to quickly arrive at the shoulder of State Park Road, but the official Lake Placid Loop angles right to descend to Mountain Creek below the dam and cross the creek on a wooden footbridge.  An overlook platform on the bridge gives a view of water spilling over the face of the stone dam.  Across the footbridge, the trail climbs moderately but only for a short distance to pass an interpretive sign giving information about the dam’s history.
Bridge below the dam
Now heading up the developed south bank of Lake Placid, the trail passes several picnic areas, the park’s pedal boat rental, and the park office.  Along the way, the trail crosses a significant tributary of Lake Placid using a wide wooden bridge with locally-quarried stone supports, another CCC-built structure.  At 2 miles, you cross Mountain Creek on a wooden footbridge above the lake and close the Lake Placid Loop.  A left turn and 1.3 miles of retracing your steps on the Mountain Creek Trail will return you to the trailhead and complete the hike.

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