Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chester State Park (Blog Hike #444)

Trail: Caney Fork Creek Nature Trail
Hike Location: Chester State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Chester, SC
Length: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: September 2013
Overview: A mostly flat out-and-back along the north shore of Park Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: From the junction of SR 72 and US 321 southwest of Chester, drive SR 72 west 1.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Bear left to pass the entrance house, paying the small entrance fee, and stay on the main road to arrive at the grassy ballfield where it forks to form a circle.  Angle right to head counterclockwise around the circle, and look for a small red sign that says “nature trail and boathouse” with an arrow that points right down a gravel road.  Turn right down this gravel road, and park in the small gravel parking lot near the boathouse.  There is room for 5-7 cars down here.

The hike: The tall, stately pines that line the park entrance road give away this land’s long history as parkland.  Purchased from the Lake View Corporation in 1935, the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did the hard work to turn this land into the park we see today. Chester is a small town, but the park’s central location halfway between Columbia and Charlotte make this park a popular location for reunions and gatherings.
            Though only 523 acres in size, the park has a wealth of recreation opportunities.  The park’s 160-acre lake and adjacent boat house provide good fishing and boating.  Chester State Park also boasts a meeting facility, a 25-site year-round campground, and a 27 hole disc golf course.  For hikers, the Caney Fork Creek Nature Trail is the park’s only trail, but it provides a pleasant, easy lakeside walk between the boat house and the dam.
Concrete steps at trailhead
            The trail starts by climbing 6 concrete stairs with a wooden handrail at the far end of the boat house.  For the entire outbound distance the park lake remains on the left, often in view.  At 0.1 miles, the trail descends 8 stone steps without a handrail.  These stone steps are probably the work of the CCC.
            After treading around the first of three inlets, you reach a picnic area at 0.25 miles.  The first half of this trail passes through the park’s developed area, so the sounds of activity will be nearby in season.  A clearing just downhill from the picnic shelter gives a nice view across the tranquil lake.
Wide grassy trail
            The trail reenters the forest on a grassy track and treads around the second inlet to skirt the park’s campground at 0.6 miles.  A creaky wooden pier provides more nice lake views down the length of the lake. Past the campground, the trail leaves the developed area of the park, allowing more quiet and solitude to be had.
Tranquil Park Lake
            After passing around the last inlet, the trail moves slightly away from the lake and assumes an elevation about 8 feet above lake level.  Pine needles offer a cushy trail surface here.  At 1.3 miles, you come out at the spillway for the dam that forms Park Lake.  Stained black by years of lake overflow, the concrete and stone spillway makes an interesting if man-made destination for this trail.  The trail ends at the spillway, and there are no other trails in the park, so the only option is to backtrack to the boat house to complete the hike.
Spillway at dam

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site (Blog Hike #443)

Trail: Tyger River Trail
Hike Location: Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site
Geographic Location: south of Union, SC
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2013
Overview: A short out-and-back to the banks of the Tyger River.

Directions to the trailhead: On the southwest side of Union, take US 176/SR 215 to Sardis Road; there is a traffic light at this intersection.  Turn south (outbound) on Sardis Rd.  Drive Sardis Rd. 8 miles to the historic site entrance on the left.  Drive through the wrought-iron gate, angle right where a gravel road exits left, and park in the small gravel parking lot to the right of the house.  There is room here for 6-8 cars.

The hike: The region south of the Mason-Dixon line is dotted with historic antebellum plantations, but few of them have the history of Rose Hill Plantation.  Built in the 1830’s, Rose Hill Plantation was the home of William Henry Gist, the governor of South Carolina from 1858 to 1860.  Gist is most famous for his leadership of the south’s secessionist movement following the election of President Lincoln, a movement that led to the Civil War.
            In 1860, the plantation reached its apex, producing nearly 300 bales of cotton and over 4000 bushels of corn.  These products would be floated down the adjacent Tyger River or, because the Tyger River is only navigable part of the year, transported by cart to the Broad River.  The plantation survived Union General Sherman’s destructive 1864 march because the flooded Broad River made the plantation inaccessible to his army.  After the war, Gist received a pardon from President Johnson, after which he returned to Rose Hill to lease the plantation to sharecroppers.  Gist died in 1874, and he is buried in a cemetery plot adjacent to the plantation house.
            Today Rose Hill Plantation house sits on the 44-acre state historic site that bears its name, but most of the plantation grounds lie in Sumter National Forest, which surrounds the historic site.  Plantation house tours are offered at 1, 2, and 3pm on most afternoons, but the plantation grounds are open during all daylight hours.  For hikers, two short trails tour the grounds: the 0.6 mile nature trail loop and the 0.94 mile out-and-back Tyger River Trail.  This hike combines both trails to see all the site has to see.
Hiking Trailhead
            Start by walking downhill across a grassy area to an information board at the edge of the forest that marks the trailhead.  The trail enters the woods and descends gently through a mixture of pine and broadleaf trees.  At 0.15 miles, the trail forks.  The nature trail loop continues to the left, and we will go that way eventually.  For now, turn right to begin the spur trail to the Tyger River.  A small wooden sign here indicates that this trail is 2 miles long, but it is less than half that distance based on my measurements.
            Marked with large black paint blazes, the Tyger River Trail meanders through the forest in the general direction of northeast.  At 0.4 miles, the trail narrows as it enters a grassy area.  I walked through some poison ivy somewhere along this trail.  I am not sure where I encountered the irritating shrub, but this area would be a good candidate.
Crossing Tyger River floodplain
            After crossing the grassy area, the trail descends some wooden steps to enter the Tyger River floodplain.  The path through the floodplain can be hard to discern, so watch for the black paint blazes.  The trail turns left to briefly follow an old or overflow river channel before arriving at the west bank of the Tyger River.  I hiked this trail in a light drizzle, and I could see the drops hit the calm, muddy water even though I could not feel them under the trees.
Tyger River
            The Tyger River Trail ends at the river bank, so next you must backtrack 0.5 miles to the junction with the Nature Trail loop.  On my visit, the remainder of the loop was closed due to a large number of downed trees, so I had to turn left here to return to the trailhead.  If the trail has reopened, walk straight at this junction to continue the loop.
Back porch of Rose Hill Plantation
            The last 0.4 miles of the nature trail makes a semicircle in the forest with the plantation house uphill and to the left.  At 1.6 miles, you come out in the grassy clearing just downhill from the house.  Before you leave, take some time to explore the plantation’s outbuildings, rose garden, and formal garden, or if you time your visit in the early afternoon, take a tour of the plantation house itself to immerse yourself in the history of Rose Hill Plantation.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

DuPont State Forest: Lake Imaging-High Falls Loop (Blog Hike #442)

Trails: (numerous)
Hike Location: DuPont State Forest
Geographic Location: southeast of Brevard, NC
Length: 7.1 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2013
Overview: A loop hike that includes 4 major waterfalls.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Brevard, drive US 276 south 10.9 miles to Cascade Lake Road, the intersection of which is located 1.6 miles north of the South Carolina state line.  A brown DuPont State Forest highway sign marks this intersection.  Turn left (east) on Cascade Lake Rd.  Drive Cascade Lake Rd. 2.5 miles to Station Rd. and turn right on Station Rd.  Drive Station Rd. 2.8 miles, passing the falls area en route, to the parking lot for the signed Lake Imaging Access.  Park in the large gravel parking area; there will be space to park here even if the other parking areas are full.

The hike: Surprisingly popular given its remote location, DuPont State Forest comprises 10,400 acres on the Transylvania/Henderson County line.  The forest’s name comes from the fact that 7600 acres of this land used to be owned and operated by the DuPont Corporation as an industrial area and as a park for its employees.  In 1996, the chemical company sold the land for a bargain amount to the State of North Carolina to create the forest.
            Surprisingly, the waterfall area, the forest’s centerpiece today, was not included in the original purchase because it belonged to a private developer from the Cliffs Communities.  The developer intended to turn the area into a gated housing development, but in October 2000 the state invoked imminent domain to add the 2200 acre tract of land to the state forest, thus preserving it in its natural state.  The remaining 600 acres were also added in 2000.
            With 84 trails totaling over 82 miles, the forest today offers an almost inexhaustible number of routes for hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders.  The main attraction remains the waterfalls, so any visit to DuPont should include a trip to the falls area.  Because the falls area also contains the largest crowds, this hike starts elsewhere, visits some other locations of interest, and includes a tour of the major waterfalls to get the best of all worlds.
Beginning of Holly Road
            The trail leaving the front of the parking area at the information board is Lake Imaging Road; it will be our return route.  This hike starts on Holly Road, and you will need to cross the paved park road and walk north (right) about 100 feet to find the signed beginning of Holly Road on the west (left) side of the paved park road.  Note that at DuPont State Forest the term “road” refers to a closed and gated forest road that now serves as a trail.  Henceforth I will use the term “road” that way unless otherwise noted.
            Holly Road climbs moderately as a single-track dirt trail to reach an old landing.  Because this land is a state forest and not a state park, logging is allowed in most of the forest, and you will see the logging’s scars throughout this hike.  In a logging operation, a landing is a flat area used to store logs and load them onto trucks.  There are no longer any logs stored here, and this landing does not appear to have been used for some time.
            From the landing, Holly Road picks up a two-track dirt trail that appears to be an old logging road.  The next 1.2 miles are an easy flat to slightly downhill glide on this old road.  The young forest has a dense understory of ferns, and only a few wet areas impede your progress.  Informative interpretive signs guide you through forestry BMP’s (best management practices) practice after practice. Many of these practices are demonstrated on this trail, including some black plastic mesh buried under the trail to stabilize the trail surface.
Hiking along Holly Road
            At 1.3 miles, you come out at a landing that is still used occasionally today.  On my visit, stacks of logs ready for transport had been placed on either side of the landing.  Angle left here to remain on Holly Road.  After following the wider logging road for 200 feet, you reach the signed spur trail to the Moore/Hooker Cemetery.  Turn right to hike the short spur.
            The single-track dirt trail climbs gradually for 0.2 miles to reach the Moore/Hooker Cemetery near the height of land.  Enclosed by a wooden fence, the pioneer cemetery today sits in the middle of the woods.  Many of the headstones are illegible, but some of the decipherable ones date to the late 1800’s.  Take a few minutes and look around the cemetery to see what you can learn.
Moore/Hooker Cemetery
            The spur trail ends at the cemetery, so you next must retrace your steps to Holly Road, which quickly ends at a congested waterfall-area parking lot that was expanded in 2013.  To continue, walk across the parking lot toward a new iron/wood bridge over Little River also built in 2013.  We will eventually walk across this bridge to continue our loop, but for now turn right and hike the spur trail to Hooker Falls.
            Hooker Falls Road is another old logging road that heads downstream on the north bank of Little River.  2.1 miles into the hike, you reach the side view of Hooker Falls.  Continue another 0.1 miles downhill via one switchback to reach the base view.  Though only 12 feet high, the ledge-type waterfall spans the entire width of Little River. The large water volume makes an impressive sight, and the large plunge pool beckons you to have a dip in season.
Hooker Falls
            After viewing Hooker Falls, backtrack to the main parking area and turn right to cross Little River on the new trail bridge built in July 2013.  Now on the gravel Triple Falls Trail, you curve left, pass under the main park road’s bridge over Little River, and begin heading upstream through a dense thicket of rhododendron and mountain laurel.  The understory is so thick that you usually cannot see Little River even though it is but feet to your left.
Triple Falls Trail along Little River
            At 2.8 miles, the trail curves right to leave the river bank and begin a short but steep climb straight up the hillside.  After gaining about 80 feet of elevation, you reach a trailside overlook of Triple Falls.  As its name suggests, Triple Falls drops in three stages that total 120 vertical feet.  The shroud of hemlock greenery on either side contrasts nicely with the grey rock and white water.  Triple Falls may be the most scenic waterfall in the forest, so take a few minutes to catch your breath from the climb and enjoy the view.
Trailside overlook of Triple Falls
            Past the overlook, the trail passes a picnic shelter and climbs another 40 feet to reach the top of a wooden staircase that exits left.  Built in 2006, this staircase descends roughly 60 wooden steps to reach the base of Triple Falls’ second drop.  The view from the bare rock in the river bed is exhilarating, but be aware that you will have to climb back up these stairs if you choose to descend them.
2nd drop of Triple Falls, viewed from base of stairs
            3.1 miles into the hike, the trail forks with the Triple Falls Trail heading right and the High Falls Trail heading left.  To see the next major waterfall, angle left to start the High Falls Trail.  The trail descends to reach river level above where the river drops over Triple Falls.  Notice how calm and placid the river is here compared to the nearby waterfalls.
            At 3.4 miles, where the dead-end River Bend Trail continues straight, turn right to stay on the High Falls Trail.  After a moderate climb, you arrive at the trailside overlook for High Falls.  Cascading 124 feet, High Falls is the tallest waterfall in the forest, so take some time to view this spectacle.
High Falls
            Past High Falls, the trail continues climbing on a moderate grade while passing a couple of picnic shelters on the left.  At 3.8 miles, the Covered Bridge Trail exits left.  For the shortest route to continue the hike, turn left here and begin the Covered Bridge Trail.
            The Covered Bridge Trail quickly crosses the height-of-land and passes through a natural gas pipeline clearing.  4 miles into the hike, you reach the bridge for which this trail is named.  As you cross Little River on the wide wooden covered bridge, you can look to the left and see calm ripples in the river just before it plunges over High Falls.
Covered bridge over Little River
            At the east end of the bridge, two gravel roads depart.  Take the one to the left, which the forest map labels as Buck Forest Road.  The wide two-track gravel road climbs gently and then descends moderately as it traces around a steep hillside.  Ferns and yellow coneflower line the route. Unlike the waterfall area, mountain bikers vastly outnumber hikers in this part of the forest.
            At 4.6 miles, you cross Grassy Creek on a wide vehicle bridge and reach another two-track gravel road intersection.  Here the Buck Forest Road turns right to head to the Guion Farm Access deep in the forest, but this hike turns left to begin Lake Imaging Road, the route back to our trailhead.  Almost immediately after making the left turn, the spur trail to Grassy Creek Falls exits left.  Turn left on the signed single-track dirt trail to head for Grassy Creek Falls.
            After a short level hike, the trail descends moderately to reach a topside view of Grassy Creek Falls, the last waterfall on this hike.  Grassy Creek Falls more resembles a waterslide than a falls, but the water cascading some 30 feet over bare rock makes a pleasing sight.  I have read about a trail leading to the base of the falls, but I could not find it on my visit.
Top-down view of Grassy Creek Falls
            After backtracking from the waterfall, two options present themselves for continuing.  The Lake Imaging Road provides the shortest route to close the loop, but it consists entirely of two-track gravel road.  For a more scenic but slightly longer route, choose the single-track dirt Hilltop Trail, which exits left at a sharp angle from the Grassy Creek Falls Trail just before it returns to the Lake Imaging Road.  Some rocks here make nice places to sit, rest, and have a snack.
            The Hilltop Trail treads a gently undulating course as it winds around a nameless knob.  The dense forest is some of the nicest on this hike, and Triple Falls can be heard but not seen in the steep gorge to the left.  6 miles into the hike, the Hilltop Trail ends at Lake Imaging Road.  Turn left to continue the final leg of this journey.
            For the next mile Lake Imaging Road descends on a moderate grade as it loses roughly 250 feet of elevation.  Large rocks in the trail form obstacles for mountain bikers, but they can be easily circumvented by hikers.  After crossing a wet area, you pass through a small wildlife opening before entering the woods on the other side to continue the descent.
Rocky Lake Imaging Road
            Just shy of 7 miles, the trail forks.  For the shortest route, turn left to quickly arrive at scenic Lake Imaging.  If you come here late in the evening as I did, the surrounding trees reflecting in the still waters make for a beautiful sight.  I also saw schools of bluegills under the water.  The trail crosses the dam that forms the lake to reach a picnic shelter that sits right on the edge of the lake, making a great place to sit and meditate beside the scenic water.
Lake Imaging
            Past the shelter, leave the lake area by angling left where the other option from the previous trail junction enters from the right.  The trail tops a very low ridge where the Ridgeline Trail exits right.  After treading around one more drainage, you reach the trail board beside the Lake Imaging Access parking area that contains your car, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unicoi State Park: Lake, Frog Pond, and Bottoms Loop Trails (Blog Hike #441)

Trails: Lake, Frog Pond, and Bottoms Loop Trails
Hike Location: Unicoi State Park
Geographic Location: north of Helen, GA
Length: 4.5 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2013
Overview: A barbell-shaped hike featuring lake and creek aquatic attractions.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Helen, take SR 17/75 north 1 mile to SR 356 and turn right on SR 356.  Drive SR 356 east 1.7 miles to the campground/Visitor Center entrance, which you reach just after crossing the dam that creates Unicoi Lake.  Turn left to enter the park.  Drive the park road 1.2 miles to the signed road to the Visitor Center.  Turn left here, drive the access road downhill, and park in the blacktop parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: Located in White County just north of Helen, a famous resort town that recreates an alpine village, Unicoi State Park gets its name from the Unicoi Turnpike, a toll road that brought the first white settlers to the area from the north and east in the 1830’s.  The influx of settlers disrupted the lives of the Cherokee, whose legacy can still be found in the form of burial mounds scattered throughout the area.  In fact, the turnpike’s name comes from the Cherokee word unega, which translates to “white,” the Cherokee’s description of the clouds that frequently shroud these mountains.   Thus, the word Unicoi means “place of the white man.”
The industrialists left their mark in the form of abandoned gold mines and clear-cut land, the remnants of the timber industry that ruled this area in the early 1900’s.  The state park was formed in 1954 under the name White County Area State Park.  The 1050 acre park today contains the largest lodge in the Georgia state park system, excellent trout fishing in Smith Creek, a 105-site campsite, many picnic areas, and 8 miles of mountain bike trails.
            The park’s most famous hiking destination is Anna Ruby Falls, a rare double waterfall that is actually located in adjacent Chattahoochee National Forest.  The falls can be accessed from the state park via the 5-mile Smith Creek Trail, described elsewhere in this blog.  Away from the waterfall, the park also features the 3-mile Unicoi/Helen Trail that links the park with downtown Helen, the 2.5 mile Lake Trail that circumnavigates Unicoi Lake, and the 2 mile Bottoms Loop Trail that explores the ridges above Smith Creek.  This hike combines the Lake and Bottoms Loop Trails to form a barbell-shaped double loop hike.
Wooden steps from Visitor Center
            Begin at some wooden steps that descend left from the Visitor Center to intersect the Lake Trail, which goes right and left.  For no particular reason, this description will turn right here to hike counterclockwise around the lake.  True to its name, the Lake Trail stays within 30 feet of the lake for its entire distance.  Nice lake views open up to the left, and your approach might cause a couple of turtles to leave their sunning logs and plop into the water.  On the seasonally cool afternoon when I hiked this trail, my approach sent a white-tailed deer scampering uphill into the woods.  Some wooden piers give even closer lake views for hikers and anglers.
Hiking the Lake Trail
            After rounding the first peninsula, a wide spur trail exits at a sharp angle right to head for the campground you drove through on your way in.  At 0.5 miles, the trail curves left to cross Smith Creek on a wooden footbridge near where the creek enters Unicoi Lake.  Across the bridge, the trail curves left again as it passes through the state park beach area and begins its journey down the west bank of Unicoi Lake.
            The trail heads south with the lake on the left and the steep hillside rising to the right.  The forest here features a dense shrubby understory.  At 1.1 miles, you come out at a picnic shelter with restrooms that is located on SR 356.  The Lake Trail turns left here and crosses the dam that creates Unicoi Lake on the state route’s shoulder.  The shoulder here is wide, but you should take care anytime you walk along a busy road.  Always walk on the left side of the road (facing traffic) and outside the white edge lines.
Crossing dam of Unicoi Lake
            On the east side of the dam, the signed Lake Trail travels for a couple hundred feet on a gravel trail just outside SR 356’s metal guardrail.  Some poison ivy grows close to the narrow trail here, so watch your step.  1.4 miles into the hike, the Lake Trail forks.  The main Lake Trail goes left at a sharp angle, and you could turn left here to hike only the Lake Trail for a 2.5 mile hike.  To head for the Bottoms Loop, angle softly right and cross the campground road on a spur of the Lake Trail.
            The trail parallels SR 356 for another 300 feet before curving right and crossing it near the lodge entrance road.  Look for a brown park sign that marks the trail’s reentrance into the woods.  Where the Lake Trail turns right to head for the lodge, continue straight on the combined Unicoi/Helen and Bottoms Loop Trails.
            Very quickly the Frog Pond Trail exits left.  We will use the Frog Pond Trail to add variety to the return route, but for now continue straight on the wide gravel/dirt Bottoms Loop Trail.  The trail descends on a gradual to moderate grade with a steep hillside rising toward the lodge on the right.  At 1.8 miles, the other end of the Frog Pond Trail enters from the left.
            In quick fashion you trace the perimeter of the park’s tennis courts, cross a paved park road, and cross over a low ridge.  2.1 miles into the hike, you reach the beginning of the Bottoms Loop.  This description will hike the Bottoms Loop clockwise by turning left here and using the trail going straight as the return route.
Climbing on Bottoms Loop Trail
            The Bottoms Loop is the newest and most remote trail in the state park, and it is considerably narrower than the Unicoi/Helen Trail.  For the next 0.6 miles the Bottoms Loop weaves in and out of several small but steep ravines.  Faint remnants of old homesites can be found up here, and the forest contains some very young pine trees.
            At 2.7 miles, the trail curves right and descends into a ravine to follow a small tributary downstream to Smith Creek.  Large quantities of rhododendron often make the stream audible but not visible.  Just before reaching Smith Creek, you pass through a seasonally wet area where the trail curves right to reach its lower intersection with the Unicoi/Helen Trail.  Before turning right at this intersection to head back for the lake, you may want to hike a short distance to the left where a bridge gives a fabulous view of Smith Creek.  Also, benches here make ideal places to rest.
Smith Creek
            The last leg of the Bottoms Loop heads upstream with Smith Creek visible through the trees to the left.  A small creekside meadow breaks up the forest and gives a nice view of the lodge uphill and to the left.  After exiting the meadow, the trail climbs gradually to close the loop.  Retrace your steps uphill to the tennis courts, and turn right on the Frog Pond Trail to add some variety to the return route.
Creekside meadow
            The Frog Pond Trail climbs gradually to quickly reach its namesake pond.  I was able to detect no pond activity of the amphibian variety on my visit.  Past the pond, the narrow dirt trail passes through a wildlife opening and curves left to enter an area with some large pine trees.  Another left curve and gradual uphill climb return you to the Unicoi/Helen Trail, where you should turn right to get back to the Lake Trail.
Frog Pond
            After re-crossing both SR 356 and the campground road, continue straight on a wide double-track gravel trail as it passes around a black metal vehicle gate.  The last segment of the Lake Trail threads its way between the cabin area uphill to the right and the lake downhill to the left as it curves right around a small knob.  Soon the gravel trail exits the forest, and a sharp left turn brings you back to the base of the wooden steps at the Visitor Center.  A right turn and short walk up the steps will return you to the parking area and complete the hike.