Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Foothills Trail (to Lower Whitewater Falls) (Blog Hike #464)

Trail: Foothills Trail (to Lower Whitewater Falls)
Hike Location: Duke Energy, Bad Creek Foothills Trail Access
Geographic Location: north of Salem, SC
Length: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: April 2014
Overview: An out-and-back with lots of up and down to spectacular Lower Whitewater Falls.
Trail Information: http://www.sctrails.net/Trails/ALLTRAILS/waterfalls/Lowerwhitewater.html

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 11 and SR 130, take SR 130 north 10.2 miles to the Bad Creek Access Road.  Turn right on the access road.  Drive the access road 2.4 miles steeply downhill, turning left once as you follow signs for the Foothills Trail.  Park in the large blacktop Foothills Trail Access parking lot.

The hike: For my general comments on the Bad Creek area, see my Foothills Trail hike to Upper Whitewater Falls, which starts at the same trailhead.  For this hike, it was mid spring when I left my house down in Anderson: trees had fully developed leaves and all grass had been mown at least once.  I arrived up at this trailhead in early spring: the leaves on the trees and wildflowers on the ground were just starting to put out.  So it goes when you hike in the mountains in April.
Compared to its brother Upper Whitewater Falls just upstream in North Carolina, Lower Whitewater Falls is shorter, but it may be more scenic.  The lower falls also offer easier hiker access if you start at the Bad Creek Foothills Trail Access as I did.  In fact, the only real difficulty on this hike is the near complete lack of flat areas.  Thus, this hike makes a good prep hike for longer, more difficult mountain treks. I had a pleasant trip to Lower Whitewater Falls on this chilly early-to-mid spring day.
Bad Creek Foothills Trail Access
            The first 0.6 miles follow the same access trail as the hike to Upper Whitewater Falls.  After crossing the twin bridges over the Whitewater River, you intersect the Foothills Trail proper.  Turning left would take you west on the Foothills Trail to Upper Whitewater Falls, but this hike continues straight to head east on the Foothills Trail for Lower Whitewater Falls.  The white rectangular paint blazes of the Foothills Trail and the blue rectangular paint blazes of the trail to Lower Whitewater Falls run conjointly for the next 0.5 miles.
            The trail soon climbs away from the Whitewater River using a pair of switchbacks.  The climb is only steep for a short distance, and for the most part it is gradual to moderate.  At 1.1 miles, you reach the top of the hill where the trail joins the first of several old logging roads.
            Immediately after joining the logging road, the Foothills Trail and our trail part ways.  Angle right at this well-signed junction to head for Lower Whitewater Falls.  The trail briefly leaves the old logging road to take a short-cut over a small hill before rejoining the road again.
Hiking on an old logging road
            1.3 miles into the hike, you reach a large gravel parking area that serves an ATV trailhead.  The trail seems to end here, but if you walk out to the gravel road and turn left, you will see another blue blaze painted on a wooden post.  After walking 0.2 miles on the gravel road, the trail turns right to leave the gravel road.  A double blue blaze marks this turn.
            The trail climbs moderately to reach its highest point and join another old logging road.  You can now hear but not see Lower Whitewater Falls in the steep valley to your right.  At 1.9 miles, the trail curves right to leave the old logging road for good.  The final 0.3 miles is the steepest of the hike: you descend almost 300 feet and turn right twice to head back north a short distance.
Double blue blaze marking a turn
            2.2 miles into the hike, you reach the overlook platform for Lower Whitewater Falls.  Water sometimes falls and sometimes cascades for 200 feet over solid bedrock.  The platform is sheltered by some pine trees, but you still get a good view of the aquatic action.  Only the very bottom of the falls is obscured from view.
Lower Whitewater Falls

A selfie I took at Lower Whitewater Falls
            The trail ends at the overlook platform, so the only option is to retrace your steps 2.2 miles back to the trailhead.  On your way back, there is at least one sight you should notice that you probably missed on your way out.  After making the initial steep climb away from the overlook and rejoining the first old logging road, keep glancing to the left up the steep valley.  During the leafless months you can see the top of Upper Whitewater Falls some 4 miles to the northwest on the rim of this valley.  If you want to see the entire falls, you can do it the hard way via the Foothills Trail or the easy way by driving another mile up SR 130 to the Upper Whitewater Falls overlook in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.


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