Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sumter National Forest: Hidden Falls Trail (Blog Hike #465)

Trail: Hidden Falls Trail
Hike Location: Sumter National Forest
Geographic Location: northwest of Walhalla, SC
Length: 5 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2014
Overview: A ridgetop out-and-back to 50-foot high Hidden Falls.

Directions to the trailhead: Although this trail is officially a national forest trail, it is accessed from a trailhead in Oconee State Park.  To reach the park, take SR 28 west out of Walhalla.  Follow SR 28 for 8 miles to its intersection with SR 107.  Take a soft right on SR 107.  Drive SR 107 for 2.3 miles to the state park entrance.  Turn right to enter the park, and pay the nominal entrance fee.  Bear right at the first intersection, heading for the Foothills Trail trailhead.  After driving 0.6 miles past the campground, park in the paved Foothills Trail parking lot on the right.  This parking lot was upgraded and expanded in 2014 to accommodate 17 cars.

The hike: For my general comments on this area’s hiking options, see the Tamassee Knob Trail blog entry.  Like the Tamassee Knob Trail, the Hidden Falls Trail starts on the Foothills Trail, the 87-mile long master path of upstate South Carolina.  Also like the Tamassee Knob Trail, the Hidden Falls Trail runs from Oconee State Park into adjacent Sumter National Forest, where this trail’s namesake waterfall is located.  Be advised that because Hidden Falls lies high in its watershed, the waterfall will be only a trickle during times of drought.  Plan a visit in the spring or after a good rain for best waterfall viewing.
Western Foothills Trail trailhead, Oconee State Park
            Register at the trailhead; different slots for your free registration correspond to the different trails that depart from this trailhead.  Start hiking up the Foothills Trail as the trail climbs gradually on a recently rerouted path.  At some points you can discern the old treadway on the ground about 20 feet to your left.  At 0.4 miles, you cross the Palmetto Trail, an old roadbed, and then reach a trail intersection.  The Tamassee Knob Trail exits right, so you should turn left to continue heading for Hidden Falls.
Hiking along the ridgetop
            The wide single-track dirt trail assumes a ridgetop character as it undulates gradually while skirting ravines to the right.  At one point an old fire tower road comes into view on the left.  When I hiked this trail in early May, mountain laurel flanked either side of the trail.  Some bushes had already bloomed, some were blooming, and others were just getting ready to bloom.
Mountain laurel
At 1.2 miles, the Hidden Falls and Foothills Trails part ways.  As directed by a sign, turn right to continue on the Hidden Falls Trail.  The trail briefly follows an old seeded-in roadbed before curving left to head into the woods, which consists of the usual combination of pines and broadleaf trees.  The trail drops off the main ridgeline on a gradual grade into a high dell carpeted with ferns.  You can hear a small stream flowing to your right, and an unofficial trail leads down to a small cascade, a prelude to the main attraction.
Fern-lined Hidden Falls Trail
2 miles into the hike, you begin the main descent to Hidden Falls, as you will lose almost 300 feet of elevation over the last 0.5 miles.  The grade is never too steep for too long: the trail drops in fits and starts, kind of like drinking a glass of water one drop at a time.  While descending, the trail also traces around a small finger in the ridge that rises to the right and falls to the left.
Hidden Falls
At 2.5 miles, you reach the base of Hidden Falls.  A small to moderate volume of water falls 50 feet in two main drops.  The water cascading through the boulder field at the base of the falls makes a pleasant gurgling sound that overpowers the sound of the waterfall itself.  A log at the falls’ base makes a perfect viewing spot.  Because the trail ends at the falls and does not form a loop, after viewing the falls you will need to retrace your steps 2.5 miles to the Foothills Trail trailhead to complete the hike.


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