Monday, October 20, 2014

Paris Mountain State Park: North Lake (Blog Hike #493)

Trails: Brissy Ridge, Kanuga, North Lake, and Pipsissewa Trails
Hike Location: Paris Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: north of Greenville, SC
Length: 5.3 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2014
Overview: A lollipop loop on the north side of Paris Mountain.

Directions to the trailhead: On the north side of Greenville, take US 25 to SR 253; there is a traffic light, Wal-Mart, and Paris Mountain State Park sign at this intersection.  Go east on SR 253.  Take SR 253 8.6 miles to State Park Road and turn sharply right on State Park Rd.  Drive State Park Road 0.8 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 main road as it passes the campground entrance on the left.  This hike starts at the Brissy Ridge Trailhead, which is located at a small parking area at the top of the mountain.  If this lot is full, there is additional parking located just down the road to the right.

The hike: For my general comments on Paris Mountain State Park, see the Sulpher Springs loop.  This hike explores the north side of Paris Mountain as it descends/ascends to/from secluded North Lake.  These trails are open to mountain bikes every day except Saturday, so plan a Saturday visit like I did if you do not feel like dodging bikes on your hike.
Information kiosk at trailhead
            Start at an information kiosk at the west side of the parking area, from whence two trails depart.  The white-blazed Sulpher Springs Loop goes left and heads for an old fire tower site.  This hike will start on the yellow-blazed Brissy Ridge Trail, which heads right.  As an alternate route, you could start on the Sulpher Springs Loop, hike to the old fire tower site, and then hike a short connector trail to rejoin this trail description just before the big descent.  Such a route would reduce this hike’s distance by about 0.5 miles and form a true loop.
            The slightly rocky trail heads just east of north as it descends very gradually.  The hillside is quite steep with a false summit of Paris Mountain rising to your left and Buckhorn Lake lying downhill to your right.  At 0.4 miles, a gap in the trees to the right gives a nice view east toward a rural area north of Greenville.
View east from Brissy Ridge Trail
            0.7 miles into the hike, you reach a signed trail intersection with the red-blazed Kanuga Trail, which goes left.  This intersection forms the loop portion of this hike.  For no reason, I chose to turn left here to hike the loop clockwise and use the Brissy Ridge Trail, which continues to the right, as my return route.
            Whereas the Brissy Ridge Trail was bustling with activity on my visit, the Kanuga Trail featured considerably less traffic.  A few views of North Lake, which lies almost 300 feet below you, open up to the right, but for the most part the thick tree cover prevents views.  The park’s large collection of oak trees tried to carpet bomb me with acorns throughout my hike.  I managed to avoid a direct hit, but thousands of pieces of shrapnel covered the trail in several areas.
Hiking the Kanuga Trail
            Named for an old road, the Kanuga Trail ascends gradually to cross the 1600-foot mark and reach this hike’s highest elevation.  At this point, the signed connector trail to the old fire tower site exits left.  A side trip to the fire tower site will cost you 0.3 miles one-way of distance and about 120 feet of elevation gain.  I had already seen the fire tower site when I hiked the Sulpher Springs Loop, so I decided to forego another visit.  Also, if you took the alternate route along the Sulpher Springs Loop at the start of the hike, you would join this trail description at this point.
            The Kanuga Trail now begins its descent to North Lake, and trail traffic becomes even lighter after you pass the fire tower connection.  The descent is never steep; it starts gradual and then becomes moderate as you get closer to the lake.  A single broad switchback drops you into a rhododendron-choked ravine where a couple of short wet rocky areas will need to be negotiated.  Overall, the going remains fairly easy.
            At 2.7 miles, you reach the lower end of the Kanuga Trail and its intersection with the North Lake Trail, which goes straight and left.  The North Lake Trail forms a loop around its namesake lake, so you could go either way here.  The option going straight provides the shortest route, but I chose the longer more scenic option by turning left.
Intersecting the North Lake Trail
            The easy North Lake Trail heads clockwise around the lake with the lake on your right and a gradual hillside on your left.  This segment of trail passes four reservable trailside campsites.  All of these campsites were vacant on my visit, and this area should provide a nice camping experience in a fairly secluded area (by Greenville County standards).
            2.9 miles into the hike, you step across North Lake’s main feeder stream.  The trail curves right and soon passes the nicest trailside campsite of them all due to its location right beside the lake.  Just past this campsite, look to the right for a postcard view of Paris Mountain looming behind North Lake.
Paris Mountain behind North Lake
            The trail next crosses the dam that forms North Lake and then crosses the unusually narrow concrete spillway on a short metal bridge.  An interpretive sign tells of North Lake’s history as a drinking water reservoir.  The lake served as an open-air cistern for Table Rock Reservoir, the city’s main municipal water supply, until the 1980’s.  Although Paris Mountain State Park has existed since the 1930’s, this section of the park was added only in 2003.
            At 3.4 miles, the green-blazed Pipsissewa Trail exits left.  This trail is our route back to the mountaintop, so turn left to begin the Pipsissewa Trail.  After tracing around the foot of a low ridge, the trail heads up a small drainage before making a left U-turn to undertake the bulk of the climb.  The Pipsissewa Trail gains 200 feet of elevation along its 1 mile of distance, but the grade is so gradual that I barely broke a sweat.
Climbing on the Pipsissewa Trail
            After topping a ridge on the east side of Paris Mountain, the trail curves right.  At 4.4 miles, you reach the top end of the Pipsissewa Trail and its junction with the Brissy Ridge Trail, which goes straight and left.  For the shortest and easiest route back to the trailhead, continue straight on the Brissy Ridge Trail.  Some more gradual to moderate climbing over slightly rocky trail will bring you to the Kanuga Trail junction at 4.6 miles.  This junction closes the loop.  Retrace your steps along the balance of the Brissy Ridge Trail to return to the trailhead and complete the hike.

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