Sunday, January 11, 2015

Santee State Park: Hiking/Biking Trail (Blog Hike #503)

Trail: Hiking/Biking Trail
Hike Location: Santee State Park
Geographic Location: northwest of Santee, SC
Length: 7.5 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2014
Overview: A long woodland loop, partially on old roads, with nice Lake Marion views.

Directions to the trailhead: In central South Carolina, take I-95 to SR 6 (exit 98).  Exit and go west on SR 6.  Drive SR 6 west 1.2 miles to State Park Road and turn right on State Park Rd.  State Park Rd. ends at the park entrance.  After entering the park, drive to the park’s main crossroads, then continue straight another 1.9 miles to the signed trailhead parking on the right.  There is enough space here for 5 or 6 cars.  If this lot is full, you can park at the picnic area or park store a few hundred feet further down the road.

The hike: For my general comments on Santee State Park, see my blog entry for the Limestone Nature Trail, which is also at this park.  I was unable to hike the long Hiking/Biking Trail on my September visit due to the physical abilities of other members in my group, so I came back (by myself) in December to hike it.  I had a nice hike on that cool December day, and I did not meet another single person on the trail.  If you hike this trail in the busier summer months, note that there is no potable water on this trail, so be sure to pack all of the water you will need.
Trailhead: Hiking/Biking Trail
            The trail starts at the right side of the parking area and heads through a gap in a wooden fence.  Almost immediately the trail forks to form its loop.  To get to the bluff overlooking Lake Marion faster, I chose to take the left fork and hike the loop clockwise, thus using the right fork as my return route.  The single-track trail heads east over very flat terrain through a forest dominated by loblolly pines.
            At 0.3 miles, you reach a trail junction as you intersect an old road.  Turning left would lead a short distance to the park’s campground, so this hike turns right to continue the Hiking/Biking Trail.  Lake Marion, some 40 feet below you, becomes visible through the trees to your left.
Hiking atop the bluff
            The trail follows the old sandy-dirt road for more than 2 miles along the top of the bluff that overlooks Lake Marion.  The lake remains in view through the trees most of the time, but no unobstructed views can be had from the trail.  The trail briefly heads inland away from the bluff edge just before you reach the wooden post that is the 1 mile marker.  Some blue blazes mark a faint short cut trail that exits right, but the main Hiking/Biking Trail continues straight on the wide old road.  Note that the short cut trail does not appear on the park’s trail map, but it is well-blazed and reduces this hike to just over 2 miles in length.
            Continuing on the full loop, the trail heads back to the bluff edge as it maintains its southward course.  Near 1.7 miles, the trail curves right to leave the bluff edge and begin a long horseshoe-shaped section around a wide, long, shallow ravine that feeds Lake Marion.  A swamp forest complete with bald cypress and tupelo trees lies at the bottom of this ravine.  At 2.7 miles, you reach a bench that overlooks this small swamp forest.
Lake Marion
            Just past the bench, the trail completes the horseshoe and arrives back at the bluff edge yet again.  The trail’s best lake view opens up to the left at this point.  After dipping through another small ravine, you reach a trail intersection at 3.5 miles.  The old road continues straight and quickly arrives at the park’s main picnic area.  As directed by a metal arrow nailed to a post, the Hiking/Biking Trail turns right to leave the old road and begin the western half of the loop.
            The remainder of the hike uses the newest trail in the park, and consequently the path on the ground is not nearly as wide or well-worn as what you have hiked so far.  Thus, you will need to watch for the blue blazes to stay on the trail.  The meandering trail heads in the general direction of west before curving right to head north back toward the trailhead.  This segment of trail runs very close to the park road on the left, but this park is rural enough so that little traffic runs up and down these roads.
Wooden boardwalk over wet area
            Near 5.5 miles, the trail crosses a small seasonally wet area on a wooden boardwalk.  After curving right to head away from the park road, you pass through an area that featured a large number of downed trees on my visit.  I was thankful that park crews had worked hard here to clear the trail.
            Near 6.6 miles, the west end of the short-cut trail enters from the right.  There are many blue blazes in this area, but no sign marks this junction.  If you accidentally take the short-cut trail instead of the main trail (as I did), you will arrive back at the 1-mile marker on the east side of the loop.  In that case, you will need to turn around and retrace your steps 0.3 miles, looking for the main trail to exit right.  The remainder of the hike passes over a low ridge as it works its way back to the trailhead.  Your car comes into view through the trees ahead and to the left as you close the loop and complete the hike.


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