Saturday, February 27, 2016

Croft State Park: Lake Johnson Trail (Blog Hike #565)

Trail: Lake Johnson Trail
Hike Location: Croft State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Spartanburg, SC
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2016
Overview: A circumnavigation of scenic Lake Johnson.

Directions to the trailhead: Croft State Park has a park entrance specifically for Lake Johnson visitors.  To get there from the interstate, take I-26 to SR 296 (exit 22). Exit and go east on SR 296.  Drive SR 296 east 1 mile to SR 295 and turn right on SR 295.  Drive SR 295 east 10.5 miles to Johnson Lake Road and turn right on Johnson Lake Rd.  Johnson Lake Rd. deadends at the shore of Lake Johnson in Croft State Park.  Park in the cul de sac at the road’s end that serves as the parking area.

The hike: For my introduction to Croft State Park, see my hike on the park’s Nature Trail from last fall.  The Nature Trail and the Lake Johnson Trail are the park’s two main hiker-only trails, but they offer very different hiking experiences.  Whereas the Nature Trail takes you along flowing Fairforest Creek, the Lake Johnson Trail circumnavigates its namesake lake.  I enjoyed both of my hikes at Croft State Park, and I think it is a wonderful natural resource for the people of Spartanburg.
Trailhead at cul de sac
            To begin a counterclockwise trip around Lake Johnson, walk slightly uphill through a grassy area toward a picnic shelter to the west.  Upon reaching the picnic shelter, angle left and look for where the single track Lake Johnson Trail enters the woods.  There are no signs marking the start of the Lake Johnson Trail, but it is easy to find if you know where to look.
            The trail heads west through forest consisting mainly of beech, maple, pine, and sweet gum trees.  Uphill and downhill sections are short but numerous and sometimes quite steep.  At 0.2 miles, the trail curves left to cross one of Lake Johnson’s tributaries on a wooden bridge, the only bridge on this hike.  Streams in this area are quite small with clear water and sandy bottoms.
Bridge over small tributary
            After crossing the stream, the trail turns south to head back for the lake.  The grassy area you parked beside now appears across the lake to your left.  The trail never strays more than 100 yards from the lake shore, so if you are ever unsure which trail to choose at an intersection, choose the one closest to the lake.
Hiking the Lake Johnson Trail
            0.4 miles into the hike, you reach an intersection with the Lake Johnson Loop horse trail.  Two brown carsonite posts bearing the universal horse trail symbol mark this intersection.  Though no signs indicate such, you need to turn left here and cross another lake tributary to continue your trip around Lake Johnson.  As usual for a horse trail, this and subsequent creek crossings are unbridged, so waterproof hiking boots are preferred for this hike despite its short length.
            For the next 0.5 miles the hiking trail runs conjointly with the horse trail.  The addition of horse traffic means 1) the trail surface will be muddier and rougher than usual, 2) you will have to step around some horse manure, and 3) trail courtesy requires hikers to yield to horse traffic.  Because horses are easily spooked by hikers and hiking staffs, yielding means moving to the side of the trail and allowing the horse traffic to pass.
Lake Johnson
            The wide hiking/horse trail crosses first the dam and then the spillway of Lake Johnson.  Nice views open up down the length of the lake during this stretch.  Immediately after crossing the spillway, be on the lookout for the narrower hiker-only trail that exits uphill to left.  Only a single brown carsonite post marks this point.  Angle left to leave the wide horse trail and continue your journey around the lake.
            The unmarked trail undulates through a couple of steep but shallow ravines as it begins working its way north along Lake Johnson’s east side.  At first you are quite close to the lake, but soon the trail curves right and gradually ascends the hillside.  The lake remains visible through the trees downhill to the left, but this area marks the greatest distance between this loop and the lake.
            At 1.6 miles, the trail curves left as it intersects what appears to be an old road.  A brief gradual descent deposits you on the south shoulder of the paved road you drove in on.  Turn left and walk 0.3 miles on the pavement to return to the cul de sac that contains your car and complete the hike.

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