Trail: Paleo Trail
Branch State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: November 2017
Overview: A winding loop through quiet Piedmont forest.
Park Information: https://southcarolinaparks.com/hamilton-branch
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=659492
Directions to the trailhead: From McCormick, take SR 28/US 221 east/south 12.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the right. Turn right to enter the park. Pay the small entrance fee, then park at the park’s signed gift shop beside the entrance station.
The hike: Known mostly as a boating and camping destination,
(also known as Hamilton
Branch State Recreation Area) occupies 731 acres on a narrow peninsula that
juts westward into Hamilton Branch
State Park . The park features a 173-site campground with
many sites offering lake views. Two boat
ramps allow boaters to launch their crafts into the water, and 3 picnic
shelters are available for rent. A
playground and gift shop round out the park’s amenities. Strom Thurmond
For hikers and mountain bikers, the Hamilton Branch Connector Trail leads to the 5.5 mile one-way Stevens Creek Trail in nearby
. Only one trail stays within the park’s
boundaries, the 1.5 mile Paleo Trail described here. Used mainly by campers and local residents,
the Paleo Trail offers a quiet loop through mixed Piedmont forest. Sumter
|Start of Paleo Trail near gift shop|
Both the Hamilton Branch Connector Trail and the Paleo Trail depart from the gift shop area. The Hamilton Branch Connector Trail starts at a signed trailhead to the north of the gift shop. To find the start of the Paleo Trail, walk west from the gift shop and look for a pair of white metal diamonds with black arrows that marks where the Paleo Trail enters the woods. The Paleo Trail is marked with an overwhelming number of these black arrow markers, one about every 20 to 30 feet. The markers can come in handy, as the trail on the ground is often hard to discern from its surroundings.
After less than a minute of walking, the trail forks to form its loop. For no reason, I chose to turn left and use the trail going right as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise. As I looked around at this point, the overwhelming number of black arrow markers really stood out: I could see no less than 13 of them from here.
|Another trail marker|
The trail continues southwest with the boat launch access road visible to the south/left. The park roads at Hamilton Branch are seldom traveled, and only an occasional passing car or distant train horn intrude on the quiet solitude. Some fallen pine trees, possibly victims of the southern pine beetle, had recently been cut and moved off of the trail, thus making passage easier. I was thankful for the work park personnel had put into clearing this trail.
A gradual descent brings you into a low area that is also the upper reaches of a shallow ravine. Some saw palmetto lives here, and maple, sweet gum, and loblolly pines are the most numerous trees in this mixed Piedmont forest. I could hear a woodpecker in a tree to my right, and on the return route it flew only feet in front of me. I have read that bald eagles sometimes nest in this park, but I did not see any of those grand birds on my visit.
|Granite rocks near trail|
Near 0.6 miles, you curve right to begin a long, gradual climb out of the ravine. The trail does a lot of meandering, but the large number of black arrows keeps you on course. Another right curve comes as the campground access road can be seen through the trees to the north. As you near the rim of the ravine, some chunks of granite appear on the ground around your feet. Soon you close the loop, and the gift shop is only a couple hundred feet away. If you want to get one of this park’s famous lake views, which this trail does not offer, after your hike drive down the boat ramp access road to a nice lakeside picnic and playground area near its end.