Trail: Little Gap Trail
Hike Location: Dreher Island State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Newberry, SC (34.08194, -81.40335)
Length: 2.1 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: January 2018
Overview: A lollipop loop with considerable up-and-down and good views of Lake Murray.
Park Information: https://southcarolinaparks.com/dreher-island
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=667339
Directions to the trailhead: There is no direct route from the interstate to Dreher Island State Park, so follow these directions carefully. North/west of Columbia, take I-26 to Columbia Avenue (exit 91). Exit and go west on Columbia Ave. Drive Columbia Ave. 2.1 miles to the town of Chapin, where you need to turn right on Chapin Road and then quickly turn left on St. Peters Church Road. Drive St. Peters Church Rd. 3.6 miles to Dreher Island Road and turn left on Dreher Island Rd. Drive Dreher Island Rd. 2.9 miles to State Park Road and turn left on State Park Rd. State Park Rd. deadends at the park entrance in 2.6 miles. Pay the park entrance fee, then drive the main park road past the boat ramp and Visitor Center and around the one way picnic shelter loop to Yellow Poplar Drive on the right. Park in the parking lot that is Yellow Poplar Dr.
The hike: Established only in 1990, Dreher Island State Park (also known as Dreher Island State Recreation Area) protects 348 acres on three islands in Lake Murray. The man-made lake, created by the Saluda Dam located 11 miles east of here as the crow flies (or as the fish swims), predates the park by more than 60 years. Built to provide hydroelectric power for South Carolina, Lake Murray was the largest man-made lake in the world at the time it was built.
The park has many amenities including a 97-site developed campground, 5 lakeside villas, 10 picnic shelters, and 3 boat ramps. For hikers, the park offers 3 trails, but two of them are less than 0.5 miles long. The exception is the 2.1 mile Little Gap Trail described here. A lollipop loop with a long stick, the Little Gap Trail traverses rolling wooded terrain as it offers nice views of Lake Murray.
|Information kiosk at trailhead|
The trail starts at an information kiosk at the southeast side of the parking lot. Lots of white plastic diamonds with black arrows mark the way, and the trail had recently been cleared of leaf litter on my visit. After a brief stint in the forest, the trail crosses the main park road via a marked crosswalk and enters a small pine planting.
In less than 500 feet, the spur trail to the Red Maple Drive picnic shelters exits left. Stay right to descend slightly and cross a small stream on a wooden footbridge. At 0.3 miles, you dip through a shallow but very steep ravine before starting a long gradual climb. Although the difference between maximum and minimum elevations is only 60 feet, the Little Gap Trail has very few flat sections.
|White granite in trail|
0.5 miles into the hike, you reach the hike’s highest elevation as you round a small knob. Many chunks of white granite buried in the trail here make the treadway quite rough. A gradual to moderate descent comes next as the trail passes under a low voltage power line. Some partially obstructed views of Lake Murray can be had during the leafless season, but the best lake view is still to come.
At 0.8 miles, the trail forks to form its short loop. As directed by several black arrows, I turned right and used the trail going straight as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise. Some minor ups and downs bring you to the bench and lake view that is the highlight of this hike. Although a few luxury lakeside homes can be seen from this southeast-facing viewpoint, the view is surprisingly natural given its location less than 25 miles from Columbia. Also, I was surprised by the clarity of the lake’s waters. The view can be enchanting, but be careful how close you get to the edge: the bank you are standing on has been undercut by the lake’s many years of lapping water.
|Lake Murray viewpoint|
Past the viewpoint, the trail brushes the power line clearing as it passes over the southern-most knob. At 1.2 miles, you close the loop. Continue straight and retrace your steps to the parking lot to return to your car and complete the hike.