Monday, January 14, 2019

Sesquicentennial State Park: Sandhills and Jackson Creek Trails (Blog Hike #730)


Trails: Sandhills and Jackson Creek Trails
Hike Location: Sesquicentennial State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Columbia, SC
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2019
Overview: A flat semiloop around Sesquicentennial Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: On the north side of Columbia, take I-20 or I-77 to US 1 (I-20 exit 74 or I-77 exit 17).  Exit and go north on US 1.  Drive US 1 north 2.2 miles from I-77 to the signed park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, and drive the main park road 1.3 miles to the traffic circle in front of the boat house.  Drive ¾ of the way around the traffic circle and park in the sandy dirt lot on the north side of the traffic circle.

The hike: Known locally as “Sesqui,” Sesquicentennial State Park protects 1419 acres on the northeast side of Columbia, South Carolina’s state capital.  In preparation for South Carolina’s 150th year of statehood in 1938, in 1937 the state’s Sesquicentennial Commission donated land to create the park, hence the park’s name.  Sesqui is one of 16 South Carolina state parks developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and several buildings built by the CCC remain in use today.
            Sesqui offers excellent amenities that include an 84-site developed campground, a 30-acre lake with boat house, 3 picnic shelters, a retreat center, the only splash pad in South Carolina’s state park system, a dog park, and 12 miles of hiking trails.  Many of the hiking trails are also open to mountain bikes, but two of the park’s trails are hiker-only: the 2 mile Sandhills Hiking Trail that loops around the park’s lake and the 0.5 mile Jackson Creek Nature Trail near the lake’s dam.  This hike uses both of the park’s hiker-only trails in their entirety to form a 2.5 mile double loop.  Be warned that both of these trails are quite popular: I shared the trail with many casual hikers and people walking dogs on the sunny Saturday afternoon that I hiked here.
Trailhead for Sandhills Hiking Trail
            The trailhead for the Sandhills Hiking Trail is located at the northeast end of the parking lot; it is marked by a large signboard and kiosk.  The single-track trail heads slightly downhill over a few wood planks to quickly intersect the Sandhills Hiking Trail proper.  Turn left to begin a clockwise journey around the Sandhills Hiking Trail, which is marked by white plastic diamonds bearing black arrows.
            The trail heads northeast through typical sandhills forest that features some large loblolly pines.  Some slabs of asphalt under foot indicate that this trail may have been paved at one time, but now the pavement has degraded enough so that most of the trail has a sandy dirt surface.  After crossing Spring House Creek on a nice wooden footbridge, you intersect the blue-blazed Loop Road/Trail, which is shared by hikers and mountain bikers.  Turn right to stay on the Sandhills Hiking Trail as it runs conjointly with the Loop Road/Trail.
Hiking through wetlands
            The next segment crosses several streams that feed into Sesquicentennial Lake.  The wetlands these streams form make for scenic wildlife viewing opportunities.  At 0.7 miles, the Loop Road/Trail and the Sandhills Hiking Trail part ways.  Turn right to continue the narrower Sandhills Hiking Trail; watch for the white plastic diamonds here.
            The trail now adopts a winding course near the east shore of Sesquicentennial Lake, but the lake stays out of view at first.  Nice wooden boardwalks carry you over some wet areas.  At 1.5 miles, you get your first clear view of Sesquicentennial Lake.  A well-placed bench provides the opportunity to rest and observe the lake just past the midpoint of the hike.
First view of Sesquicentennial Lake
            1.65 miles into the hike, you reach the concrete dam that forms Sesquicentennial Lake.  A picnic area with restrooms sits uphill to the left here, and an underground sewer pipe continues straight.  Turn right to cross the spillway on a wooden bridge, then look downhill to the left for the large information kiosk that marks the start of the Jackson Creek Nature Trail.  At only 0.5 miles, the Jackson Creek Nature Trail makes a short and easy add-on to what is already a rather short and easy hike.  To hike all the hiker-only trails at Sesqui, turn left and begin the Jackson Creek Nature Trail.
Spillway of Sesquicentennial Lake
            The trail curves left and recrosses Jackson Creek via a long boardwalk before heading up the east side of the dam.  Water flowing over the concrete spillway makes scenic if man-made sights and sounds.  Near the top of the dam, where the sewer pipe leads directly back to the Sandhills Hiking Trail, a sign tells you to turn sharply right to stay on the Nature Trail.  The Jackson Creek Nature Trail is mostly unmarked, but several interpretive signs describe flora and fauna common to the sandhills.
            The nature trail becomes covered in pine needles as it winds some more and passes more interpretive signs before ending at the picnic area.  Angle left, walk downhill to get back to the Sandhills Hiking Trail, and then walk across the same bridge over the spillway you crossed about 15 minutes ago.  Angle right this time to stay on a concrete path that remains near the lake.
Mallard ducks in Sesquicentennial Lake
            Nice lake views remain to the right as you approach the park’s boat house.  Some mallard ducks and Canada geese were enjoying the water on the seasonal January afternoon that I came here.  After passing the boat house, the trail heads back into the woods for a short distance before closing the loop.  Turn left and walk out the short entrance trail to return to the parking lot and complete the hike.

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