Cruising back roads in the left elbow of South Carolina today, we conquered three waterfalls and glimpsed a fourth over the shoulders of too many people (and called it good enough). For all y’all following along, I’m working my way through the Carolina Mountain Club’s Waterfall 100 Challenge (WC 100). Most of the entries are in NC and information is easily obtainable via Kevin Adams’ book North Carolina Waterfalls and website. The SC entries take a little more work but are worth the effort.
I rely on official sources but I also like to read blogs about places I’m interested in. The most current blog posts can verify and/or update the official sources. Three or more sources give me a picture of what to expect (or not) when I get on the trail. Some other favorites:
Oconee SC Waterfalls
Upstate South Carolina waterfall map
NC Waterfalls - a terrific site for waterfalls in SC as well as NC
Brenda Wiley - Crazy good HIKING section with detailed trip reports, photos and elevation profiles and GPS tracks for download
Waterfalls Hiker – the easiest way to find writeups here is to Google “waterfalls hiker” and the name of the waterfall you're interested in
[We treated each waterfall as a stand-alone hike to make the best use of our time. If you’re not so obsessive about it, you can combine Spoonauger and King Creek Falls into one nice hike via the Chattooga River Trail.]
So...where did we go today?
Past the big parking area for Burrells Ford Campground, we parked where the Chattooga River Trail crosses Burrells Ford Road (FS 708), consulted the trail kiosk on the right side of the road, and walked a flat half mile alongside the robust river. A small bridge crosses over Spoonauger Creek where it flows into the Chattooga, and just past it we took a right turn onto Spoonauger Trail.
From there it’s a quick tenth of a mile to the falls. There’s a nice cascade on the way up, and I wonder how many people think that’s the falls.
Keep going! The real deal waterfall is said to be named for the Spoonauger family that lived near the top of the falls. Think about that as you gaze up from the base and feel the spray on your face.
Back at the campground parking lot, I got my bearings from my Foothills Trail thru-hike here where it crosses Burrells Ford Road. At the far end of the lot, a wide trail leads down to the Chattooga River and signage eventually gets you to the Foothills Trail and King Creek Falls side trail.
On the return hike, we turned right at the junction onto the Foothills Trail, making a loop back to the Burrells Ford parking lot. The distance was about the same and a little more straightforward, I think. I like it when I can connect dots.
Driving directions that I had took us to a back road closed to through traffic (bridge construction?) so we worked our way around on forest roads to another access. The last turn to the falls was obviously not accessible for us. Someone in a similar vehicle was stuck there between two enormous humps, spinning her wheels as her friend coached her out.
So we parked and walked that mile along a muddy 4X4 road, then on a sweet blue-blazed trail
I can picture the big rocky beach filled with people, but today we were in company with just a few, including a young couple with two little kids that had hauled in all their stuff, chairs, coolers, and swim toys. The swimming hole is massive, dominated by the “wall of waterfall” that is only 12 feet high but 100 feet wide. It’s a Class VI whitewater rapid – can you imagine going over that in a raft or a kayak?
Descriptions warned how crowded this place is and they were right. Part of Stumphouse Park, the waterfall is a 5-minute hike from parking, not too much to ask for even the most unmotivated person. There is lots of infrastructure, wooden walkways to wooden platforms. I declined to go onto the overlook platform because the multitude of visitors were unmasked and no one seemed concerned about social distancing. Likewise the rougher dirt trail to the bottom, too many peeps for us. We were all making choices for our comfort levels.
Bonus: Stumphouse Park’s main attraction is Stumphouse Tunnel, a hand-dug, never-completed railroad tunnel intended to cut through Stumphouse Mountain. Jim and I ventured into the inky blackness that my headlamp couldn’t penetrate. Dank and creepy – take me back to the light!