South Carolina’s first long-distance recreational trail is the Foothills Trail, spanning one hundred miles of backcountry across the upstate. This rugged, often strenuous trail is designated for hiking only and visits some of the most breathtaking places along the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Besides passing through several state parks and the Sumter National Forest, the trail goes around Lake Jocassee and through the Jocassee Gorges Wildlife Management Area.
Natural wonders abound along the Foothills Trail, including waterfalls, bears, deer, grouse, turkeys, trout, salamanders, hemlocks, laurels, rhododendrons, and trilliums. Hikers follow or cross numerous rivers and streams, including the Chattooga, Whitewater, Thompson, Horsepasture, and Middle Saluda. The two cascades of Whitewater Falls are among the highest in the eastern United States. Several mountains add interest as well as weariness to the hiker’s task but provide excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Sharp-eyed hikers may also spot petroglyphs or other Native American artifacts.
The Foothills Trail concept came from the Sierra Club and was developed by Duke Power Company; the U.S. Forest Service; the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism; and many other organizations and individuals. Trail construction began in 1968, and the nonprofit Foothills Trail Conference was formed in 1974 to manage the trail. Originally, the trail was planned to link Oconee State Park and Table Rock State Park. In the 1980s a “spur” was added to link the trail through the Mountain Bridge State Natural Area to Caesars Head and Jones Gap State Parks.
Clark, John, and John Dantzler. Hiking South Carolina. Helena, Mont.: Falcon, 1998.