Day 4 of our Memorial Weekend Getaway | Sunday, May 29, 2016 | Hiking in Table Rock State Park to Table Rock, then taking the Ridge Trail to Pinnacle Mountain and the Foothills Trail to Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina’s high point
If I’m being completely honest, this was the hike that I REALLY wanted to do this weekend. The others were really fun and we had a great experience, but I was mostly looking forward to this one. That’s because it was the only hike that would feature great vistas of the surrounding land, AND we would be ending up on the highest point of South Carolina. It would also be the second state high point we’ve hiked to together; we hiked to Arizona’s high point, Mt. Humphreys, in June of 2014. Then of course, I hiked to South Dakota’s high point, Harney Peak, with my family last summer while Curtis was in OCS, and I won’t let him forget that. 😉 All that being said, this felt like it’d be one of those monumental hikes that we’d do together and remember forever, and we were excited. Looking back, I think that for these reasons, it’s also best that we saved this hike for the last day. If we had done it first or second, I’m not sure I would have wanted to get up early and go hiking for a third day in a row!
We may have felt a bit more stiff than the day before, but we still rose early and were on the road before 7:30. We drove to Table Rock State Park and loved seeing the sheer sides of the mountain from multiple angles while driving to and through the park. The parking lot here was significantly larger than the others we’d been to, which I assume means this one gets more traffic than the others, and that doesn’t surprise me. Table Rock is awesome from wherever you are – from the ground looking up, or on the top, enjoying the big smooth rock face and taking in the views. We were on the trail around 8, and even on this holiday weekend we saw only 3 other groups over the first 2 hours during our hike up.
This trail started like the others – walking along a creek with cascading falls all along the way. Then we started going up. I think in my mind I assumed that this trail wouldn’t be too challenging because it was more popular, but I was sure wrong on that one. It wasn’t as steep as El Lieutenant the day before, but it was constantly gaining elevation and making me feel winded. Sometimes it’d just be an uphill slope, and other times there would be man-made steps. I’m not really sure which I prefer, because while it can make your legs tired to be walking at a slant, sometimes the steps are more of a step up than I want.
However, the weather was considerably better on this day. It drizzled on us off and on the whole way up, and generally felt a lot cooler. We were SO thankful for a break from the heat we’d been experiencing on the other days of hiking! This is just another reason why I feel like we picked the perfect day for this hike. With the length of the hike being longer, I’m not sure how we would have made it if it had been as humid as it was the day before!
Charlotte was adorable, even if a little distracted from the hike. Whenever we came to a large rock on the side of the trail, she’d jump up and stand on the edge, looking pensively over whatever there was to see. We kept trying to convince her to save her energy and save the rock climbing for Table Rock, but she wouldn’t listen. It was too cute to stop her.
Finally, we came to the intersection with the Ridge Trail and the last part of Table Rock Trail. Now, if we were only hiking to Sassafras Mountain today, we would have taken the Pinnacle Trail way back at the beginning, but we figured that as long as we were already up this high, why not throw in an extra peak to our long day? Without hiking to Table Rock, the hike would have been about 9 ½ miles and would have been entirely on the Foothills Trail (the trail that spans 80 miles across the mountainous region). Adding Table Rock tacked on an extra 3 miles, which didn’t seem like a big deal when we made the decision…but carrying it out was a different story!
Top 2 pictures are waterfalls along Table Rock Trail // Bottom 2 are of Governor’s Rock, about a mile away from Table Rock. // Bottom picture shows Pinnacle Mountain in the distance, the third highest peak in SC, where we’d be heading to next
To be completely honest, I wanted to give up by the time we reached Governor’s Rock. At first it looked like what I thought Table Rock would look like, and I assumed we were close, but once again I was wrong. I soon learned that Table Rock was another mile away from this point, and I wasn’t sure I even cared about making it there by this point. When I’m so tired and worn out from hiking, I don’t always consider how I’ll look back on a trail later – like will I regret not going the extra mile to another scenic destination? Blogging has a way of motivating me to push on, because I feel like I have to push on for the sake of the story. Do I really want to write that I gave up hiking to Table Rock when I was a mile away? Nope, didn’t think so! The one part that made me feel better was knowing that since most of this spur trail was uphill, coming back to the Ridge Trail would be easy.
Even though I felt exhausted, I did enjoy our time at Governor’s Rock. It was fun to look out and see where we’d be hiking next. I think the highest point in the center of the above picture is Pinnacle Mountain (where we’d hike to next), and Sassafras Mountain might be on the far right, or perhaps beyond that point. We pressed on, concerned about how long this hike was taking us so far.
Once we reached the summit of Table Rock, the trail descended a ways to reach the lookout on the big rock face. On the way there, there was another vista to the side which we stopped at only briefly – but appreciated nonetheless because it’s a real treat to get a vista out here! We planted ourselves on the slanted granite rock and looked over the Table Rock Reservoir, and the mountains which we had explored on the days prior. Curtis was able to see a waterfall over the reservoir through his spyglass, but I couldn’t be bothered to stand back up quite yet. 😉 We had snacks and rested a while before heading back to the Ridge Trail. When we arrived at the rock, we were the first hikers there, but other groups quickly started showing up. Charlotte tried her hardest to make friends with the ones who brought beef jerky, but it was too late because we were now on our way back.
Going back to the Ridge Trail wasn’t as quick and easy as we hoped, all because Charlotte was distracted and was constantly wandering away from us. We also realized that it was now around 11, and we had spent 3 hours getting to Table Rock and still had about 8 miles to go for the day. We could only hope that the rest of the trail wasn’t as steep and slow going, or we’d be hard pressed to make it by a reasonable time.
Once we were on the Ridge Trail, it was immediately apparent that this trail was not commonly used. The trail was much more narrow with plants growing thickly on either side. We were also constantly walking through spider webs, telling us we were the first to take this trail today. I was a little concerned about seeing wildlife all alone out here – especially the big mammal type that might like to eat small dogs. I was constantly on the lookout for the remainder of the hike, which proved to be beneficial because I feel that it helped us quicken our pace. We saw one backpacker headed the opposite way within the first mile on this trail, and that was it for the rest of the afternoon. It was both wonderful, yet terrifying!
Curtis had told me that he didn’t expect the Ridge Trail to be very difficult, just walking along a ridge before ascending to Pinnacle Mountain. However, the first long stretch of trail went straight uphill without switchbacks. Are you kidding me?! We weren’t feeling too optimistic about that, but honestly that was last last long, hard, steep section we hiked, really for the rest of the day. Other than that, the trail would have short stretches of steep elevation every once in a while, then would even out and be easy walking. For this, we were SO thankful – it made time go by so much faster and the hike was much more enjoyable. I’m not sure what the Foothills Trail looked like for the first 4 miles coming up from the beginning of Table Rock Trail, but once you get to around the 4 mile mark where we picked it up, it’s really a nice walk in the woods.
Anyway, back to where we were – We made it to Pinnacle Mountain in maybe just over an hour, and at that point we were almost halfway done with our hike for the day. We sat down next to the summit sign and had lunch. At 3425 feet above sea level, Pinnacle Mountain is SC’s third highest peak. Unfortunately, there’s no real view from here – you’re just surrounded by trees, so I can’t say it’s really worth doing on its own. But say you’re already hiking to Table Rock, it’s not too much of a climb to get here, so if you wanted to do a loop trail back to the parking lot you could hike up to here then back down the Foothills Trail/Pinnacle Mountain trail. One other interesting thing about this area is that all the land to our right was the Greenville Watershed, and it was illegal to trespass anywhere to that side.
After lunch, we began heading down the other side of Pinnacle Mountain, which we found to be significantly steeper than the hike up. It took me quite a bit to work my way down some parts, while others Curtis just encouraged me to slide down because the earth was so soft due to the rain. All that to say, we would definitely recommend going the way we did if you want to avoid such a steep climb!
Finally, we made it to the Foothills Trail, which meant only 5 more miles to go. What was left was some downhill and uphill sections here and there, but mostly walking along a ridge. It also started raining on us again and continued to for the next 2 hours. We really appreciated it because it was refreshing and it kept us moving. It was also fun walking through or above the clouds – see the top picture of this post for my favorite vista of the hike! I was also extremely grateful that it was just rain and not a thunderstorm – hiking through one last fall in Arizona was terrifying and has pretty much scarred me for life.
Top: Pinnacle Mountain summit // Middle: ruins left from the John L. Cantrell homestead that used to be here // Bottom: “Chairhenge” in the backpacking campground
The lowest point we reached on this trail took us down to a ravine, and while we were constantly concerned with how much elevation we were losing, the climb was never as bad as we thought. We enjoyed seeing the huge granite boulders and rocky outcroppings along the trail (even though I was sure that there were bears hiding behind them). We reached the small campground and historic site around 3 in the afternoon, and this meant there was only just over a mile left. This would typically be the campsite for the first night for Foothills Trail backpackers. The backpackers have constructed what we might call the “Chairhenge”. Since we were finally feeling like we’d make it to the end on time, we took a seat and relished the feeling. To someone who’s just hiked 12 miles that day, these chairs are the comfiest things ever. 😉
Finally, we were ready to push on to the end. It was a little disconcerting how much we felt like we were still going downhill, but we weren’t complaining – and there never was a steep uphill climb to make up for it. It honestly made no sense how we could be going downhill to get to the highest point, but we still made it and saw a plaque, and that’s what matters! The anticipation and the adrenaline for being so close was enough to help us hike our fastest mile yet. Soon enough, we were leaving the dark canopy of the forest and walking out onto the road that leads to the top.
We did it!! Scenes from the top of Sassafras Mountain!
Yes, there is a road to get you to the high point in South Carolina. That was never a consideration for us though – we wanted to work for it! We made it to the top of Sassafras Mountain at 4 and were completely satisfied with the hike. It was definitely our favorite out of the 3 days of hiking.
Elevation report from our Map My Hike app
Sassafras Mountain is 3553 feet above sea level, and is right on the NC/SC border. While it is ¼ of the elevation we hiked to reach the peak of Mt. Humphreys in AZ, the hike itself was longer by 3 miles, so we felt every bit as accomplished as we did that day. From the overlook, you can see into North Carolina and Georgia on a clear day, but this was not a clear day. The clouds hovered over the trees and made us feel like we were so much higher than we actually were. Thanks, clouds!
Since this trail is so long, if you’re doing a day hike to Sassafras Mountain, it’s best to either have someone at the top to pick you up, or somehow work out a way to have a vehicle waiting for you at the end. We were super thankful to have friends from Charleston who were also in the area and were willing to pick us up and give us a ride back to Table Rock State Park. Thank you Jen and Landon!! We hung out at the top for a while before making our way back down the windy mountain road. The night consisted of sitting on the couch and limping to the fridge and bedroom. It wasn’t just the sore muscles, it was the blisters…apparently my feet don’t like being trapped in hiking boots all day for 3 days in a row with no practice or warning, and are rebelling by giving me 5 blisters on the back of each foot. OUCH! (Sorry, perhaps that’s TMI for this blog?)
Well, despite all that, we really had a wonderful trip and can’t wait to get out and do some more hiking here when we get the chance. Not only do we absolutely love hiking, I also find that posts about hiking are the most fun for me to write on here – I can crank out over 2500 words in no time at all! Maybe I should find a job that requires me to hike and then write about it…hahaha. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading, and that we inspired you to want to go have an adventure in Upstate South Carolina!