South Carolina is well known for its tourist attractions, historical districts, and manufacturing industry. But did you know that this southeastern state also has an array of hiking trails? Below we investigate hiking in South Carolina state.
Of the 686 outdoor activities found in South Carolina, there are over 400 hiking trails. These trails cover various habitats, from mountains in the Uplands to coastal forests in the Lowlands. The trails in South Carolina vary in difficulty levels and duration; some are even wheelchair friendly.
Hiking remains an ever-popular outdoor activity for many Americans, and South Carolina is one of the states that excel in providing spectacular vistas and inclusive trails. But are there hikes suitable for more experienced hikers? What are some of the highlights of hiking in South Carolina? And what is the longest hike available?
South Carolina Hikes And Pertinent Information
South Carolina is as rich in natural beauty as it is in history. The Palmetto state boasts around 686 outdoor activities, including hiking and mountain bike trails, camping and backpacking routes, and many others.
There are roughly 397 family-friendly hiking trails in South Carolina. Of the total routes, there are around 457 trails that take you past waterfalls and other views of prominence. For those who are mobility restricted, South Carolina has 73 wheelchair-friendly trails.
South Carolina boasts a diversity of habitats, from coastal oaks found in maritime forests in the Lowlands to mountainous regions in the Uplands, covered in pines and other hardwoods. With all of the diversity in landscapes, South Carolina has an array of hikes that will please all interest and experience groups alike.
Most hiking trails in South Carolina are located in state parks, providing spectacular views of natural areas and access to wildlife and other nature viewings.
Hiking around the state appeals to a wide range of people with varying interests. Many of the hikes incorporate the state’s rich history into the hikes as well.
Easy Trails In South Carolina
For those new to hiking, have small children to consider, or are not physically capable of attempting grueling trails, South Carolina has an assortment of easier hikes, which make outdoor activities available to all skill levels.
1. Spanish Mount Trail
- Route distance: 3.8 miles, with a 26-foot incline
- Route duration: 1 hour 32 minutes
- Route type: out and back
- Route description: Located in Edisto Beach State Park, close to Edisto Island. This trial is suitable for all levels of fitness and experience.
The Spanish Mount trail is child-friendly, wheelchair and stroller friendly, and is frequented by hikers, mountain bikers, nature enthusiasts, families, and trail runners.
This trail is open to dog walking, provided they stay on a lead, and the route is open all year round. There are also options to make the trail shorter.
The route is made of compacted soil, with the occasional boardwalk and a very gentle gradient, so progress is not too difficult. The trail starts at the nature center, so information on the hike and the surrounding area is readily accessible.
Some of the most prominent highlights to this route are the nearby river and the terrific scenic views of the forest and marshland. This route also caters to nature lovers by providing a plethora of birds and other animals.
This trail is well maintained and well-marked. There is also a lot of shade, so the sun is not as big of an issue along the route.
2. Spoonauger Falls Via Chattooga River Trail
- Route distance: 0.62 miles, with a 112-foot incline
- Route duration: 19 minutes
- Route type: out and back
- Route description: Located in Ellicott Rock Wilderness, close to Mountain Rest. This hike is children-friendly and dog friendly. This route has a bit of incline and river crossings. So wheelchairs and strollers are not able to use this route.
It is mostly used by hikers/people walking, families with children, and nature excursions.
The highlighted features include two waterfalls (an upper and lower one), spectacular views, wildflower and wildlife viewing, the Chattooga River, and forested areas.
This route is a charming, quick, and easy trail with a mild incline and should be no problem for most hikers, regardless of skill. Some of the creek crossings have stepping stones that are a bit shaky, so caution is recommended.
There was a hornets’ nest around the middle of the trail by a large rock, so take care when passing if it is still there.
3. Wildcat Wayside Nature Trail
- Route distance: 0.9 miles, with a 154-foot incline
- Route duration: 30 minutes
- Route type: loop
- Route description: Located close to Cleveland off the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, this trail is accessible year-round and is suitable for all skill and experience levels.
- Popular activities along the trail include walking/hiking, trail running, dog walking, and nature excursions by families with children.
The highlight of this trail is the two waterfalls after which it is named. There is an upper and lower waterfall along the river. The lower falls are close to the parking area, while the upper waterfall is accessible/viewable by following the trail’s loop.
The hike follows the stream feeding the waterfalls, flowing through a marvelous forest.
Take care to obey the signboards at the top waterfall to stay on the path and not attempt to approach the waterfall, as people have had fatal accidents in the past. The bottom waterfall is more accessible for those who want to cool off.
Overall, this short hike is great for the kids (the canine ones included) to stretch their legs and get in some outdoor time without strenuous exercise.
This hike is a fantastic introduction to first-time hikers or those who want to try and take their dogs on a shorter hike.
Moderate Trails In South Carolina
For those who are comfortable with the easy routes and would like to attempt something slightly more challenging, South Carolina has a great assortment of medium-level difficulty hikes as well. These are great for when you want to push yourself without going too strenuously.
1. Lower Whitewater Falls Trail
- Route distance: 4 miles, with a 960-foot incline
- Route duration: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Route type: out and back
- Route description: Located close to Salem. This route is most popular amongst hikers.
The most prominent highlight of this trail is the view of the falls at the end of the trail. The waterfall has a 200-foot drop and creates a spectacular spectacle as the water plummets into Lake Jocassee.
Aside from the waterfall, the hike passes through the forested area of the Jocassee Gorge and crosses the Whitewater River.
This hiking trail is very well marked, with blue blazes on the trees and plenty of signage.
This trail joins up to the Foothills Trail for those who feel adventurous, which leads to the Upper Whitewater Falls across the northern state boundary.
This hike is not too technical but does involve some steep inclines and declines, so a moderate level of fitness and experience is recommended.
2. Chattooga River Trail
- Route distance: 8 miles, with a 548-foot incline
- Route duration: 3 hours 35 minutes
- Route type: out and back
- Route description: Located in Ellicott Rock Wilderness, close to Mountain Rest. This route is popular with various users, as it offers several outdoor activities.
These activities include hiking for individuals and families with children, dog walking (provided the dogs are on leads), backpacking, camping, trail running, nature excursions, and fishing.
Some of the trail’s highlights include wildlife and wildflower viewing, the Chattooga River and waterfalls along the river, a scenic forest walk, and spectacular views of the surrounding area (9000 acres of wilderness).
This trail also makes its way to Ellicott’s Rock and Commissioners Rock, popular tourist destinations open year-round.
It is considered moderate in difficulty due to a small technical river crossing and some minor obstacles. Although once crossing over Bad Creek, the trail becomes more challenging due to fallen trees, narrow ledges, and slippery rocks.
This hike also joins the Spoonauger Falls trail for those looking for detours and scenery.
3. Raven Rock Loop Trail
- Route distance: 4.2 miles, with an 837-foot incline
- Route duration: 2 hours 15 minutes
- Route type: loop
- Route description: Located in Keowee-Toxaway State Park, close to Sunset. This trail is popular amongst several hikers due to the various activities available in the area.
These activities include dog walking (once again, the dogs need to be on the lead), family hikes (with children), fishing, camping, backpacking, nature excursions, hiking, and trail running.
The recommended months of use for this trail are between April and October.
Some of the highlights to this route include scenic views and access to the beach, walks through forested areas, waterfalls along the river, fishing in Lake Keowee, Raven rock for which the hike is named), and wildlife (including bird-watching) and wildflower viewing.
Some other features of this hike include granite outcroppings creating a natural bridge across the Poe Creek, followed by an uphill trek through boulders that leads to a valley over the pinnacle. Once at the top, you view the ridge trail leading to Lake Keowee. A picturesque old church by the parking lot is at the end of the trail.
This route is challenging, with some technical areas and lots of up and down hills (some relatively steep). The trail is, however, well-marked and maintained.
Difficult Trails In South Carolina
For those experienced hikers who frequently hike difficult routes, South Carolina has an array of challenging hikes, which include:
1. Pinnacle Mountain Trail
- Route distance: 8.4 miles, with a 2336 foot incline
- Route duration: 4 hours 57 minutes
- Route type: out and back
- Route description: Located in Table Rock State Park, close to Cleveland. This route is most popular with hikers, trail runners, and bird watchers/nature enthusiasts.
The route is also dog friendly, provided they are on a lead.
This route is one of the most challenging hikes due to its steep terrain and high physical requirements to reach the top of Pinnacle Mountain.
Some features of this hike include small waterfalls, spectacular views, a nature center at the start of the hike with important information, Bald Rock Outlook providing views of the Table Rock Mountains, and wildlife viewing.
Starting with a gentle incline on a paved road following a creek. Pools and small waterfalls are accessible. Once the trail starts, be on the lookout for some eroded areas that make progress tricky. There are also several switchbacks.
Unfortunately, once you reach the top of the mountain, your view is obstructed by the forest occurring there.
2. Raven Cliff Falls And Dismal Trail Loop
- Route distance: 8.8 miles, with a 2241 foot incline
- Route duration: 5 hours 3 minutes
- Route type: loop
- Route description: Located in Caesars Head State Park, close to Cleveland. This trail is popular with hikers and nature enthusiasts.
Some of the highlighted features of this route include waterfalls, access to caves, wildlife, and wildflower viewing.
Although dogs are allowed on this trail, it is not recommended because it features ladders and steep rock faces. These steep slopes make this route challenging overall.
A benefit of this route is that it joins with the Gum Gap trail, Naturaland Trust trail, and Dismal trail to create the extended version. You can, however, shorten the route by excluding some trails.
Some spectacular views along Mathews Creek and even a suspension bridge crossing, with some added switchbacks for fun.
There are several rock scramble areas and other obstacles to navigate, increasing the difficulty of this route.
3. Foothills Trail Through Hike
- Route distance: 71.5 miles, with a 13661-foot incline.
- Route duration: Multiple days
- Route type: Point to Point.
- Route description: Located in the Oconee State Park, close to Mountain Rest. This trail is not for the faint-hearted. There are numerous activities along this hike that appeal to various people.
Some activities include backpacking, camping, nature excursions, hiking, and trail running.
The recommended time to use this route is between March and November.
This incredible hiking trail features lakes, rivers, forests, waterfalls, gorges, wildflower and wildlife viewing, and mountains, to mention but a few.
This extensive hike’s bulk lies in the Sumter National Forest and Ellicott Rock Wilderness areas and has a trailhead at Oconee State Park and Table Rock State Park.
The one condition for this hike is that you come prepared. Failure to do so could have severe consequences. Many wilderness areas are isolated from access routes.
That said, there are also several exit points along the route if you run into issues.
The Longest Trail In South Carolina
For true hiking enthusiasts, South Carolina does not disappoint. The longest hike in the state is the Palmetto Trail. Currently, this hike comprises 26 sections, which form a trail of 350 miles.
This route passes through many state parks and wildlife areas across South Carolina and consists of mountains, valleys, forests, rocky outcrops, rivers, gorges, lakes, and many other features.
This hike is for the truly bold. There are even plans to further extend the distance to 500 miles.
Important Things To Note When Hiking In South Carolina
As with hiking in most areas, South Carolina hikes require preparation.
The Correct Clothing
- Hiking boots and appropriate socks
- Long light trousers
- Dressing in layers
- Wear clothing that removes moisture from your body (to stay dry)
- Rainwear (be prepared for all inevitables)
- A hat and sunscreen
What To Bring On A Hike
The most important thing to bring is enough water. A minimum of 0.5 gallons for shorter hikes and up to 1 gallon for longer hikes.
Bringing energy bars, fruit, and trail mix are also wise for energy along the way.
Try and always have a GPS of sorts. Most modern cell phones come equipped with maps and GPS trackers, but you need to consider battery life. At the least, bring a compass and map.
Important Safety Advice
- Never walk alone and have a “Check-In” Person
- Plan According To The Weather
- Be prepared
With around 400 trails, hiking in South Carolina caters to everybody’s needs and levels of experience, whether you’re a beginner or advanced, a trail runner, or a nature enthusiast. Many of these trails are based in state parks and showcase the diversity of habitats in South Carolina. There is no excuse not to get out and explore with so many options.