Sunday, September 15, 2013

Overnight Loop on the Foothills, Winding Stair, and Big Bend Trails

Wanting to explore two trails that link to the Foothills Trail in South Carolina, I devised a 16.4 mile loop for a solo overnight on the Foothills Trail, Winding Stair Trail, and Big Bend Trails.  After section hiking the 77-mile Foothills Trail, I've been hiking all the spurs and side trails that connect to the Foothills because I love the area so much.  This loop turned out to be a very scenic, easy route with four impressive waterfalls and several unnamed smaller falls.  Even the roadwalk had a small waterfall!
Unnamed cascades along the Winding Stair Trail.
I parked at the Foothills Trail access at Cheohee Road (FS 710) right off SC 107.  If I were to do it again, parking at Nicholson Ford would have been safer, but this gave me a shorter drive.  The loop began with a 2.5 mile roadwalk down FS 710.  It was pleasant walking with views through the trees and diverse fall flowers. 

Winding Stair Trail (3.5 miles) headed up into the forest on the left after crossing Crane Creek over a bridge.  The parking area was unmarked but the trail itself was signed and adequately blazed.  This hidden gem is mostly used by dayhikers (i.e. no campsites evident).  Broad switchbacks wound gently up the hillside so the 1000 foot elevation gain was effortless.   Paths to two waterfalls required steep scrambles down rhododendron thickets, with much ducking required for tall people.  Miuka Falls was an impressive 70-foot cascade and Secret Falls was smaller but picturesque.  

After crossing SC 107, Big Bend Trail led 2.7 miles to the Chattooga River Trail/Foothills Trail.  It passed through really pretty forest, typical for the Chattooga River area, with large trees, doghobble lined streams, and mountain laurel.  Pine-needle cushioned trail made for easy walking. 
Pinesap lacks chlorophyll and gets its carbon by parasitizing fungi associated with pine trees.
Giant pines on the Big Bend Trail
Off the Foothills Trail, steep social trails through rhododendron tangles crisscrossed the riverbank overlooking Big Bend Falls.  You could feel the ground rumbling as the powerful Chattooga River thundered through narrow canyon.  I never did get a good photo, but believe me it's worth seeing (and hearing!).
Camping along the Chattooga River.
I set up camp on a sandy beach north of Rock Gorge along the Chattooga River.  After being focused on hiking and the trail, I finally had some time to think.  It was a tough week at work- I received the unexpected news that the funding for my job is ending sooner than I'd been previously told, and I'd been feeling very unsettled the past few days.  Thankfully, watching the sun set and the moon rise above the hills over the river was quite restorative.

The Chattooga River is one of those really special places for me.  I feel so at home in the forests through which it flows.  Its large evergreen trees, rhododendrons and ferns remind me of the forest of my childhood in Oregon.  I have made so many memories of trips on the trails that intersect the Chattooga- the Foothills, Bartram, and Chattooga River Trail.  It's tough thinking about leaving this place and all the friends I've made here, but it's also exciting to dream about what I'll do next. 

I woke early to hike the few miles to my car on the Foothills Trail, passing yet another falls.  It was a short trip, but exactly what I needed.
Lick Log Falls on the Foothills Trail.
For more information:

Tim Homan's Hiking Trial of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness and Chattooga River.

Trails Illustrated #778 Brasstown Bald and Chattooga River


  1. Aww, I'm sad for you if you have to leave your hiking area.

    But, maybe you could turn this into an opportunity for a thru-hike?

  2. Still trying to figure out a plan, but that's definitely a possibility.

  3. Joan...found your blog from a Trail Dames newsletter. I was the one that you bought the Big Agnes tent from several years ago...maybe 5 or so! Sorry to hear about your job ending, but maybe something better will come along. A friend and I are going to backpack the Foothills Trail the middle of Oct. Looking forward to seeing all the waterfalls. I've heard its beautiful. We were hoping to stash some food half way so we don't have to carry so much food. Since you've hiked the whole trail do you have any tips for us?
    Maybe our paths will cross sometime on a trail somewhere. Its so hard to find other women to backpack with. I have a friend that lives in AL. We have done a couple trips together. She's doing the Foothills Trail with me.
    I really enjoyed your blog. I plan to check it out more thoroughly.
    Happy trails...Virginia

  4. I'm so sorry to hear about your job, I do hope it all works out well for you! Looks like you are doing a great job of enjoying the area while you are still around. I loved to see the photos from the JMT and hiawassee area, thats one of my favorite places!