Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Side Trails off the Foothills Trail, Part 1

Ever since I finished my hike of the Foothills Trail last year, I've been wanting to do the Foothills Spur as well as two side trails that form a loop with the Foothill Trail through Gorges State Park.  So I did a rather unusual configuration this Labor Day weekend to backpack all these trails.  My friend Still Waters give me a shuttle the first day, and then we drove to a different trailhead for the second night.  The extra driving was worthwhile because these side trails provided opportunities for exploring and adventure, and also had exceptional solitude.

Foothills Spur: Caesars Head to Sassafras Mountain (14.2 miles)

The first day my friend Still Waters drove me to Caesars Head State Park.  The Foothills Spur shares tread here with the Raven Cliff Falls Trail and the Gum Gap Trail, which had been closed when we'd visited the park a few weeks ago.
Starting out in fog on gentle trail.
After the first few miles, the Foothills spur follows a series of old roads, some of which I was delighted to learn were built in the 1930's by the CCC.  Often rocky, these roads made for difficult hiking and much time was spent looking around for rather sparse or worn blazes and consulting the map.
Warning sign say to stay on blazed trails to avoid getting lost.
The trail passes through the Watson-Cooper Heritage Preserve, which has the only montane bog in South Carolina, and harbors several rare plants.  An old book gave rough directions to the bog which involved unmarked/ unmaintained trails that I wanted to check out so I can go back next spring when the swamp pink are in bloom. I got totally wet and covered in mud from stooping under rhododendron thickets and tromping around in the bushes.  What fun, though I wished I'd only been carrying a daypack instead of my backpacking pack.  I was also really happy too not to get lost after passing those warning signs.  
Not very rare, but still pretty yellow fringed orchid at Watson-Cooper Heritage Preserve
Venturing down an unmarked side trail provided the most spectacular view of the day.  From the summit of Bursted Rock Mountain (3219 feet), an expansive rocky outcrop opened up to the south for a view of what I think must be Table Rock.  I stumbled upon this by veering south off the Foothills Spur (less than a mile east of Dolves Mountain) and following the orange blazes marking the NC/SC border for about a quart of a mile strait up the mountain.  Not sure how many people know about this place because it was really overgrown.
Rocky expanse on Bursted Rock Mountain.
View from Bursted Rock (though the geological marker said "Bursting Rock").
The view from Dolves Mountain was much easier to find- it was right on the trail- but not quite as impressive. 
Looking north from Dolves Mountain.
When the trail finally turned into the woods onto singletract path, the terrain got very steep, though I was relieved for the soft trail.  This switchback-free trail following spine of mountain along NC/SC border all the way up to Sassafras Mountain (3553 feet), the highest point in South Carolina.
Big steps up.
I met Still Waters up at the summit, and we watched bats swoop across the sky as the sun set. 
Watching the sunset from Sassafras Mountain.

Stay tuned for Part 2...

For more info on the Foothills Spur Trail:

     Meanderthals Trip Report here.

     Foothills Trail Map.

     Johnny Molloy's Long Trails of the Southeast.


  1. Wow, some spectacular views on this hike! Those log steps look treacherous. I'm usually more leery of built in steps.

  2. Yes, the views were awesome! The built in steps seemed to be more of a hindrance, and were covered in slippery mossy. But I guess they help to prevent erosion. Wish they could figure out how to make switchbacks instead. :)

  3. Another great report. I have been looking for a trip report or YouTube video if this section of trail for some time. I would have hiked this last week in a trip from Jones Gap to Table Rock State Park but Hurricane Matthew forced us to delay for 3 weeks.


  4. I am planning to do this hike as a keyswap soon. I see this article was written over 3 years ago but can anyone tell me the elevation gain/loss walking from Caesars Head to Sassafras. I've read from Sassafras to CH it is 4300 ft.

  5. I am planning to do this hike as a keyswap soon. I see this article was written over 3 years ago but can anyone tell me the elevation gain/loss walking from Caesars Head to Sassafras. I've read from Sassafras to CH it is 4300 ft.

  6. Hey Tipsey Tripper,
    I did this last October (2016).
    I'll check my GPS data and give you specifics but the short of it is, Caesars Head is nearly as high as Sassafras Mtn. There are ups and downs along the way and a really steep climb for the last mile up to Sassafras. We started at Jones Gap and hiked up to CH and then over to Sassafras, over 2 nights and 3 days.
    Water is a scarce commodity on this hike. We passed dry creek bed after dry creek bed and ran out of water at the end of day two and again, before we reached Sassafras. I have marked water sources on my GPS tracks if that is of interest to you but there was no water for the last 10 miles. If I did it again, I would hike the other direction.


  7. The elevation at the Raven Cliff parking lot is 3000 ft. Sassafras Mtn. is 3550. However there are 4 steep climbs of a few hundred feet up and down. The last .8 miles you will climb from 2900 to 3550.