Planning a Trip to a Cove Forest in North and South Carolina

Oconee State Park

This popular Upcountry state park rests on a high plateau among tall pines and hardwoods in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Among the park's 1,165 acres are two mountain lakes and a variety of recreational facilities for visitors to enjoy, including campgrounds, cabins, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The park also serves as the western terminus for the 85-mile Foothills Trail, which crosses the state's crown and ends at Jones Gap State Park. Developed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Oconee State Park still features the craftsmanship of the CCC in preserved buildings and stonework.

Contact Information:
624 State Park Rd.
Mountain Rest, SC 29664
Phone: (864) 638-5353
Fax: (864) 638-8776

Sumter National Forest

Hiking trails in the portion of the Sumter National Forest found in South Carolina are long and extend through a variety of mountain habitats. The trail that extends from Ellicott Rock to SC Highway 28 exposes the hiker to every facet of the river environment: deep coves, rapids, and ridge lines. About 3.7 miles above Highway 28 bridge, the Chattooga Trail and Bartram Trail join to continue southward along the Chattooga River and across the West Branch. At Sandy Ford, the Bartram Trail branches off westward; the Chattooga Trail continues southward for 10 more miles, terminating at US Highway 76. The Foothills Trail runs between Spoonauger Falls and a point just north of Big Bend Falls, connecting at both points with the Chattooga Trail. This trail runs alongside the river at some points, and high above along the ridge crest at others.

Chattooga Wild and Scenic River
On May 10, 1974, Congress designated the Chattooga a Wild and Scenic River. The Chattooga River begins in mountainous North Carolina as small rivulets high on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains — the start of a 50-mile journey that ends at Lake Tugaloo between South Carolina and Georgia, dropping almost 1/2 mile in elevation. The river is one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in the Southeast. The setting is primitive; dense forests and undeveloped shorelines characterize the primitive nature of the area.

Ellicott Rock Wilderness
In 1975 Congress established the Ellicott Rock Wilderness which currently encompasses over 9000 acres. This wilderness is found at the junction of South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. The wilderness is located near the area that has the highest recorded rainfall in the eastern US. The wilderness straddles the 15,432 acre Chattooga River Wild and Scenic Corridor.

Contact Information:
Sumter National Forests 
4931 Broad River Rd. 
Columbia, SC 29212
Phone: (803) 561-4000

Andrew Pickens Ranger District
112 Andrew Pickens Circle
Mountain Rest, SC 29664
Phone: (864) 638-9568
Fax: (864) 638-2659
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Devils Fork State Park

Located along the southwestern shore of Lake Jocassee, this park provides outdoor recreation amid the beauty of the Blue Ridge at the Jocassee Gorges. Lakefront camping, hiking and picnicking are among some of the favorite activities, along with vacationing in the park's contemporary mountain villas. The park provides access to the cool deep waters of the Jocassee, where boaters drive to remote islands or sites of waterfalls spilling into the lake.

Contact Information:
161 Holcombe Cir.
Salem, SC 29676
Phone: (864) 944-2639

Keowee-Toxaway State Area

This 1,000-acre park features outstanding rock outcroppings and views of the Foothills and Blue Ridge Mountains. Rhododendron, mountain laurel and other mountain vegetation can be found along the streams in the park. A museum tells the story of the Cherokee Indians who once roamed this area and their relationship with the European settlers of South Carolina.

Contact Information:
108 Residence Dr.
Sunset, SC 29685
Phone: (864) 868-2605 

Table Rock State Park

Table Rock Mountain provides a towering backdrop for an Upcountry retreat at the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. This 3,083-acre state park encompasses challenging hiking trails, two park lakes, a campground, rustic mountain cabins, a restaurant, meeting facilities, and many other quality outdoor activities. The view at Table Rock is as breathtaking today as it was to the Cherokee Indians who once inhabited this area. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the park still features much of the quality architecture and stonework of the CCC. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a South Carolina Heritage Trust Site.

Contact Information:
158 E Ellison Ln.
Pickens, SC 29671
Phone: (864) 878-9813
Fax: (864) 878-9077

Caesars Head State Park

Caesars Head is an excellent park for nature enthusiasts and photographers. This park joins Jones Gap State Park and other natural areas to comprise the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. At 3,266 feet above sea level, Caesars Head provides a panoramic view of nearby valleys, Table Rock and Pinnacle mountains, and other distant peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Raven Cliff Falls, situated along one of the park's many hiking trails, is one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. Wildflowers bloom in profusion throughout the park, offering the visitor an ever-changing palette of colors in all seasons.

Contact Information:
8155 Greer Hwy.
Cleveland, SC 29635
Phone: (864) 836-6115
Fax: (864) 836-3081 

Jones Gap State Park

Trailside camping in one of South Carolina's most pristine wilderness areas in the Upcountry can be enjoyed at this 3,346-acre park. Located in the 10,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, this park encompasses the Middle Saluda River, designated the state's first scenic river. In addition, the park is an access point to the Foothills Hiking Trail. More than 400 species of flora, including rare and endangered plants and state record trees, are also found here. The park's Environmental Education Center offers nature exhibits and a lab area. Portions of the old Cleveland Fish Hatchery have been restored and are stocked with trout for observation only.

Contact Information:
303 Jones Gap Rd.
Marietta, SC 29661
Phone: (864) 836-3647
Fax: (864) 836-3647 

Heritage Preserves

More information about the following locations can be found by contacting the Heritage Trust Program:

Heritage Trust Program
S.C. Department of Natural Resources
PO Box 167
Columbia, SC 29202
(803) 734-3893

Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

The 1,669-acre Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve bears the name of a prominent mountain within its boundaries. That mountain harbors the white irisette (Sisyrinchium dichotomum), a perennial designated as federally endangered. The plant has leaves that appear as forked blades; its flowers are diminutive pale white flowers. The plants grow in rich basic or neutral soils. The property varies from early successional forest, left from clearcutting by the previous owner, to mature upland and cove hardwoods. Numerous rock outcrops jut out of the rugged mountains, which are separated by the upper South Pacolet River. The river is creek-like in its dimensions within the property.

Ashmore Heritage Preserve

The preserve features a natural bog, which creates a favorable habitat for rare plants and other species, such as ferns, mountain laurel and rhododendron. In the autumn, hardwoods’ turning leaves are spectacular. A rare plant, piedmont ragwort, grows on a granitic outcrop and the fire-dependent turkeybeard, on the special concern list, grows on two of the pine-dominated ridges. In addition to the flora, two animals on the state's list of special concern species live there: the green salamander and the state-endangered Rafinesque's big-eared bat. Wood rats, deer, black bear, turkey, squirrels, a few ruffed grouse, and all kinds of birds, including wood ducks, also make this their home. For more information, call (864) 654-6738, ext. 15

Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve

A half-mile trail forms a loop, passing through a Virginia pine-hardwood community into a hardwood site and a large granitic outcrop. A stream flows from a flat floodplain and tumbles down the granite outcrop. The trail follows the creek up the floodplain where Southern lady, New York and Christmas ferns form dense patches. Many spring wildflowers can be seen along this portion of trail. The preserve protects several rare plant species, some of which include Grass-of-Parnasuss (blooms in late fall), Indian paintbrush, and thousand-leaf groundsel. For more information, call (864) 654-6738, ext. 15

Eastatoe Creek

This steep mountain gorge features an old-growth hemlock forest, a rainbow trout stream and rare ferns that are maintained by the creek's moist spray in the narrows. For more information, call (864) 654-6738, ext. 15, or (864) 654-1671, ext. 21

Laurel Fork

This mountain property features an old-growth hemlock forest, streams that contain rainbow trout and rare plant species. It is bisected by the Foothills Trail. For more information, call (864) 654-6738, ext. 15, or (864) 654-1671, ext. 21

Watson-Cooper Heritage Preserve

The 1707.6-acre Watson-Cooper Heritage Preserve is part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness and Recreation Area (MBWRA). The purpose of the MBWRA is to link the watersheds of Table Rock Reservoir and Poinsette Reservoir with an unbroken chain of undeveloped mountain land. The Foothills Trail, which goes through the preserve, begins in the western part of the state, in the Andrew Pickens District of the Sumter National Forest, and goes east through parts of the MBWRA. Julian Creek and Matthews Creek, two native brook trout streams, are here. They are two of the few mountain streams in South Carolina that have a population of brook trout, the state's only native trout species. This preserve has the only montane bog habitat in South Carolina.

The state’s only population of swamp pink (Helonias bullata) occurs in this habitat. (Swamp pink is a threatened species.) Other rare plants that grow there include climbing fern (Lygodium palmatum) and painted trillium (Trillium undulatum). At least six other rare and significant plants occur on the preserve. For more information call (864) 654-6738, ext. 15

More in this Series

SC LIFE / The Cove Forest