|Table Rock State Park, South Carolina|
Pinnacle Mountain-Table Rock
|Highly Recommended One Day Hike|
|Table Rock Mountain derives its name from a Cherokee legend: that the Great Spirit used the flat, granite summit as a dinner table. This loop hike climbs to the top of both Pinnacle and Table Rock Mountains, passing on the way three magnificent overlooks.
From the Nature Center, follow the well-marked trail (paved initially) through the woods. Cross a couple of footbridges and at the trail junction head left, signed to Pinnacle Mountain. The trail through the trees is now unpaved, although still clearly defined, and is marked by green and yellow blazes painted intermittently on the trees.
20 minutes into the trail, the gradient gets a little steeper, and you reach another junction. The Carrick Creek nature loop heads right; you turn left signed to Pinnacle Mountain, the trail now marked by yellow blazes. Now you are away from the popular nature loop, you can expect the trail to be much quieter.
A steep climb up the forested hillside follows, with barely a turn in the path to ease the gradient. After 25 minutes the gradient lessens as you approach a rocky overhang, which you skirt to the left.
The path is generally easy underfoot as you continue heading through the trees, with just some exposed tree roots and the odd short section of boulders. A level section is welcome after the steep climb, and as you round the hillside there are glimpses of distant views through the trees to your left.
Soon you reach Mill Creek Falls, where a short, gradual climb leads to a narrow ladder bridge. Cross over and continue climbing alongside the tumbling creek. Fortunately, the climb is interspersed with level sections that makes the going a little easier.
At the next junction, 10 minutes after Mill Creek Falls, turn left for Pinnacle Mountain (the right turn is for Mill Pass, a short-cut route to Table Rock avoiding the climb up to Pinnacle Mountain summit, but which also misses the wonderful views at Bald Rock).
Another 15 minutes of climbing leads to Bald Rock Overlook, the first of three magnificent viewpoints on the hike. Haze permitting, there are far-reaching views on both sides over layers of forested hills, fading away into the distance. In October, the turning leaves transform the hillsides into a palette of yellows, reds and greens. Birds of prey catch the thermals and soar above the valley. This is a great place to rest for a while and enjoy the panorama – there are no more expansive views until Governors Rock, about a couple of hours away.
The trail continues through the trees, passing the Foothills Trail junction after 15 minutes and reaching the 3,425-ft summit (indicated by a small cairn and a survey marker) after another 15 minutes of steeper climbing. As is common with many of these tree-covered mountain summits, there are no views at the top.
Bear right to head down from the summit on the wooded trail connecting Pinnacle Mountain with Table Rock. This is a very tranquil part of the hike – on a busy October weekend, we didn’t pass another hiker. We picked our way through a natural quilt of autumn leaves, often completely covering the trail. However, we still found the trail to be obvious, and there are red blazes painted on the trees to confirm the way. In autumn, take the time to stop and look up – trees arch above you displaying a kaleidoscope of colors – reds, peaches, pinks, oranges, tans and yellows – to form a breathtaking canopy.
From Pinnacle Mountain summit, it is about an hour of generally easy descent, with some undulating sections, to Panther Gap junction. Here veer left for the second ascent of the day – another 400 ft or so to the summit of Table Rock.
A steep climb over large boulders and exposed tree roots takes you to the second viewpoint: Governors Rock (2,920 ft). The trail to Table Rock is a popular one, much busier than Pinnacle Mountain, but the view from Governors Rock more than compensates.
Another 20 minutes of undulating trail takes you to the summit of Table Rock (3,124 ft), which like Pinnacle Mountain is covered in trees and offers no views. But expansive views are not far away: continue along the trail and a 5-minute descent leads out to another large outcrop with an excellent view out to Caesars Head.
To return to the Nature Center car park, which takes around 1.5 hours, head back to Panther Gap and turn left. The descent is via a generally wide and well- defined track, with some log and rock steps. Just below Panther Gap, stop at a small rocky outcrop on the right for another fine vista.
Summary of viewpoints (times from trailhead):
Bald Rock Overlook – 1.5 hours
|Location: In the far north-west corner of South Carolina. Daily fee of $1.50 per person, or annual passport (valid for all South Carolina State Parks).
Directions: Table Rock State Park is on SC 11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. It is 22 miles west of Travelers Rest and 30 miles north-west of Greenville via US 276, and 12 miles north of Pickens via the 178.
Trailhead: At the Carrick Creek Interpretive Center (referred to as Nature Center on trail map and signs).
Length: 10.6 miles / 17.0 km
Trail Type: Loop
Elevation Change: 2,265 ft / 691 m
Duration: 6 hours
Trail Condition: Generally well maintained, although steep and rugged in places. Less populated trails are blazed – Pinnacle Mountain, yellow; connector trail, red.
Features: Mixed pine-hardwood forests, huge rock outcrops with expansive views.
Climate: Year-round trail, best in spring and autumn.
Accommodation: Cabins (7-night minimum stay in peak season), tent and RV sites (mainly first-come, first-served) inside the Park. Limited motel and B&B accommodation on SC 11 close to the Park. Some motels in Travelers Rest, plenty of choice in Greenville.
Trail Notes: Trail maps available at the Cherokee Foothills visitor center, opposite the Park on SC 11. Hikers are required to self-register at the trailhead before setting out. Beware of sheer drops from the outcrops.
Popularity: 14% [?]