Well, these places aren’t really secret but they do tend to be relatively unknown to most folks. As a test, here are 3 questions:
- What is the name of the state park at Lake Jocassee?
- Where is Keowee-Toxaway State Park?
- What exactly is Long Shoals?
The answers can be found up along a short stretch of the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, better known locally as “Highway 11.”
Checking these out doesn’t just have to be an educational quest. It can be something to do on a summer’s day, something fun, something outside, something the kids will thoroughly enjoy.
Load up the kids with their bathing suits; bring the dog; pack a picnic basket. Each facility has a picnic area so you can eat regardless of which area you’re in at lunch time.
Start at Devil’s Fork State Park. Hike the Oconee Bell Trail. It is about a mile with a couple of creeks, 3 small waterfalls, a pond, and, in the spring, plenty of wild flowers. If you’re lucky enough to be there in late March, early April, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing the rare Oconee Bells in bloom.
Lots of other things to do, too. Check out the Visitor’s Center; swim in Lake Jocassee, rent a kayak and paddle around. It is a beautiful place.
Once you’re ready to move on, jump in your car and head back to Highway 11 for a run of about 6 miles to Keowee-Toxaway State Park. One of our lesser known parks, it is home to the Jocassee Gorges Visitor Center and a couple of trails. The one you are interested in is Natural Bridge Trail.
A little more than a mile, it takes you through some very pretty forest terrain then along Poe Creek where you’ll find a number of small waterfalls. One key to this trail is to take the left fork of the loop about 100 yards from the trailhead. This will make the loop a little less strenuous by going down the steepest part of the trail and coming back out on a gentler slope.
Back at the trailhead, be sure to stop in the Visitor Center and check out the 3-D topographic map of the area and with the other displays and resources. This is also a good place to pick up waterfall and hiking reference books and maps.
Back in the car, it is a short, 2-mile ride up Highway 11 to Long Shoals Wayside Park, a place you’ve probably driven by many times and did not know it was there. The kids will want to play on this 200-yard long water feature. There are slides to scoot down, holes to swim in, and rocks to leap from. If your kids like to play in the water, save plenty of time for Long Shoals.
At the end of the day, you’ll have some secrets to share, secrets of the South Carolina mountains.