- Posted November 11, 2013 by
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The Perfect Time to Chase Fall Coast to Coast
Where else can you see alligators and share a porch with a 350 pound Black Bear, all the while climbing from 0 to 3400 feet above sea level in the same week?
Sunny real estate that is still warm at sunset is prime right now along the southern coast, as night time temperatures begin to dip to the 50’s, 40’s and even occasionally into the 30’s. Abundant coastal wildlife competes for those rare places among glimpses of red and gold in trees scattered among sea grasses, evergreens and palms in coastal South Carolina.
In an Inlet south of Myrtle Beach, a well-fed alligator displaced a resident Great Blue Heron from its favorite hunting spot to garner the last rays of the warm sun before bedding down for the night. The Heron remained close to his little island but kept a watchful eye on the alligator sleeping off his dinner. And the smaller ‘gator circling close behind.
Luckily, Fall comes later to this part of the country, so after enjoying all the natural wonders the coast offers, avid Leaf Peepers can extend the season by heading toward the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and northwestern South Carolina.
As you make your way from the coast at 0' above sea level up I-26 through Columbia, South Carolina you’ll discover the vibrant scarlets of Sumac, Red Maples, and Virginia Creeper as you travel inland to the “Midlands” and ultimately to the mountains at 3400 feet!
A heavy spattering of deep green pines line the interstates, and stately trees that have already shed their leaves stand tall with their light colored trunks glittering in the sun and engulfed in the golds and ambers of beautiful surrounding foliage.
For the ultimate in Fall nature adventures, cross over Interstate 85 to “Upstate“ South Carolina. Route 85 spans the northern part of the state from coast to coast and is a popular interstate, but a better choice for Leaf Peeping is Route 11, also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway where Fall is beginning to peak now. It‘s name, “Foothills” is very apropos, as you view the majestic mountains in the distance. “Scenic” however, is extremely understated.
The historic route traverses Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee Counties to offer more opportunities to veer off this beaten path for nearby hiking, cycling, fishing, sightseeing, and birding than you can ever imagine from behind your desk, or behind the wheel.
Its easy drive and the close proximity of recreational activities make it the perfect place and time for an impromptu excursion taking you back to nature to soothe your soul and rev up your psyche.
A narrow Bike Path and mountain views add to the allure of Rte 11 where a cluster of 14 state parks practically line your drive in the northwestern portion of the state, with another 11 state parks nearby and easily accessible from Routes #28 and #76 in the northwestern corner bordering North Carolina.
Even though you are enjoying the wilds of South Carolina, Route 11 is dotted with Mom and Pops, General Stores, and visitor centers to refresh snacks and water for the hiking trails before taking the windy and scenic roads into the parks and your Fall adventure.
Once inside the parks, breathtaking Fall nature views abound, but grocery stores and restaurants do not in the Upstate parks, so stop at a major city along the way before you reach Route 11 to stock up on major provisions and if you plan to stay a few days.
Most of the parks offer lodging that ranges from primitive camping to comfortable and upscale lodge rooms overlooking a lake, and historic B&Bs and Inns are nestled in the Cherokee foothills along Rte 11.
To culminate your Fall adventure, go south and stop by Hickory Knob State Resort Park in McCormick, SC for overnights before heading back to the coast for one more glimpse of coastal wildlife, abundant seafood restaurants and family fun. Historic Guillebeau (pronounced gill-a-boe), House offers a unique overnight with porch rockers, and two bedrooms that sleep four.
The championship Golf Course, camping, boating, fishing, skeet shooting, tennis and archery are popular choices for tourists along with opportunities 71,000-acre Strom Thurmond Lake offers in the park. Even locals frequent the restaurant there on weekends for the $9.95 buffet featuring southern cookin’ and then take on one of the 3 hiking and biking trails to burn off the southern fried chicken and fresh cobblers served at the restaurant.
Hickory Knob is on the Georgia border, due west of Columbia, SC and you can expect the leaves to peak there in the next week, depending on Mother Nature. Temperatures are predicted to be 70 degrees on Veterans Day and the clear days feel warm in the Carolina sun. Night time temps dip quickly though, and snow is predicted for Tuesday night in the North Carolina mountains, so don’t put off your Fall fun here for much longer.
The lodge rooms at Hickory Knob compare to a moderate hotel room with the same amenities, microwave and fridge, and rooms numbered in the 300s and 400s have lake views and private balconies. They now range from $59.95-$69.95, depending on location.
If you've never stayed in a state park, this Fall could be the perfect time, and South Carolina the perfect place for your new and unique nature adventure.
Must Haves and Must Dos:
The diversity of state parks in South Carolina is never ending, with some offering trails; some offering only camping; and some offering nature centers and guided tours. Lodging also ranges from primitive camping to RV spots, to rustic lodges or lakeside villas with fireplaces and all the comforts of home. Visit SouthCarolinaParks.com or call 803-734-0156 for information.
Always ask if there are special packages, which may only be available online or at the central accommodations number, and double check to see if there is a minimum night’s stay.
If the view from atop Sassafras Mountain between Table Rock State Park and Lake Jocassee doesn’t quench your zeal for Fall vistas, zip line adventures, kayaking, and whitewater rafting is available in Oconee county, 16 miles west of Westminster, SC. Visit www.wildwaterinfo.com to make reservations if overnights in a yurt and zip lines beckon to complete your Fall adventures.
To maximize your experience bring your camera, and snacks and water for long hikes and drives off the beaten path.
Keep your schedule as flexible as possible, to allow for impromptu side trips and staying an extra day in a newly discovered must-do spot.
I found “Waterfalls of the South Carolina Upcountry” an excellent guide to the majority of waterfalls, and it's available at most park offices in the uplands and at welcome centers.
Layer up for outdoor adventures. After leaving a balmy 73 degrees 3,000 feet below at the base of the mountain at Caesars Head State Park, I was surprised when temps plummeted quickly to a chilly 48 degrees at its crest at sunset.
Check your brakes, fluids, and tires before embarking on your trip. Hairpin turns propel you through the vibrant bursts of color you seek in the parks and up the mountains, so good brakes are a must.
I discovered many opportunities for boating and cycling along the way for a spur of the moment boating or cycling spree.
Oconee County Parks, Recreation & Tourism publishes a very helpful “Visitors Guide” with a map that’s available free at may state parks and visitor’s centers. Visit www.ExperienceOconee.com for more information.
I found trail maps at most state park offices and visitor centers. Most are free.
“Official Guide to SOUTH CAROLINA State Parks” is available for $2 at some state park offices and gives an overview of all 47 parks, with very brief descriptions, the accommodations, GPS coordinates, contact info and things to do in each park.
AAA books list some of the parks, very few waterfalls and other must see points you’ll discover along the way but is an excellent resource for SC’s larger cities enroute and the listings for lodging and gas stations.