Our state parks near Travelers Rest are well loved and do bring in folks to the outdoors from around the region. Yet, as we have pointed out before on TravelersRestHere, some of the real unique natural locations are a bit more hidden from view. Thanks to a national movement that was led by some from South Carolina, our Heritage Preserves set aside land with unique natural features in the form of flora, fauna and geology that have been pushed a bit aside in our modern world. Previously we have highlighted preserves like Ashmore Bridge and Bald Rock and the Blue Wall Preserve.
North of Tigerville is one of the larger preserves in this region that contains some of the largest stands of native wildflowers and untouched forests: Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve.
Named for a mountain within the preserve, it is now nearly 2,200 acres of land set aside for passive protection. For comparison’s sake, that is about 1.5 times the size of Paris Mountain State Park. While not many people visit this property, it is easily visible from Travelers Rest. It may be one of the best wildflower hikes you can take in our region, especially during the main early spring blooming season.
Tucked in off Highway 11, the preserve is on the eastern end of where our foothills rise up sharply to the Blue Ridge. From the small parking area, with space for about two dozen cars, the well marked trail head begins. The nearly three mile trail to the South Pacolet River begins for about a mile through relatively flat land. You can tell the hallmarks of a clear cut from a previous owner. The monoculture pine trees and soil erosion are evident. After crossing the Green Creek, though, the land changes dramatically. Hardwood trees of oak, maple and sweat gum tower, rock outcroppings loom over the trail and thousands of native wildflower plants line the path.
You should see native blackberries, bloodroot, toadstool trillium, white irisette and Rhododendron, and mountain laurel in their seasons in large and abundant and healthy numbers.
The trail will rise about 400 feet over about a mile or so, and then head down Squirrel Mountain. Descending the trail, you will see Chestnut Ridge and Hogback Mountain across the valley. Once you descend into the valley floor, you will finally come to the South Pacolet river, a large creek at this point. You can continue on, and cross the river at some shallow points. The trail will end, but old forest logging roads will lead to waterfalls, quite large rock outcroppings and some open meadow like areas of exposed rock and shallow soil.
Most of the preserve was never logged on a large scale, other than the opening part of the trail, so the land is quite healthy. SC DNR does allow hunting in some areas in their seasons. (See SCDNR for more details.)
Returning to the parking area can either be done the way you came on the main trail, or by a logging road, with the advantage that the road is a more gradual descent. The total trail time can be done in about 2.5 to 3 hours and out and back is about 6 miles of moderately strenuous activity.
Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve is a natural treasure of our nearby hills and it is a walk well worth your time.
Directions From TR: Go north on US 25 to State Highway 11. Follow SC 11 east, past the Cliffs at Glassy development; go left (northeast) onto Oak Grove Road. The preserve has frontage along Oak Grove and a parking area is easily found on your left. The only public access to the property is via Oak Grove Road.