A hiking trail guide to a great trail in Gorges State Park. This short trail is great for the entire family, culminating in an observation deck with wonderful long range views of man-made and natural features.
This is a beautiful trail with a very long-range view...when it isn't cloudy!
Photo by John D. Wright
Note: Do not confuse this trail with Upper Bearwallow Falls Trail...the trailheads to both are in the same parking area.
From N.C.: Take U.S. Highway 64 to N.C. 281 South. Turn onto N.C. 281 South. Travel .9 miles from U.S. Highway 64 to Park Entrance.
From S.C.: Take S.C. Highway 11 to S.C. Highway 130 North. Turn onto 130 North. Travel 10.2 miles to the North Carolina State line. S.C. Highway 130 becomes N.C. 281. Travel 7.8 miles to Gorges State Park Entrance.
From Park Entrance: Travel one mile to the new visitor’s centre. Turn left just past the visitor’s centre onto an unnamed paved road. Travel .9 miles to the second and primary Bearwallow Picnic Area.
There are two picnic areas. The first, White Pine Picnic Area, encountered at .7 miles, is the smaller of the two. The larger picnic area at .9 miles has two trailheads, the Bearwallow Picnic Area Trailhead and the Upper Bearwallow Falls Trailhead, and bus parking. Due to the larger size of the area, the larger size of the parking lot, and the presence of signed trailheads, I am considering the second picnic area the primary area. The two picnic areas are visible from one another if the viewer is standing in the right place.
Blaze Markings: red metal triangles
Length: approximately .4 mile (approximately .9 there and back as the trail does not end at another trail or accessible location); exactly 2291 feet; park literature portrays the there-and-back length at 1 mile.
Difficulty: moderate; due to elevation change.
Rainy day glory on Bearwallow Valley Trail. Photo by John D. Wright
The Bearwallow Valley Trail is a nice short trail switch-backing its way up the mountainside to a nice overlook of the Bearwallow Valley. The name “Bearwallow” is a fairly common name in the mountains hearkening back to the days when things were being named. Black bears (Ursus americanus) are native to the area, and the wallows they make in soggy areas to cool off provide local colour to our maps.
Bearwallow Creek meanders into the northwestern portion of Gorges State Park heading downhill generally southeast until flowing into the Toxaway River. Due to the grade, there are a number of waterfalls on the waterway. Upper Bearwallow Falls, the four-tiered Paw-Paw Falls, Indian Camp Falls, and Lower Bearwallow Falls near the junction with the Toxaway River are some of the most impressive. Creeks generally provide the name for the surrounding valley. Thus, in typical fashion, Bearwallow Valley would be named for the creek traversing it.
I hiked this trail in a fine summer rain with my friend John Wright in July. The forest was shining in its wash, the air clear and clean and alive in the exclusive warm-weather way when the entire earth feels alive and growing. The trail moves through a nice laurel (Rhododendron maximum) slick near the beginning of the path. Some call slicks “hells,” but this appellation seems unsuitable for such a gentle day. We saw a couple of fungi along the way, one seeming rather unappetizing as some fungi do. We also encounter a toad mid-path who apparently wasn’t expecting human visitors on a day that so clearly belonged to his kind. He merrily hopped off the path and into the mould before we could get a photo.
The Bearwallow Valley Trail begins in the larger portion of the Bearwallow Picnic Area at the sidewalk approximately 10’ from the bathrooms. The trail climbs the small hill and enters the woods. For 365’, the Picnic Area Connector Trail (blazed with white triangles) and the Bearwallow Valley Trail overlap. At the 365’ mark, the Bearwallow Valley Trail breaks off from the Picnic Area Connector Trail. When I hiked the trail, the gravel ended after about 30 feet.
At 1314’, a set of steps has been provided, though I am not sure why. The trail continues to switchback for a short distance to the other end of the steps. Since park staff went to the effort to provide steps, I recommend using them. Steps are generally present in areas where a trail is too difficult to readily traverse without them (not the case here) or to minimize environmental impact.
At 1489’, the trail makes a sharp turn to the left. Another trail branches off this curve, creating a trail junction. The other trail is not blazed or signed, and it may be one of the trails Gorges currently has under development. The Bearwallow Valley Trail continues to be blazed with red triangles that are easy to see.
At 2291’, the trail ends at a nice viewing platform approximately 3200’ above sea level from which you can see a number of landmarks in the distance including Lake Jocassee and Lake Keowee. A viewfinder sign is provided on the platform. This platform is the Gorges Overlook. Do not confuse this overlook with the Bearwallow Valley Overlook, which is on the paved road to the southeast of this overlook. Both overlooks take advantage of extant power line cuts to provide a view. Though this makes sense, in a way, by reducing necessary labour to cut a new view, it results in the view being a grand panorama of some of the most rugged and beautiful mountains God created with a series of large metal high-voltage towers and power lines cutting through the centre of it. A hulking metal construct looms over the viewing platform, killing the natural wonder inherent to the area. A second sign on the platform explains the presence of the power lines and provides a brief history of the Park in relation to its ownership of Duke Energy and its transformation into a State Park.
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