Take a Hike: Five Great Places to Go Hiking in the Upstate

The Upstate is an outdoor lover's paradise with abundant trails, waterfalls, lakes and mountains. And while it may not seem like it, February is an ideal time to get outdoors. Spring allergies haven't quite hit, the weather is still cool and the views are even better through the leaf-bare tree limbs. From waterfalls to mountains, here are five easy hikes the whole family can enjoy.

Cedar Falls Park

In the 1800's, Native Americans used the rock shoals at Cedar Falls as a hunting campsite and a way to cross the Reedy River The shoals were also used to power local mills and in the 1820's to generateelectrical power. With reminisces of a small Niagara Falls, the Reedy River widens to over 200-feet here, with water cascading over numerous rocks and boulders. Today it's a little-known, local swimming hole, but that's about to change as the park just received a $2.7 million makeover thanks to funds left over from the cleanup effort of a 1996 oil spill, the largest ever in South Carolina, which dumped more than one million gallons of diesel fuel into the Reedy River. Cedar Falls is maintained by the Greenville County Recreation District and will eventually include canoe launches, picnic shelters and a fishing pier. There's a nice partially paved hiking trail already open that runs alongside the waterfall and dam and then along the Reedy River. More trails will be opening in the near future. For a complete list of trails, click here.

How to get there:  Located at 201 Cedar Falls Road in Fountain Inn.  Take I-385 to Hwy 418 and turn right.  Turn left on Fork Shoals Road and then makes another left on McKelvey Road.  Take a right onto Cedar Falls Road and look for it on the left. 

Lake Conestee Nature Park

This 400-acre park has paved and natural surface pathways with several of the trails traversing through a wetland area. Boardwalks are built over water covered areas and there is a pedestrian bridge over the Reedy River. There are also observation decks for wildlife viewing. The park is a great place for bird watching and has even been designated an Important Bird Area of Global Significance by the National Audubon Society. Over 170 different species of birds live here including blue herons, loons, egrets, hawks and vultures. The area is also considered the southern hub of the Swamp Rabbit Trail and will eventually be connected with it. For more information about Lake Conestee, click here!

How to get there: There are several different parking areas to reach the trailheads. The main entrance is located at 840 Mauldin Road at the former Municipal Stadium, across from the FedEx building. Other trailhead locations are: 701 Fork Shoals Road (directly behind the fire station), 601 Fork Shoals Road (at White Horse Road), Henderson Avenue at the junction of Meadors Avenue and One Spanco Drive (just past the Conestee Mill).

Paris Mountain State Park

Paris Mountain is easily one of Greenville's greatest assets. The close proximately to downtown Greenville makes this 1,540-acre park a nice family getaway, a place for a Sunday afternoon picnic or even in the summer, as an after work retreat. The park was originally built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and there are several hiking trails to choose from. Take the 1.2 mile loop around Lake Placid that is an easy walk or go a little further into the park to Picnic Area Number 6 and follow the Sulphur Springs Trail. This one is a 3.5 mile loop that can get at little steep at times but it's a great hike as it leads past an old dam and water tower on the shores of Mountain Lake. The Brissy Ridge trail offers a challenging hike with great mountain views, especially in the winter months, and is easily accessible. The park also has picnic tables, canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals and a swimming area. Need more information? Click here!

How to get there: 2401 State Park Road, Greenville. From I-385: Take exit #40 onto N. Pleasantburg Rd (Hwy 291) for approximately 4 miles. Take a right on Piney Mountain Rd. Go to the 1st light and turn left. Park is 2 miles ahead on the left.

Wildcat Branch Falls

A popular local spot for those heading to Table Rock State Park or Caesars Head State Park, Wildcat Branch Falls is one of the smaller waterfalls in South Carolina but what lacks in size (it's only about 30-feet high), it makes up for in fury. There are actually three waterfalls here and all are fed by Wildcat Branch Creek, one the South Saluda River tributaries. Once visitors step out of their car and approach the first of the falls, the sound of the highway evaporates and all that can be heard is the rush of the water falling over the rocks. The first two waterfalls are close to the highway and with no real signage (just follow the trail), most visitors don't even realize that they can take a moderate 1.0 mile loop trail and see the remains of a house built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and another, taller waterfall.

How to get there: Take Highway 276 until it turns into Highway 11 and then drive about half a mile to a pullout on the right side of the road. There are no signs, but when the weather is nice it can be found by the vendors selling hot boiled peanuts.

Table Rock State Park

The location just off State Highway 11 makes Table Rock State Park easy to get to from most of the Upstate and the views of Table Rock Mountain are spectacular. While Table Rock has numerous hiking trails, a favorite is the Carrick Creek Trail. The trail begins at the Nature Center, across the road from Lake Oolenoy. And, while this trail is only a 1.9 mile loop, it is challenging with sometimes steep elevation changes and several creek crossings.  It follows along Carrick Creek for a good portion of the trail and you'll pass by several waterfalls as well as crossing over the creek many times. It's heavily forested and local wildlife such as black bears, deer, turkeys and bobcats have been spotted. Table Rock also offers camping, fishing, boating, picnicking and swimming. Find their complete website here.

How to get there: From Greenville, take Highway 276 to SC 11 and head west about 6.6 miles. There is a visitors center on the left but the trail heads are all to the right. You will see a sign that says Table Rock State Park West Entrance. From I-26: Take SC-Exit 5 onto Hwy 11 towards Campobello. All trailheads begin at the Nature Center and there is a large parking area directly across the road.

These are just a few of the many great trails we have here in the Upstate of South Carolina. So take a hike; you'll be glad you did.

Sherry Jackson is a freelance writer, editor and entrepreneur. Her articles have been featured in InfoWorld Magazine,Entrepreneur.com, USA Today, Blue Ridge Country, Jetsetter, Bootsnall, Gadling, Yahoo, See the South, Beckett Media, The Simpsonville Sentinel and many other print and online publications. For clips and examples of her work, please visit her website at www.dragonflyventures.com