Foothills Trail, SC/NC

Bella and I decided to tackle the Foothills Trail earlier this month – a 77 mile trail along the border of North and South Carolina. According to Backpacker Magazine, it is one of the top long trails in the US. I have hiked a few sections around the Laurel Fork and Whitewater regions, but most of the trail was unchartered territory for me. Since I had some extra PTO this year, I decided I would complete the trail start to finish.

My original plan was to hike the trail in 5 days/4 nights, but after not getting in as much mileage as I would have liked the first two days, it turned into a 6 days/5 nights trip. If you do this trail, I will warn you that the trail is constantly going up/down so getting in lots of miles each day may not be as easy as some other trails (or maybe I am just not as in shape as I used to be?).

I went back and forth about whether to start at Oconee State Park and hike east, or start at Table Rock and hike west. I settled on Table Rock so I could get the worst of the climbing done on the first day. Here is an overview of my trip:

  • Day 1: Table Rock State Park to Rock Creek Camp (Miles 0.0 to 10.4, Daily mileage: 10.4 miles)
  • Day 2: Rock Creep Camp to Laurel Fork Falls Camp (Miles 10.4 to 22.6, Daily mileage: 12.2 miles)
  • Day 3: Laurel Fork Falls to Bear Creek Camp (Miles 22.6 to 38.7, Daily mileage: 16.1 miles)
  • Day 4: Bear Camp Creek to East Fork Camp (Miles 38.7 to 53.0, Daily mileage: 14.3 miles)
  • Day 5: East Fork Camp to Licklog Campsite (Miles 53.0 to 67.2, Daily mileage: 14.2 miles)
  • Day 6: Licklog to Oconee State Park (Miles 67.2 to 76.2, Daily mileage: 9 miles)

Day 1: Table Rock State Park to Rock Creek Camp (Miles 0.0 to 10.4, Daily mileage: 10.4 miles)

My mom dropped us off at Table Rock State Park around 10 am. It was chilly getting out of the car, but once we were hiking, we quickly warmed up and started shedding layers. I had expected to see more people along the trail, but it seemed like we were the only ones out there. The first mile follows Carrick Creek which has a few small cascades and water slides. The trail eventually departed the creek and started ascending to Pinnacle Mountain.

Near the summit to Pinnacle Mountain, the trail opens up to a large rock face with views to the south. What a view! We enjoyed a short rest before continuing on.

Pinnacle Overlook

Shortly after the rock face, the trail splits. The Foothills Trails turns to the left, while those wanting to summit Pinnacle Mountain keep heading up. I was glad to skip the summit – we had already climbed up about 1600 feet! The trail then passes another rock face known as the Drawbar Cliffs which look more to the west. We didn’t stay too long as we still had many miles ahead of us.

Drawbar Cliffs Overlook

We made it to the Lighthouse campsite around 1:30 pm (3.5 hours of hiking). We took the opportunity to have some lunch and review the map… at this point I realized we were not moving very fast and that we were probably not going to make it to the Chimney Top Gap campsite on Day 1 (we had only gone 5 miles and Chimney was still 8.1 miles away!). I figured we still had about 5 hours of sunlight so we could still get some miles in, but probably not 8.

We made it to the Cantrell Campsite around 4 pm. At this point we were exhausted and I was ready to setup camp, but I was also disappointed that we had only completed 8 miles for the day instead of the 13 I had planned. There was a nice gentleman there that was setting up his camp. He had completed the trail back in September and was quite familiar with the sections. He told us the 1.1 miles from Cantrell campsite to Sassafras Mountain was pretty flat compared to what we had already done so we decided to press on to Sassafras.

We reached the summit of Sassafras around 4:45. There is a nice viewing area at the top with a full 365 degree view (fun fact: it is the highest mountain in the state of South Carolina). The sun was getting low in the sky so I knew we needed to hurry to find a campsite (camping is not allowed at the Sassafras summit). My guidebook showed a campsite about ~.7 miles alway, but I wasn’t sure about water (at this point, we were getting low). If there was no water there, we would need to keep going. We made it to the Rock Creek campsite and found a tiny tiny stream. It wasn’t much, but it would do!

Day 2: Rock Creep Camp to Laurel Fork Falls Camp (Miles 10.4 to 22.6, Daily mileage: 12.2 miles)

We woke up fairly early and were able to hit the trail by 8:30. We made it across US 178 road crossing fairly early in the morning, but then things took a turn. The hike from US 178 to Virginia Hawkins was much tougher than I had anticipated. I am not sure if it was because we were still tired from the day before or what. We made it to Virginia Hawkins area around lunch time only to find that we had to take a detour around the falls because a fallen tree made the bridge above the falls impassable. The detour follows an old logging road and added extra mileage we had not anticipated, plus required some back tracking if you still wanted to go view the waterfall. We decided to skip the falls and not backtrack since I have seen it multiple times before (once with Daniel, and another time with just Bella).

We followed the creek down through Laurel Valley reaching the Laurel Fork campsite around 2:30. We were exhausted and my feet hurt so we decided to call it a day. The campsite was empty when we started setting up our tent, but 2 or 3 other groups of people arrived by night fall. The Laurel Fork area is a popular area for weekend hikers.

Day 3: Laurel Fork Falls to Bear Creek Camp (Miles 22.6 to 38.7, Daily mileage: 16.1 miles)

We once again got up early on Day 3 and were out of the campsite before any of our neighbors had awoken. We briefly stopped at the overlook of Laurel Fork Falls. If you ever visit the area, I would suggest coming in from the lake – only half of the falls is visible from the overlook. From Laurel Fork, we weaved in and out of a trail path and old logging roads. This section was not very exciting. What was also not very exciting was the climb up Heartbreak Ridge – so many steps! You climb up to the top of a ridge, only to come right back down. There must have been over a hundred steps!

At the bottom of Heartbreak Ridge (along the lake/Toxaway Creek) are some really cool campsites. We took a short break by the creek and I soaked my feet in the cold water. We then crossed the large suspension bridge that spans the Toxaway River as it spills into Lake Jocassee.

The trail follows the shores of the lake for a mile or so. It then starts to depart the lake and climb up… and up… and up. It seemed to go up forever (maybe we were just extra tired from Heartbreak Ridge?)! The rest of the day was not too exciting – mostly just walking along more logging roads. There were a few short “trail” sections, but not many.

We had a quick lunch at Bear Gap Campsite but then back to walking along a logging road. We did eventually drop back down into the valley for a short bit to cross the Horsepasture River, but then it was back to a logging road again. We did come across a sign for the halfway point – YAY! We made it halfway!

Not far after the halfway point is the Bear Camp Creek campsite where we stopped for the night. One thing I must say is that all of the campsites along the Foothills are quite nice – almost all have benches and proper fire pits.

Day 4: Bear Camp Creek to East Fork Camp (Miles 38.7 to 53.0, Daily mileage: 14.3 miles)

The first stop of Day 4 was Hilliard Falls.

Somewhere between Hilliard Falls and the Thompson River we spotted a mama bear and her two cubs in the distance. We made some noise and they quickly scurried away. I wish I could have gotten a photo!

Just past the Thompson River crossing we passed another hiker who warned us about a bad blow down near Whitewater Falls. He was not kidding! It was quite tough to get around with my pack, but we managed to squeeze through.

We took a quick break at Whitewater River to filter some water before our climb to the falls overlook. The climb to the top was not easy, but I had expected it to be tougher. We snapped a few quick photos of the falls and then continued on.

From Whitewater Falls, the trail crossed Whitewater Road where it continued to climb up. There are a few benches at the top where we had a snack and caught glimpses of Lake Jocassee down below.

The rest of the day the trail winded through the woods with glimpses of mountains in the distance. We called it a day at the East Fork Camp which is just past Sloan’s Bridge along the Chattooga River.

Day 5: East Fork Camp to Licklog Campsite (Miles 53.0 to 67.2, Daily mileage: 14.2 miles)

We followed the Chattooga River for the majority of Day 5. There were some really cool campsites along the river that I would love to come back and stay at one day.

We ended up setting up camp in a large campsite near Licklog Falls.

Day 6: Licklog to Oconee State Park (Miles 67.2 to 76.2, Daily mileage: 9 miles)

We woke up early on our final day of hiking. We skipped breakfast so we could get on the trail faster. It was just light enough out that we didn’t need a headlamp when we started hiking. The final ~9 miles went by pretty quick as it was almost all downhill. We made it Oconee State Park around 10 am. The only photo I got for the day was Bella in front of the sign staring at my car not far away. I think she was ready to go home ūüôā

We ended the hike with a stop in Cashiers where we stocked up on ice cream ūüôā

Glacier/Waterton, Part 3 – Crypt Lake

We didn’t have plans for Waterton other than to do some day hikes. Because of the nearby fires, there were only a few trails open so our options were very limited. The good news was that the trail to Crypt Lake was open. It was rated as one of the¬†Top¬†20 most thrilling hiking¬†trails¬†in the world by National Geographic so it seemed like a no brainer.

The Crypt Lake trailhead requires a ferry across Waterton Lake. The issue with taking a ferry is that everyone is starting the trail at the same time. We were behind ~20 people, and who knows how many more behind us. After a half mile or so, you have the option to take a side trail to some waterfalls. We were originally planning to do this on the way down from the lake, but decided it was better to do it at the start and get away from the crowds.

From the waterfalls, you hike through a forest eventually connecting back up with the main trail. There are a couple of other nice waterfalls along the river flowing through the valley below.

Once above the tree line, the trail starts to open up to nice a view.

As you get closer, the trail starts to narrow and gets very steep to the right. If you are afraid of heights, this is probably not going to be your favorite hike!

The narrow ledge that you hike along brings you to a tunnel which you must climb through.

On the other side of the tunnel, the trail begins to climb up. There is a chain anchored into the wall to assist with the climb. I can’t imagine trying to do this section without it!¬†

We finally reached the lake where we had a nice lunch and soaked in the sun.

We had some extra time on the way down so we stopped at one of the waterfalls we had hurried past on the way up.

While at the waterfall, we noticed the smoke from the fire across the lake had started to pick up. It eventually grew to cover the sun – very creepy!

We made it back to the main trailhead around 4 pm where we took the ferry back to the main dock. With the smoke becoming so intense, we decided to find a restaurant and hole up in inside. After dinner, the smell has decreased (or maybe we just used to it) so we headed back to camp.

Glacier/Waterton, Part 2 – Kayaking Swiftcurrent and Grinnell Glacier

Since our original trip had to be re-arranged, we ended up with an extra day before we needed to drive to Canada. We decided to grab some real food (aka not dehydrated), and then grab some beers and go kayaking on Swiftcurrent Lake.

After kayaking we got dinner and drinks at the Swiftcurrent Lodge. I was finally over my cold and treated myself to a yummy drink.

Since we did not have a campsite reservation for the night anymore, the park rangers allowed us to stay at the campsite with the PCT hikers (Pacific Crest Trail). We made a fire and hung out with them. Listening to their stories really makes me want to hike the AT or some long trail one day.

The next morning we joined the rest of the tourists and made the day hike to Grinnell Glacier.

After finishing the hike, we hopped in the car and headed to Waterton in Canada.

Glacier/Waterton, Part 1 – Many Glacier/Belly River

I am a little late to get this posted, but back in September my sister, her fiancee, and their friend joined me on a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. Our original plans ended up getting scrapped due to fires and bear activity. The park service did an awesome job re-routing us so we could still complete a multi-day trip. We ended up with a 3 night trip in the¬†Belly River / Many Glacier area. None of our days required a lot of hiking which was good for me as I was fighting off a cold ūüôĀ

We started our trip at the Chief Mountain/Belly River trailhead and hiked to the foot of Elizabeth Lake. From Elizabeth Lake, we hiked to the Bear Mountain overlook and then onto the head of Glenns Lake. The next morning we made a short trip up to Mokowanis Lake before going to our final campsite of Cosley Lake.

At the trailhead

We saw a moose within the first mile of starting our hike…

The first few miles were mostly walking through sections of forests which then opened up into big fields. We saw a black bear in one field, but he was too far off to get a good photo.

We made sure to report our bear siting at the ranger station

Shortly after, we reached Belly River where we had to cross a swinging bridge.

We followed the trail for awhile along the river.

We eventually came across a waterfall. I believe it is named Dawn Mist Falls?

We eventually made it to camp at Elizabeth Lake. We hung out beside the lake for a bit hoping for a good sunset, but didn’t see much. It was still a nice view.

The next morning we started our hike to Glenns Lake. We had to backtrack slightly so we got to see the waterfall again.

Instead of crossing the swinging bridge like we had the day before, we continued along the river until we came to Cosley Lake.

We had to take our shoes off to cross the creek at the lake. Brrrrrrr. It was a little chilly. We set one the rocks for a little bit after soaking in the sun and letting our feet dry off before putting our boots back on and continuing on.

Since Glenns Lake wasn’t much further and it wasn’t even lunch yet, we decided to take a detour to Bear Mountain Overlook and have lunch there. It is a bit of a climb up there, but the view makes it worth it.

Clouds started forming as we climbed down the mountain. Glenns Lake was only a few miles away, but had clouded over by the time we arrived.

The next morning we decided to leave our stuff at Glenns Lake and hike to¬†Mokowanis Lake. The sky was still very clouded over so we weren’t sure how much we would be able to see.

We ran into a deer along the trail – he seemed to be more interested in eating and completely ignored us.

From there we headed back to camp, grabbed our stuff, and headed to Cosley lake for our final night. I didn’t take many photos as most of our trail was backtracking from the day before.

At the end of the evening, we got to sit by Cosley lake and watch the last rays of sun hit the mountains. It was the best (and only) sunset we had the entire trip.

I believe Cosley Lake is also where we were awoken during the night to the bugle of an elk. And then some nice fog across the lake in the morning!

From Cosley Lake, we headed back to our original start – Chief Mountain/Belly River trailhead. We got an early start as we needed to find a campsite for the night (see note above about fires/bear activity) and knew that meant we had to get to the permit office early.

We passed a nice waterfall before joining back in with the original trail we came in on.

And then some supplies being brought in…