Parson's Mountain Hike

Parson's Mountain Fire Tower
Thursday I decided to get out and hike some more in preparation for an April backpacking trip to the Smokies. The nearest trail with any elevation is at Parson’s Mountain, south of Abbeville, South Carolina. It’s supposedly 400 feet over 1.4 miles.

I’ve hiked in the area before, and each time I go, the lake campground entrance is closed. So I drove up the hill on Forest Service Road 515 and parked where the trail crosses the road. It’s not ideal as it puts you in the middle of the whole trail, but I figured I could climb to the top of the mountain and then walk down to the lake.

The weather was overcast and cool (low 50s) when I started walking around 11 am. Not far from the road is a set of fences on the side of the hill. The fences surround large holes dug straight into the rock, efforts at starting a gold mine in the 19th or early 20th century. They aren’t much to look at, but a couple are pretty deep, so the fences are probably a good idea.

I continued up the rocky slope and soon was at the peak. It’s not a tall mountain at 832 feet, but it’s the tallest spot in the area and you can see the low horizon in all directions (at least where you can see through the trees). Perched at the top is an old fire tower. These were used to keep watch for forest fires. It is a small wooden shack atop a metal frame. You reach the shack via a winding staircase. If I recall, the first time I hiked up there maybe five years ago, you could climb up the stairs as high as the bottom of the shack, but you couldn’t go in. The creaky stairs, rickety tower and a nice breeze made climbing a daring experience. Now they have a fence around the bottom of the tower and a stern warning not to enter. I wonder why the change of heart?

I doddled at the top and took a few pictures, then began my descent. It wasn’t long before I was passing the gold mines and back by my car at the road. The top of the mountain had been sort of wintry…no wildflowers blooming and only a few buds on trees. But on the low side of the road was a beautiful wild azalea, blooming pink and white. I began the trail down from the road.

Green and Gold
The early wildflowers picked up as I walked down the trail. Bird’s foot violets (Viola pedata) were the most common. I passed through a large area of dead and fallen trees, and here I saw several small patches of “green and gold” (Chrysogonum virginianum var. australe). One nice thing about hiking non-loop trails is that you can survey the trail on the first pass, then slow down for photography on the way back, assuming the daylight behaves.

I spooked several deer out of a hollow and they bounded up the opposite hill. Most of the other animals must have spent the day tucked out of sight and staying warm, as all I saw were a pair of eastern phoebes, two noisy geese at the lake, and a lethargic anole hiding in the grass.

Eventually I arrived at the fork that creates the loop trail that surrounds Parson’s Lake. I elected to go right, which would take me to the boat ramp side of the lake first. On my right there was a small pond with a pair of eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) next to a branch trail, blooming with light purple flowers. I stayed with the main path and it wasn’t long until I was at the parking area and campground. A Forest Service truck was in the picnic area, and I wondered if they would run me off for being in the closed campground. But the guys in the truck were a grounds keeping crew dozing on their lunch hour. They didn’t seem to care that I was there.

Parson's Lake
I paused at the picnic shelter area to read the information signs. One was amusing, proclaiming Parson’s Mountain to be the highest point in the general area. Not a terribly impressive distinction! A pair of geese honked loudly at me for most of my walk around the lake. Perhaps they were telling me to get out of the closed campground. Whatever it was, I was glad to leave them behind and reenter the woods.

The second half of the loop trail followed lower ground and much of the trail was near a creek. Here I found several rue anemones (Thalictrum thalictroides), blooming white. The creek was flowing nicely and made for more pleasant background music than the geese. Eventually my hike took me back up to the trail fork, where I began my climb up the hill. I stopped at the places I figured the wildflowers to be the best and took photos. I also stumbled upon a new flower, round-lobed liverleaf (Hepatica americana), barely poking out of the leaf litter.

I continued up the hill and was glad to find my car undisturbed on the forest road. It was a good hike, but it might be better in April when the foliage has had more of a chance to get into spring.

See the photo album

More Trail Info (PDF)