Jumping Off Rock

Mike at Jumping Off Rock
Thursday the 9th I met up with Brian O. for an expedition into the SC mountains. The goal was Jumping Off Rock, a cliff with an impressive view of Lake Jocassee. It was featured recently in South Carolina Wildlife magazine (a good article, but that magazine could really use some maps for all its field trips…currently they just give all the directions in text).

On our way to the mountains, we made a brief stop at the Hagood Mill, a “living history” type museum where you can buy grits and flour actually made from the water-powered mill. They also have some petroglyphs there but they weren’t yet ready for display.

The Jocassee vista lies nine miles from Highway 178 across the rough dirt-and-gravel Horsepasture Road. We left the asphalt and headed into the hills. Soon we passed the trailhead for Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve, site of an incomplete hiking attempt from 2004. I plan to hike that trail again someday but this wasn’t the day.

We passed an open gate along the road. To limit the stress on wildlife, the road is open only September 15 to January 1, and March 20 to May 10. You can still go on foot/bikes/horseback when the gates are closed, but you’ll be in for a workout, as it’s a 12-mile round trip.

At eight miles from the highway we reached the “North Carolina Overlook,” a clear spot in the foliage with a view north. It wasn’t obvious where the border was, but we could see a long way across the valley to the mountains on the other side. White spots dotted the landscape in the distance and they became houses through binoculars.

Crossing Laurel Fork Creek
At a dusty intersection, we took a detour onto Dawkins Flat Road. There was no road sign (nor did we see any other roads labeled), but that’s the name according to the magazine. Dawkins Flat Road is not flat, as it leaves the ridge and descends down to Laurel Fork Creek. At the bottom of the hill we came upon the creek and a permanent campsite. We saw bits of gear at the site but it otherwise looked temporarily unoccupied. The main road continued across the creek, so Brian took the opportunity to drive through the water while I photographed the action.

The Foothills Trail runs through the area, and we followed it along the creek looking for Laurel Fork Falls. There is a nice camping area near the top of the falls, but it offered no view. We backtracked and followed the trail. A sign indicated a view of the falls was nearby, but all we could find was a small hole in the foliage. We could see the falls but it was not worth photographing through. Apparently the best way to see the falls is by water anyway. We decided we had other priorities and hiked back to the truck.

On the way back to the ridge we passed a logging loader at the side of the road in a seemingly difficult-to-access place. I stopped to take a picture and unexpectedly kicked a Georgia license plate out of the leaf litter. It had expired in 1999.

We got back to the Horsepasture Road and continued on. Soon we passed another campsite that had some occupants. Then we came upon an open field which is used for helicopter access. Too bad we didn’t have a chopper; it would make the trip much faster! Finally we arrived at the destination…Jumping Off Rock.

Jumping Off Rock
Various trails leave the parking area and lead to the cliff. We selected one at random and it turned out to be what was likely the best spot. The trees gave way to bare rock which provided a impressive view and a steep drop-off. No guard rails or protection of any kind are there to hamper the view. I definitely wouldn’t bring kids to run around up there. Google Earth lists the ridge at 2,030 feet and the lake at 1,170 feet, and a lot of that 860 ft. decrease is right there at the cliff.

The view was great and totally worth the bumpy ride. The cliff was the perfect lunch spot. We watched a few tiny boats cruise almost silently across the lake. We spotted a lone kayaker on the part of the lake closest to us; he was small even through the binoculars. After lunch I spent some time photographing the scenery. The light could have been better, but I guess gives me an excuse to come back.

We took a different road off the mountain. Cane Creek Road didn’t offer much in the way of scenery. We passed an area where they were actively logging. I’m not sure what the protection status is for this land, so the logging was probably OK. We got stuck behind an 18-wheeler hauling logs off the hill. It was surprising to see a big truck like that on the rough roads. Eventually we got to a wide spot where he let us pass.

The sun was starting to get low but we decided to make one last stop. We headed for Twin Falls and eventually found the right road. It’s only a short hike from the parking area to the falls, and they certainly were beautiful. But once again we arrived at a poor time for photography; most of the falls were in the shade, but the top was brightly lit by the sun. I got some OK shots but it’s another place I want to revisit.

A long day of riding in the truck, but worth it!

See the full photo album.