Last Sunday we hiked to Virginia Hawkins Falls on the Foothills Trail (“FHT”) in South Carolina with Upstate Hiking. The group started out from the Laurel Valley parking lot off 178 (Rocky Bottom, SC) which can be reached via an approximately half mile (a guesstimate) one lane dirt road. There is lots of parking at Laurel Valley so no worries there. No restroom facilities.
The trail starts past the signboard on your right up a steep set of stairs and then makes its way westward. Horsepasture Road continues straight ahead. If you continued straight down Horsepasture Road you would quickly reach the trail on your left that goes to the Narrows, a very pretty waterfall, and a great place for spring wildflowers!
Footing is an issue on this section of the FHT as it is steep and narrow in places. I slipped on leaves several times (which would have resulted in a tumble down the hillside) so great care needs to be taken here. The winter views were beautiful and we were illuminated with bright sunlight for the duration of our trip. As usual, it seems I had brought too many coats and so had two hanging off my pack. (I’ve got to stop doing that.) We eventually arrived at Virginia Hawkins Falls, after crossing several small bridges and passing through a copse of green rhododendron. This twenty-five foot waterfall was renamed after a former executive secretary of the Foothills Trail Conference in 2004. It was known as Double Falls prior to that time.
After lunch and some photos (I didn’t take many all day), I decided we would just loop back around through the Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve and hook back up with the FHT via Horsepasture Road just for a change of scenery. Fork Creek Road (trail) can be found on the free Department of Natural Resources Map which you can pick up from the Jocassee Gorges Visitor Center off Highway 11 or some of the local outdoor stores may carry it. If you continue down the FHT you will run into a large campsite. Don’t cross the next bridge but rather walk through the campsite to an opening in the trees and you should run into this trail. Make a left (right goes to Laurel Fork Falls) going approximately east.
Instead of heading uphill at the marked turn to Horsepasture Road, we continued on to look for a scenic overlook which is marked on the map. Not sure if we found it but we did find a good view of what we think was Drawbar Cliffs in the distance which is also on the FHT. That’s a great place to stop and have lunch with nice views. My rough estimate is it is about 15 miles on the FHT from where we were.
As we stood in the middle of the road, a pickup truck came by and stopped. The driver had recognized me (even without my signature orange hat) and stopped to ask if we were lost! I replied no, we knew where we were (very funny! ha). You have to be able to take some ribbing out here.
After an uphill road climb, we finally looped back on the FHT and started our return trip to the Laurel Valley parking lot. At one point, we ran into a group of young men who seemed to be out for a stroll of sorts. Some of them did not seem to be particularly well prepared for hiking as I noted one was wearing what looked like rain boots but so it goes. They did share with me a photo they had taken of a small waterfall right off the trail which intrigued me but it had already been a long hike and I did not want to call the group back to take a look as I thought I might have a mutiny on my hands. I decided to save it for another day when we were fresh.We finally made it back to the parking lot after a very satisfying hike in the Jocassee Gorges.
If you stick to an in and out to Virginia Hawkins Falls on the FHT, the mileage is about 9.4. It’s rated moderate in the “Guide to the Foothills Trails.” I’d rate it strenuous for distance.