Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve
Greenville County, SC
Sunday, March 18th, 2012
In my opinion, the Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve is one of the greatest spring wildflower hikes in the Carolinas. Add in several waterfalls and a trailhead that is only about 30 minutes from my house makes this one of my favorite hiking destinations!
Andy, Christy, Brenda, Johnny, and I decided to meet at the trailhead at 9:30am. My plan was to leave the house a little early to take advantage of some early morning photo opportunities.
I figured the peach blossoms should be close to peak bloom so I had hoped Johnny would tip me off to the location where he took these photos. Unfortunately it turns out that this peach orchard has recently been chopped down. However, Johnny agreed to meet me early to show me some other peach orchards near the Chestnut Ridge trailhead.
The weather did not cooperate. It was pouring down rain when I met Johnny at 8:30am, so we spent about a half our checking the weather radar and playing with our I-Phones. Eventually we made our way towards the peach orchard, but the rain did not let up. Plus, it was a few days too early for peak bloom.
I did attempt a couple of low light, one handed shots (my other hand was holding the umbrella), but they all came out lousy and are not worth posting. However, at least now I know the location, so I can make another attempt in the future.
It was still raining when we met the rest of the group at the trailhead, but it was definitely letting up, so the five of us (plus two dogs) hit the trail. The rain made things much colder than we were expecting, but I assured the group that the sun would be shining once we hit the waterfalls.
The first mile is a very easy stroll through the woods with just a few minor ups and downs. We kept up a quick pace to get our bodies warmed up. With all the rain, we were a bit worried about the river crossing we would come to later, but the small stream alongside this section of trail gave us a good indication that water flow was still fairly normal.
The second mile of trail climbs about 400 feet of elevation through a forest popping with wildflowers. This section of trail has the largest display of Bloodroot and Toadshade Trillium that I have ever seen in one place.
Bloodroot blooming under some Toadshade Trillium
The trails crests at a gap with a 5-way intersection offering up some alternate hike options. After a quick break, we stuck with the main trail straight ahead.
The third mile descends about 400-feet to the South Pacolet River. While not as many as the climb up, there was still a good display of wildflowers along this section of trail. The main trail officially ends at the river making for a 3-mile (6-mile round trip) hike.
However, across the river is a forest service road offering opportunities to extend the hike which is what we planned to do.
Despite the morning rain, the river was still low enough to easily rock hop across. The only one that had an y issues was Kona, who had never done a major river or creek crossing before. After a bit of coercing from the group, Kona eventually made his way across.
Kona's First River Crossing
We connected with the forest service road across the river and hiked to the west a short distance to where a small tributary flows under the road. Just upstream is a nice low flow waterfall called Moonshiners Falls. Years ago, this area was the full of illegal moonshining activity which is how this waterfall got its name.
Moonshiners Falls is not the most scenic or photogenic of all waterfalls, and my earlier prediction about the sun being shining once we reach the waterfalls proved correct making conditions for waterfalls photography even worse.
However, it wasn't a total lost cause as the base of Moonshiners Falls was full of wildflowers including my first Jack-in-the-Pulpit sighting of the season!
After a short break at Moonshiners Falls, we continued west on the Forest Service road to the next tributary stream. A mild bushwhack upstream takes you to an impressive cave which you can either crawl through or find your way around to the base of Cave Falls!
Since our last visit to Cave Falls, several huge dead Hemlocks have fallen making any photography from the base futile. A difficult scramble up the right side of the waterfall led to one of the only descent vantage points.
Johnny, Brenda, and I decided to continue the bushwhack upstream . Except for several more fallen Hemlocks, the forest is fairly open, however the bushwhack is very steep!
Bushwhacking up to Upper Cave Falls
Navigating around dead hemlocks sent us father away from the creek and when we eventually made our way back to the creek we were at the base of a waterfall I did not recognize.
We were further upstream than on our last visit. Since Upper Upper Cave Falls sounds kind of silly, Johnny decided to name this one Brenda Falls, since Brenda was with us on this discovery.
Brenda at Brenda Falls
After a short photography break, I made my way downstream a bit to the next drop which we call Upper Cave Falls. This one would be really nice if the deadfall ever gets cleared out, but with all the Hemlocks dying, deadfall will be an issue in this area for years to come!
Upper Cave Falls
Back at base camp (the cave at cave falls), I took a quick snack break with Christy and the dogs while waiting for the others to come back down.
Just downstream from Cave Falls, a steep scramble takes you to Lower Cave Falls, the 4th significant drop on this tributary stream.
Lower Cave Falls
At this point the group was a bit scattered about, but we would eventually all meet back up downstream where the tributary crosses the forest service road. While waiting for some of the others to arrive, I spent some time playing with and photographing the two dogs!
Kona and Boone
From there we hiked back the way we came. I had switched over to my Macro Lens and decided to focus on the wildflowers for the hike back to the trailhead.
Bloodroot Bloom Close-up
Except for the rainy morning it was a beautiful day to be outside!
The complete set of photos is posted here: