A twisting river falls over worn granite. The trail climbs quickly. Feel your calf muscles tighten as you pick up the pace in anticipation. Savor every view – as you climb rock face overlooking, it seems, the entire Palmetto State.
Get ready: Table Rock State Park, in South Carolina, is a very popular weekend spot – about two-and-a-half hours by car from Columbia. The park is located near Pickens, 30 minutes from Greenville. It will come up in your GPS and once you get close, it’s easy enough to follow the placards along the state highway. If you don’t bring cash for the $5/adult entrance fee, the gatekeeper will send you across the road to the main visitor’s center where you can pay with a card.
Get set: Once you pay your entry fee, the park’s main road will lead you to the parking area and trailhead, passing campsites and cabins along the way. Stop to marvel at the gorgeous view of Table Rock (which you’ll soon be standing on top of). Once you park, cross the road, sign the trail ledger (just to be safe) and take a final bathroom break in the Nature Center, then hop to it.
Go: Start up the paved path, passing a popular swimming spot in the warmer months. You have an option to go left, for the summit of Pinnacle Mountain (the highest peak solely in SC) or right, for the summit of Table Rock (which this guide is for!). The pavement ends shortly after – you’ll start climbing through the trees along a soft, dirt trail. Follow the red blazes, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation. Your eyes will be feasting on flora and fauna typical of the Southern Appalachians – hemlock, pines, rhododendron and phlox. Don’t let the scurry up a small stack of boulders have you thinking the end is near – you’ll need to cross the length of the top of the mountain to get to the stunning view that awaits you on the exposed granite beyond the treeline. On your way down, stop at the waterfalls just prior to refresh your sore feet.
Effort: The hike is 3.6 miles one way. If you’re in good shape, the climb will get your heart pumping and put your muscles to the test. Whenever I do this hike, I see all kinds of hikers – YOU can do this. You’re going to have to work for the view, but trust me when I say, it’s MORE than worth it.
Takeaway: This is a fabulous Saturday hike, but it’s a popular one. Get there as early as possible to get ahead of the crowds, otherwise, you’ll find yourself passing group after group (‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’). Fill a bladder, pack a lunch (our go-to is an Ingle’s sub, apples, Chex Mix…and a hard cider or two) and take an hour to soak in the views at the top, before descending (we like to leap our way down).