Blue Ridge Foothills, South Carolina

The endless potential for bicycle overnights in the foothills of South Carolina had been running through my head for a while. It was difficult to pare down the options for a three-day, two-night trip. There are opportunities to explore waterfalls, fly-fish mountain creeks, find hidden hikes, taste wine (or moonshine), paddle kayaks, and build campfires, all easily accessible by bicycle. Go state park hopping or explore the national forest? Travel on gravel or stick to pavement? Enjoy the views from the bottom or climb to the top?

I settled on a general route that could take advantage of a number of state parks for camping, a scenic highway with a bike lane, destinations spaced for a leisurely pace, and a bunch of plan-Bs in case I wanted to switch things up. I had some maps and a general direction in mind. There are enough options up here that a specific route is not really necessary.

The fall colors were somewhere around their peak and the weather forecast was spot on. I started the trip in the small foothills town of Travelers Rest, connected to Greenville by a rails-to-trails project called the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  I rolled through town and then west, off of the trail, through the Piedmont's rolling hills toward lakes Keowee and Jocassee. Two potential state park destinations were in mind. Depending on how my legs felt, I would continue to Devil’s Fork State Park on Jocassee. If the foothills were working their way in to my legs, I would stop at Keowee-Toxaway State Park

The morning’s ride toward the west had me running into a few other cyclists. I chatted with one guy who asked where I was headed, and he told me he was a backpacker who had considered combining his love for cycling with camping. I encouraged him to do so.

The backroads zigged and zagged me down to stream crossings and along stream valleys where pockets of agriculture exposed the red and gold hills surrounding me. Here and there, the Blue Ridge Escarpment peaked through a valley that opened to the north, allowing a glimpse of where I was headed. At Pumpkintown, a detour took me north toward the escarpment sooner than expected. Turns out the detour had my best interest in mind. I rolled up to Table Rock State Park right at lunch. I sat in a rocking chair at the ranger station staring at the Blue Ridge and the sheer rock faces of Table Rock Mountain rising a couple thousand feet above me. I ate some cheese and salami and nuts and a Snickers and all the other high-calorie foods you can eat when you’re out riding your bike.

Eventually, I overcame my lethargy and pedaled again to the west. I noticed a sign for a roadside park that I must have missed ten times while driving the same road in the past, and I pulled in for a quick stop. The park gives access to a beautiful bedrock creek that would have made another fine spot to have lunch. I was bummed to happen upon a couple whose car had been broken into a few minutes before I rolled in. It’s a shame that the dirty part of humanity seems to exist everywhere you go. Their couple's outlook, however frustrated they were, was positive given their circumstances.

I rolled around the corner from the park and found myself staring up a hill I didn’t really feel like wrestling. It was necessary, nonetheless, so I slowly cranked my way up to find another just like it on the other side, at which point I probably cussed once or twice. I made my mind up to stop at the nearer state park for the day. Keowee-Toxaway is often overlooked because it sits between two more popular parks. That made for an empty weekday campground, a long talk with the ranger on duty, and a nice stroll down a trail to the lake before building a fire, eating, and getting some sleep.

The next morning was the wonderful kind of cold. I got some coffee and oatmeal in me, and felt good. The ranger had recommended a quick hike to get my legs moving in the morning. I took his advice and walked the Natural Bridge trail with coffee in hand. I returned and quickly packed my bike; with some rearranging of the gear, it felt more balanced than it had the day before. The day’s destination was back east with a more northerly heading, toward one of my favorite state parks.

With fewer miles to cover, there was room for exploring some back roads. Feeling a little tired from the day before, I made a few extra food stops: once at a kiosk at the entrance to the vast and rugged Jocassee Gorges area, and again at Wildcat Falls. The final six miles from the scenic highway to Jones Gap State Park is such a great spin. It meanders along the Middle Saluda River Valley, crossing the river several times, with awesome views as you ride to the toe of the Blue Ridge. A sharp ninety degree turn with the river toward the west pointed me to the mouth of the gorge and an area called the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. The boulders in the river got larger and the mountains closed in around me. 

In the park, a short scramble with my bike up a hillside trail led me to my campsite. I set up, spent some time sitting next to the river, gathered wood for a fire, and decided to make my way back down the road with an unloaded bike, with the sun lower on the horizon casting soft light on the autumn mountains. Another 4 miles or so back I found cell service and gave my wife a quick call to wish her goodnight, and soaked up the fantastic ride back to the park for the second time that afternoon.

The night was once again wonderfully cold and pleasant under the stars. The coming of morning is a long and dramatic process in the bottom of a gorge. I watched the sun creep down the mountainside until it finally reached down and warmed the river, and me.

Back on my bike and out of the gorge, I headed toward a country store at the beginning of this road that I figured would have some coffee. My stove fuel had been spent the night before, so I couldn’t make my own. A gentleman born and raised right there in the shadow of the Blue Ridge served me some coffee and a warm sausage biscuit. He spit his tobacco and talked of running sugar from the store to the folks who made liquor in the area. A good chat with some locals and I was back down the road toward my car.

A couple of back road hours and a few wrong turns later, I was in Travelers Rest again. I decided on an iced coffee from a nice creperie and coffeehouse followed by a beer and pizza next door, before heading back to the car.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: So many options exist for putting together a trip in this area. Great state parks offer comfortable camping options and other things to see and do, like waterfalls, creeks, hikes, etc. If it's a weekend during the peak seasons, you might want to make a reservation. Tandem has great crepes and coffee in Travelers Rest. 

Favorite local bike shop: Sunrift Adventures in Travelers Rest could outfit the whole trip; it's a great camping gear and bike shop. TTR Bikes in Greenville specializes in touring, tandem, and recumbent bikes and 'people powered fun.' Both shops are adjacent to the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

5 responses so far ↓

anniebikes - Nov 17, 2014 at 8:27 AM

It sounds like a splendid trip. So glad to find others who enjoy rambling, photographing, pedaling, and camping.

Susan - Nov 17, 2014 at 1:42 PM

This really makes me want to go on a little trip. Wonderful photos too!

bob - Nov 19, 2014 at 2:26 PM

thanks for the nicely written story of your great cycling adventure 1 swell pix ! what brand bags you use for trip? what bike you rode? yay bar end shifters !..........bob

Tanner - Nov 19, 2014 at 3:13 PM

Hi Bob, thanks for the compliments. It was indeed a nice little adventure. The only bike specific bag is the Revelate Designs Tangle frame bag. Sleeping bag strapped under handlebars and the bag on the rack is a Watershed dry bag. I had a day pack backpack as well.

Frame/fork is Bianchi Volpe, though kind of a frankenbike. When the STI shifters broke I replaced with bar ends and like them very much.

Dimas - Feb 17, 2015 at 12:42 AM

Super Ride, Looks doable in a weekend too! The wife and I come up from Chucktown allot. We will have to add this as a spring "to-do" for a three day getaway. You forgot to add the growler stop at Swamp Rabbit Brewery and tap room. See you on the trail...

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