When the weather cools, the days grow shorter, and the emerald green of the marsh grass dulls, our family hears the call of the mountains. We don’t have to travel far or even leave our beautiful state to trade ocean waves for mountain ridges and the earthy scent of pluff mud for crisp mountain air. The Blue Ridge Mountains cut through the northwest corner of South Carolina, and there are wonderous mountain vistas, waterfalls, pristine lakes and rivers, and charming towns within just a few hours of Charleston, all waiting to be explored. Come take a drive with our family as we share our favorite fall mountain getaways in South Carolina!
South Carolina’s Fall Mountain Getaways
Falling Waters Scenic Byway (SC-107)
Known as the loneliest road in South Carolina, Falling Waters Scenic Byway (SC-107) may also be one of the loveliest. Starting just north of Walhalla in Oconee County, this quiet road winds through Sumter National Forest for 13 miles to the North Carolina border. The drive offers up incredible vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, access to a natural spring, Oconee State Park, and a fish hatchery, and is dotted by waterfalls. Our family favorite is King Creek Falls, 70-foot falls reached by an easy 30-minute hike (perfect for kiddos) located just off Burrells Ford Road.
Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (SC-11)
One of the best ways to see the Upcountry, this highway starts at Lake Hartwell near the Georgia border and traces the Carolina foothills all the way to Gaffney. The route provides a launching point for much of the adventure and beauty this region offers. Scenic lakes, breathtaking mountain views, charming mountain towns, apple orchards, waterfalls, and state parks are all easily accessible via SC-11.
Here are some of our family’s favorite stops:
- Take Highway 76 to Long Creek to visit the apple country of Oconee. There are six orchards in Long Creek that offer U-pick and roadside stands.
- Highway 28 will take you to Walhalla, “South Carolina’s Main Street to the Mountains.” Walhalla offers a charming downtown with unique antique and coffee shops.
- Continue up Highway 28 to Stumphouse Park. This 440-acre park offers access to the Stumphouse Tunnel, a pre-Civil War tunnel built using hand tools, as well as Issaqueena Falls and Yellow Branch Falls. The damp, dark, and mysterious tunnel is a delight to kids, and both waterfalls are easily accessible via short hikes.
- Highway 107 from the byway will take you to Oconee State Park where you can hike Hidden Falls. Continuing to Highway 130 and going north will take you to Lower Whitewater Falls, the highest falls in eastern North America.
The granite outcroppings of the Blue Ridge Mountains give Caesars Head its name. The park provides dramatic, panoramic views of the sweeping mountain landscape in both North Carolina and Georgia. The park offers more than 60 miles of hiking trails and access to six waterfalls, one of which involves hiking a suspension bridge. From September through November, there is an active hawk watch at Caesars Head, providing an opportunity to see hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks in migration.
Devils Fork State Park
This gem of a state park is synonymous with Lake Jocassee, providing the only public access to the lake’s 7,565 acres of gin clear water. Lake Jocassee is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It offers excellent fishing, kayaking, swimming, and hiking opportunities to the four waterfalls which feed the lake. For an afternoon of fun, visit an outfitter to rent a pontoon or kayak. The park offers cabin rentals, tent camping, and even a boat-in campground.
The park is part of the 13,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness area and offers visitors over 60 miles of hiking trails, access to two waterfalls, and a beautiful, freshwater river. The park also boasts some of the best trout fishing in South Carolina.
The pinnacle (literally!) of this state park is at the end of Table Rock Trail. Table Rock Mountain, a 2,000-foot high imposing granite dome gives way to astounding, 360° views of the mountain panoramas. The park also has two lakes and a swimming hole, in addition to miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, cabin rentals, and campsites (some of which are directly on the water). Visit the park the second Saturday of the month from 2 pm to 6 pm for “Music on the Mountain,” a bluegrass program.
Restaurants, Vineyards and Roadside Stands
This pizza place described as a “hole in the forest” welcomes Chattooga River kayakers and rafters with delicious pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. They also have a neighboring coffee house and bakery. Our family stumbled upon this fun find after a Clemson game, and we loved dining al fresco on picnic tables under a canopy of trees while the kids played in the playground out back. We liked it so much that we came back the next day for breakfast. The bakery makes artisan breakfast sandwiches on homemade bagels.
This quirky roadside rest is an icon of SC-11. It contains numerous shops, a restaurant, an ice cream parlor, and a coffee house, and on Saturday nights offers dinner and a show described as “Southern Mountain Theater.”
For a taste of France in the Upcountry, add this stop to your itinerary. Sip on a European Vinifera wine as you sit on the chateau’s patio and overlook the Blue Ridge Mountains. Victoria Valley offers a winery with tastings, a gift shop, and a deli. Pick up a charcuterie plate and grab a seat outside to enjoy the view.
Another must-stop on SC-11, this rustic establishment in the shadow of Table Rock Mountain is a restaurant, gift shop, and ice cream parlor. Come for the seafood buffet on Friday night or the meat and veggie offering on Sunday afternoons. Either way, you won’t leave hungry or disappointed. Their motto is “God. Mountains. Goodness.”
Despite the name, fried chicken is the name of the game at this Walhalla restaurant that’s been serving locals and visitors alike since 1973. They claim to have the best-fried chicken in South Carolina, but we’ll leave that to you to decide.
How to See It
One of the special things about the above itinerary is the opportunity to squeeze these highlights into a weekend. For all its beauty and natural wonder, this corner of the world is navigable over the course of a couple of days. Nothing is too far apart. The challenge will be deciding where to stop, what to do, and what to eat.
Catch the Color
If you’re interested in catching the fall foliage, check out this link before you plan your trip.