In the inaugural edition of Fresh Air Fridays, we visited Paris Mountain State Park as it is one of the most accessible parks in all of the Upstate and just a stone’s throw away from all the amenities multiple city centers have to offer. Today, though, I want to talk about a particular trail within the park, one that I neglected for too long but am now wearing down the soles of my boots upon once or twice a week. That trail is the Sulphur Springs Loop and I currently cannot get enough of it.
Fresh Air Friday: Sulfur Springs Loop
Tips To Breathe In
- Difficulty: Strenuous at times, easy as Sunday morning at others. Life is about balance, after all
- Price: $5 adults; $3.25 SC seniors (age 65 & older); $3/ child age 6-15; Free for children 5 and younger
- Wheelchair/Stroller Accessible?: Not so much
- Pet-friendly?: Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet. Owners will be asked to remove noisy or dangerous pets or pets that threaten or harass wildlife
- Parking: Yes
- Hours/Seasonal: Winter hours: 8 AM-6 PM, daily. Extended to 9 PM on Tu. 8 AM-9 PM, daily, during daylight saving time
- Nearby?: All the offerings of Downtown Greenville just 10 minutes away (or Travelers Rest 15 minutes, give or take)
- Amenities: Picnic areas, restrooms at the trailhead
- Fact 1: The South Carolina State Parks and SCTrails.net (both trusted resources of mine) list this trail as 3.6 miles long. However, my iPhone hiking app clocks us in at 4.1 miles every single time so I am going with that technological reading
- Fact 2: Mountain Lake is the result of a dam built in 1890 to serve as one of Greenville’s first water supplies. No longer a city used reservoir, the dam still stands tall and strong as a living relic of Upstate history
- Fact 3: Paris Mountain is named for Richard Pearis, an early settler who claimed around 150,000 acres of land through his Native American alliances before siding with the wrong team during the Revolutionary War. Loyalty has some advantages, however, and he lived out his days on a royal pension in the Bahamas, no longer welcome in the United States
Back to the Start
When my son was younger and just old enough to take out on a hike, Paris Mountain State Park’s Lake Placid was a perfect, less-than-a-mile stroll right just a stone’s throw from the entrance gate. When I hike solo at the park, I have always opted for the challenge and distance of the trails near the top of the park, those that would allow me to piece together five or six miles with some significant elevation change and a loop around the picturesque North Lake which is absolutely stunning in any season. Lost in the shuffle was the trail right in between all of this, the Sulphur Springs Loop, which I passed without consideration more times than I can count.
Like Father, Like Son
Now just past the midpoint of his 13th year, my son has begun to express an interest in hiking again, something that has waned in recent years, mostly in favor of video games and occasionally throwing the football with friends in the backyard. I do not know if he gave in to my constant requests to do something different or if he just got bored with all of the “nothing” we were doing together, but either way we decided to set out for the woods. Short hikes got longer with each adventure where we selected the Sulphur Springs Loop, merely because its advertised 3.6 miles seemed like the logical upgrade from the 2-2.5 mile hikes we were piecing together closer to the bottom of the park. I saw it as a mere pit stop on the way to longer adventures as we worked our way up the mountain.
I could not have been more mistaken.
Looking carefully at the map, I determined that from the parking area at Picnic Area #6, there were two ways to approach this trail. One involved a long series of switchbacks and a gentle incline over two-plus miles before a short but sharp descent back to our car. The alternative was to get all of the climbing out of the way right at the start and enjoy a leisurely stroll for the rest of the afternoon. I chose the latter and I do not recommend it.
It began easily enough as we hiked along a rhododendron-lined stream until we came to the foot of an old dam containing Mountain Lake. I knew things were going to get harder from here but by harder, I did not envision things like “staircases” and “is this was a heart attack feels like?” The hard part is short, really just over half a mile for the worst of it, but it is not for the unconditioned hiker. This hikers-only section of the trail is labeled “strenuous” but a more apt description would be “a walk in the park until you think you might die in the woods for a stretch”.
Follow up visits have assured me that the more enjoyable way is to elect for the slow and steady climb, starting with a long series of switchbacks through pine forests that gently guide you up the mountain. Eventually, the trail straightens out but at no point are you exerting too much energy as you make your ascent at a perfectly reasonable pace. This section of the trail is open to mountain bikers so be mindful of those on two wheels and be prepared to yield the right of way.
By this route, you will turn off on the hikers-only portion of the trail and you will want to step carefully as you make the steep descent. While not the gut-wrenching climb that it is on the way up, you need to use all of your available coordination to navigate the way down. One misstep or a slick rock might ruin your day if you start to get careless so watch your step.
Eventually, the descent flattens out and you reach Mountain Lake, somehow more rewarding from this vantage than when viewed early in the hike on the alternate route. I suspect it has to do with the blood flow and endorphins released after a few miles of effort that make everything seem brighter and more pleasurable but I am just a guy with hiking boots and hardly a scientist on such matters. Regardless, stop and take it all in for a moment as your time in the woods will be over soon and this is the place to reflect upon the miles you have just traversed.
The net result of all of this is a trail that is insanely accessible at roughly 10 minutes from Downtown Greenville. It is the perfect length at almost exactly four miles which is an ample time spent in the woods without feeling like you committed an entire day to it. My son and I clock in at around an hour and a half which makes it the perfect after-school adventure where we are still home before it gets dark and preventing my wife from yelling at us for being late to dinner.
If you do not want to hike all day but do want a trail that makes you feel like you earned that burger and beer without traveling too far from civilization, Sulphur Springs Loop is the trail for you. I overlooked it for too long and I beg you not to make the same mistake. Enjoy the hike.
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