The Road Less Traveled:
Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway - HWY 11
If You Only Have 60 Seconds…
- SC Highway 11 is a 120-mile route that offers a calming reprieve from the hustle and bustle of interstate 85
- Highway 11 is a nature-lovers dream with plenty of hiking opportunities along the way
- The route is dotted with an array of small towns that are worth exploring
With breathtaking views and history worth learning, Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, also known as S.C. Highway 11, winds its way across the northwest corner of the state, offering travelers a slowed-down, often-overlooked alternative to Interstate 85. These are truly some of the most scenic places to see in South Carolina.
With the southernmost peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains serving as a backdrop, the nearly 120-mile route takes you through peach orchards and past parks, lakes, waterfalls, and roadside farm stands. Getting from one end to the other allows for the opportunity to experience quaint towns like Walhalla and Chesnee, that shouldn’t be missed.
The two-lane roadway originally used by the Cherokee Indians, as well as English and French fur traders, extends from the Georgia line to Gaffney, just below the North Carolina line. The route is brimming with places to stop and sights to see.
The southern terminus, at Exit 1 on I-85 near the South Carolina-Georgia border, is notably marked by Lake Hartwell State Park. One of many state parks along the byway, it provides access to 56,000-acre Lake Hartwell and serves as the gateway to South Carolinas mountain country.
Driving north from Lake Hartwell, motorists pass by the towns of Westminster, home of the South Carolina Apple Festival and the Mayberry Days Festival. Next, travelers will come to Walhalla, known as the Garden of the Gods. Filled with Southern charm, along with antique shops, unique stores and great places to eat, Walhalla presents a pleasant diversion from life’s worries.
One Upstate gem, Keowee-Toxaway State Park, is located on S.C. 11, a couple of miles past the bridge over Lake Keowee. In addition to providing hiking and camping opportunities, the park serves as the gateway to the 43,500-acre Jocassee Gorges, a wall of hills that represent the sharp transition between the mountains and the Piedmont.
Long Shoals Wayside Park, a 10-acre park located just a couple of miles past Keowee-Toxaway, is a stop that is easily missed, but definitely deserves a visit. Thanks to local community efforts, this once run-down space along a picturesque stretch of Little Eastatoe Creek has been transformed into something that begs to be seen. Visitors can explore the shoals and small waterfalls, slide and swim, and walk a creek-side trail down to scenic Long Shoals. Stocked regularly by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), it’s also a popular spot with anglers.
Continuing Northeast, the towering mountain that gives Table Rock State Park its name comes into view. In fact, you can explore more about Table Rock with our Fresh Air Friday. Well known to area outdoor enthusiasts, the park’s natural beauty never ceases to amaze, beckoning motorists to take pause in all things beautiful.
One of the favorite activities of visitors at Table Rock is the easy 0.2-mile hike to Carrick Creek Falls. Wading is allowed at your own risk in the creek near the observation deck at the base of the 15-foot falls, and on many days, children can be seen standing behind the often-photographed falls.
A short drive up the highway from Table Rock, Caesars Head State Park, named for a large, granite outcropping atop a mountain, offers spectacular views that extend into North Carolina and Georgia. Jones Gap State Park, home to the states first designated scenic river, is nearby. For more on Jones Gap, Fresh Air Friday has got the scoop. The two parks form what is known as the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, an 11,000-acre area of pristine forest.
Raven Cliff Falls, arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Upstate, is located near Caesars Head. A viewing platform can be reached by a moderate 2.2 mile hike, or you can choose a slightly longer route to view the falls from the swinging bridge that sits in front of the falls. Both vantage points offer spectacular views of the 420-foot flume.
Just east of the intersection with U.S. 276, the South Saluda River Trout Enhancement Project improved angler access and trout habitat along a marked section of the river. The spot is partly located across the highway from Wildcat Wayside State Park, another popular stopping point worth a quick visit.
Two historical bridges can be seen near the byways intersection with S.C. 101 in Greenville County. Follow the signs heading north and visit Poinsett Bridge, the states oldest surviving bridge. Built in 1820, it was part of the old State Road, which connected Charleston through Columbia to North Carolina. Follow signs heading south on 101 to visit Campbells Covered Bridge, the only surviving covered bridge in the state.
Continuing on toward the National Scenic Byways northern terminus, the route passes Glassy Mountain, Gowensville, and Campobello, dissecting the area known as the Dark Corner, a loose-boundaried region, once defined by murder, moonshine, and mayhem.
As travelers reach the end of this roadway narrative, the non-inclusive sampling of highlights and attractions of Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway serves as an illustration that it is not just merely a road through the hills. It is a destination within itself.
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