Laurel Fork Falls
Upper and Lower Laurel Fork Falls
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I've finally made my first trip to Laurel Fork Falls!
I'd all but crossed this waterfall off my list since everything I'd read said "The best way to see these falls is by boat from Lake Jocassee" and "If you are going to hike to them, you have a tough, 8 mile one way hike to get there".
Well, a fabulous view of these falls is indeed from the cove that forms at the base of these falls (see the second image on this page), but it is very easy to hike here, and the hike gives you both the view of the base (which is all that you see if you arrive by boat) as well as the impressive 100 foot plus upper falls.
I say "very easy" ... the hike is 8.7 miles, but that's ROUND TRIP. And although there is an almost 1000 foot elevation change between the start and end point, it is spread over 4-plus miles, so overall, if an almost 9 mile hike is within your ability, this is a pretty easy hike, and your reward is not only this impressive waterfall, but the very beautiful Virginia Hawkins falls as well.
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All of the information I'd read on-line about hiking to Laurel Fork Fall spoke of starting the hike at the parking area on Horsepasture road, about 1/2 mile or so in from Pickens Highway (US178). However, at the time I did this hike (January, 2014), Horsepasture Road is very driveable all the way to Laurel Fork Gap, 4 miles further down from the first parking area. I easily made the drive in my Mazda CX5; along the way I also saw a mini van driving this section.
If you start your hike from here, you follow an old 4WD road for 1.2 miles, at which point you interect with the Foothills Trail. The foothills trail and this 4WD road parallel each other all the rest of the way to Laurel Fork Falls.
Horsepasture Road turns to the west off highway 178 in Greenville county, SC, about 0.9 mile north of Rocky Bottom or about 2.4 miles south of the NC/SC state line. Once you turn onto it, the road forks. Take the right fork.
In 0.3 miles, you'll pass a parking area on your left. Continue past this parking area for approximately 3.3 more miles (3.7 miles total from your turn off US178) until you come to Laurel Fork Gap. Landmarks to look for are a gravel road that turns off to the left and just uphill from this, Horsepasture Road continues straight (south) and Canebrake road turns to the right (north).
A good place to park is along the side of the road that turns off to the left just before Horsepasture and Canebrake Road part.
At this point, the Foothills trail is north of where you are, but it will intersect the 4WD road (Laurel Fork Road) you will be taking from here in just over a mile. Hike up the hill to the junction of Horsepasture and Canebrake roads. You can either continue to follow Horsepasture (straight ahead .. south) for about 400 feet to Laurel Fork Road, which turns off to the right, or look for a foot path that turns left off Canebrake road just after it turns off Horsepasture.
Once you are on Laurel Fork Road, just continue following it for 1.2 miles until you come to a tributary that flows in from your right, forming a wide flat area. You'll notice two bridges over the creek. Head up towards the second bridge. You are now on the Foothills Trail, following it AWAY from Laurel Fork Falls. But that's OK ... because you are headed to the very beautiful Virginia Hawkins Falls.
Virginia Hawkins Falls
Virginia Hawkins Falls is located 0.1 mile up the Foothills Trail from Laurel Fork road (the 4WD road).
Once you've enjoyed these falls, turn left onto Foothills Trail, retracing your steps back to Laurel Fork Road. From this point on you can follow the Foothills trail, blazed white all the way to Laurel Fork Falls. Foothills follows Laurel Fork Road closely the entire way; sometimes Foothills and Laurel Fork are one and the same, but most times Foothills takes a nearby single track trail uphill a ways from the 4WD road. Watch closely for your white blazes.
You cross Laurel Fork Creek several times, each time on a bridge. At times it's a suspension bridge, other times a wooden one.
Bridges (above and below) along the Foothills Trail
2.9 miles from Virginia Hawkins Falls, Foothills Trail comes to an outstanding viewpoint of Laurel Fork Falls. You are quite a ways away from the waterfall at this point, and above it quite a bit, so it's tough to get a good photo from here. But it's very impressive in person!
The author at the overlook of Laurel Fork Falls
This upper portion of Laurel Fork Falls is probably well over 100 feet, and cascades down an almost vertical rock face into a pool at the base. Then from there, it descends further, over an area of massive boulders and cascades, makes a 90 degree turn into a narrow, rocky chasm, and eventually empties into a quiet cove of Jocassee lake.
Further down Foothills trail is a boat dock where you can access this cove (if you have a boat handy!!)
I was with a group of 4 other hikers, and we often find ourselves bushwhacking off trail. Today's hike was no exception. Just a little ways down from the overlook in the above photo, we found a route down to the base.
The initial part was steep, but certainly doable. The last third of the way or so down was QUITE steep, but there were lots of rhododedrons to hold on to as you slid down. The elevation profile (above) shows the steep drop from Foothills Trail down to the base of the falls. You drop about 150 feet in elevation as you descend from Foothills Trail to the base.
Once at the base, we found ourselves on a large rock outcropping which lay directly between the base of the falls and the cove of Lake Jocassee. For those who access these falls by boat, they paddle directly around this rock outcropping as they progress from the end of the cove into the narrow chute which lies at the very base of the falls.
In front of us roared the very lowest part of Laurel Fork Falls, just as they make the turn into the narrow rocky chute. And behind us was the peaceful, quiet cove
Our group spent quite a bit of time here exploring and photographing. We then made the steep ascent back up to Foothills Trail and retraced our steps back to our vehicles at Laurel Fork Gap. This is where we really noticed the elevation change in this hike: the 900 feet UP that we had to climb over the 4 miles along the Foothills Trail really had all of us pretty tired by the time we got back to the cars!
More photos in my SmugMug gallery.