Bushwhack to Waterfall
on tributary of
Rocky Bottom Creek
Click on any of the images on this page for full size/full resolution pic.
This beauty of a waterfall is located in Pickens County, SC, northeast of the small community of Rocky Bottom. Rocky Bottom is located on US178 (also called Moorefield Highway and/or Pickens Highway), 9 miles south of Rosman, NC.
Rocky Bottom Creek flows through this little community with whom it shares its name. An unnamed tributary, whose beginnings are just southwest of Sassafras Mountain, flows into this creek. On its route from below Sassafras Mountain to its junction with Rocky Bottom Creek, this tributary drops over 400 feet of more or less vertical hillside between contour lines 2600' and 3000'.
My friend Andy figured this location had good potential for having a waterfall, but given that this tributary's beginnings are only a short ways up the mountain from here, he knew if this was going to have any sort of significant water flow, it would need to be after a period of heavy rains. A Saturday in March, 2014 met this criteria and we set off to see what the area held.
This entire hike was a bushwhack, as there are no trails in this area. Along the way however, we found a series of old forest roads, that in some places are still fairly clear.
The first part of our bushwhack however, was anything but clear, as we fought thick briars, steep hillsides, and ended up heading further south than we needed to. On our way back from the waterfall, we happened upon one of these forest roads that basically took us right to where we had parked.
For that reason, the GPS track shown (as well as the download) shows only our return route ... from the waterfall, back to the parking area. If you want to attempt this hike, this is by far the easiest way to access it. The elevation profile (below) does show the profile of our entire route to give you a feel for elevation changes and length.
The entire hike was a little over 3 miles, and took us over 5 hours. However, a full two hours was spent at the base of the waterfall, exploring all its various sections and enjoying its spectacular beauty.
You'll note that I've named the falls "Sassafras Falls" in the GPS track. A waterfall this gorgeous seemed to need a name better than "Waterfall on Tributary of Rocky Bottom"!! And seeing that the tributary that these falls lie along has its beginnings just below Sassafras Mountain, this seems as good a name as any!!
Elevation Profile of the trail
Click for larger image
GPX data for download:
Bushwhack to Waterfall on Tributary of Rocky Bottom Creek.
From Rocky Bottom, SC, turn north onto Van Clayton Memorial Highway. This road will evenutally take you all the way to the parking area on Sassafras Mountain, several miles up from US178. However, for this hike, drive only 0.5 mile up from US178, and you'll see a parking area on the left (west) side of the road. There is room for 5 or 6 cars here, and the parking area is rimmed with large boulders.
Walk up the road (heading north) a short ways, and look for a path on the opposite side of the road from where you parked. It leads down to the adjacent creek and has a bridge over it. A second bridge comes soon after this first one. You'll be walking on a wide, old forest road.
My GPS track shows that we bushwhacked down this hillside to join this old road. You can scramble up the hillside to your left and attempt to find the old road we had been on (see way point that is labeled "End of Visible Road". There was a clear, old forest road from this point east to the waypoint labeled "Area with Rock Walls".
However, the old road which begins on the highway and crosses the two bridges makes a wide turn to the north, and Andy thinks it probably joins the upper old road at some point (he's usually right about these things!)
However you choose to go, you basically want to get yourself across the gulley and ridge which lie between the road and the unnamed tributary you are heading for.
The first item of interest that we saw on our trek towards the waterfall was at the area I have labeled "Area With Rock Walls". We were in an area of fairly open forest, with the terrain heading gently, but steadily uphill, and saw an area with multiple rows of rock walls, each higher up the hillside than the one before. Andy counted eight different rows of walls. Perhaps a terraced garden in years past?
Area of Rock Walls
From here, we just headed uphill, keeping the tributary to our left, and taking the path of least resistance. The forest is nice and open here, and other than steady uphill climbing, the hiking/bushwhacking is pretty straightforward.
Heading up the Ridge
All this time, the tributary to our left was small, with little water flow, and we were really beginning to have our doubts as to finding any sort of waterfall. But we pushed ahead.
Somewhere between countour lines 2400 and 2500, we really were convinced this was not going to produce any sort of waterfall. We could see the vertical portion of the hillside above us, but didn't see any hint of a waterfall. We saw one area of wet, glistening rock reflecting in the sunshine, but that was all. Plus, this is where the going really got tough. The wide open forest turned to a boulder garden, that also had some really huge downed trees thrown in for good measure. The grade at this point was noticeably steep, much more so than any earlier portion of the hike. One area that had a huge tree down across several huge boulders took me about 15 minutes to find a way around.
The Going Gets Tough
After what seemed FOREVER of climbing up and around boulders, over (and sometimes under) downed trees, all of a sudden (and I do mean all of a sudden!) we found ourselves at the base of this GORGEOUS waterfall!!
The above photo shows our first glimpse of this beauty! The waterfall is quite wide, and comes down a vertical section of rocky, granite walls that have many different corners, angles, and sections to it. As the water hits all these different angles and sections of the rocks, the droplets ricochet off in a million different directions. The day we were here, was a day of full sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. Normally the WORST conditions for waterfall photography. However, these conditions made this waterfall sparkle! Every droplet that was ricocheting off a wet rock surface, reflected the sun in a million different directions. Rainbows appeared in different spots. Both Andy and I were truly enthralled with this beauty!
A Small Section of the Waterfall
It was impossible to photograph the entire waterfall in one frame ... there was a very narrow shelf right at the base of the waterfall, which one could safely walk along, crossing the entire width of the fall (and getting drenched in several spots!). However, below this, the land fell steeply away, with one section being a sheer, vertical rock face with water flowing down it. Andy made his way down below this and got a great shot from there, looking up this section.
There was one spot, about halfway across the width of the waterfall, where you could stand behind it.
Behind the Center Portion of the Waterfall
Crossing over to the other side of the waterfall gives you this view:
View from Left Side of the Waterfall
Given our height up the mountain side, we had great views off to the west and southwest, even getting a glimpse of the upper portion of Lake Keowee, 10 miles away.
As an adjunct to this hike, two days later I did another bushwhack to the area ABOVE the cliffs that form this waterfall. This area is right below Sassafras Mountain (South Carolina's highest point), and also has a smaller peak named "Caesar's Head" (not to be confused with the more well known Caesar's Head that is on US276 and has a State Park Headquarters there).
Between Caesar's Head, Sassafras Mountain, and the cliff side, there is a wide, flat plateau. This too proved to be an interesting hike, and the area gave easy access to the top of Casesar's Head (which I've unilaterally taken the liberty of renaming "Little Sassafras Peak" to avoid confusion with its better known brother!! ). From this peak, one could see Toxaway Mountain and Whitesides Mountain, 12 and 20 miles away respectively.
Those photos, including a link to my GPS track of that hike mapped out is in this SmugMug Gallery.