Bill Kimball Trail

El Lieutenant Rock Face along Bill Kimball Trail

This trail is one of several in the Jones Gap State Park area of South Carolina.  It's length is just over 2 miles (I've seen some references say 2.1 miles, others say 2.2.   It hardly matters ... by the time you've completed the entire length, that tenth of a mile isn't going to matter, since the trail is going to seem AT LEAST twice as long!!)

This trail is TOUGH!! You are going to climb (or descend) almost 1,000 feet in elevation in the trail's 2.1 - 2.2 mile length.  Which by itself isn't that bad of a grade.  Trouble is, 600 of those feet are gained/lost in approximately one quarter mile length of trail in the middle section of this trail! 

I've done this trail 3 or 4 times now, both up as well as down.  There is no easy (or even easier) way to do it!!  Both ways are tough!!

The northern end (lowest portion) is a delightful stretch that goes through a gorgeous river valley following the Middle Saluda River to its junction with Coldspring Branch.  The southern (upper) end goes along a ridge of land that juts 600 feet up from between two valleys: Coldspring Branch valley and the Middle Saluda River valley.  This ridge gives some tremendous views of both as well as the rocky cliffs along the north side of the Middle Saluda river.  And in between -- well, that's where you get that quarter mile of straight up/straight down climbing!!

From the western portion of Jones Gap Trail (a good choice for making a loop hike with this trail .... see loop options below) you get a great view of this impressively steep, forested wall of a hillside that this trail traverses, as well as the exposed rock face which the trail goes past.  Best views are seen from approximately 1/4 mile east of Dargans Cascade.  The winter months provide the clearest view of the hillside, when all the leaves are off the trees.

Topo map Bill Kimball Trail

Click on map to see full size

The image at the top of this page is looking up at the first of three sections of the large rock face you travel by along this 300 foot rock formation (first of the three if ascending the trail).  This first is by far the most impressive.  It is referred to as El Lieutenant, presumably as a reference to Yosemite's El Capitan.

Click either picture to see full size

Along the base of El Lieutenant on Bill Kimball Trail

As you can see from these photos, no rock climbing skills are needed to traverse Bill Kimball (just some strong quad muscles!!)

The trail is well labeled (notice the pink blaze on the tree trunk in each of the photos), and follows a foot path (narrow in a lot of places) along the base of the rock face.

Along the base of El Lieutenant on Bill Kimball Trail

One has several options for making a loop hike while doing this trail.  For any of these loops, begin and end at the Raven Cliff Parking lot on highway 276, one mile south of the North Carolina/South Carolina state line.  For complete directions to this parking area, see the directions on my Raven Cliff Falls page.

If you wish to descend Bill Kimball, start out on Coldspring Branch trail, which leaves from the southern (lower) end of the parking area.  Look for the sign board in front of the last parking spot on the left.

The trail drops off from the parking area rather steeply, and parallels the highway before joining an old logging road.  At 0.6 mile, at a wide, flat gap, Coldspring Branch trail bears right, and Bill Kimball goes straight (see #1 on topo map). 

Go straight on Bill Kimball and descend the trail.

Once at the base of the trail (2.1 miles later) you join Coldspring Branch Trail (blazed orange) -- see #2 on topo map -- and have the option of either:

1)Bearing right (south) on Coldspring Branch, which in 2.0 miles will bring you back to the juncture at the upper end of Bill Kimball.  Retrace your route along the first 0.6 mile of Coldspring Branch back to the parking area (total distance: 4.6 miles).


2)At the base of Bill Kimball, bear left onto Coldspring Branch, and in a very short distance you will come to a bridge which crosses the Middle Saluda River.  Once across the bridge, you'll climb a short distance and come to a "T" at Jones Gap Trail (see #3 on topo map).  Bear left (west), and follow Jones Gap to its junction with Tom Miller Trail (see #4 on topo map).  Turn left onto Tom Miller, which brings you back to the parking area (total distance: 5.9 miles). 

NOTE:  At the base of Bill Kimball Trail, where it joins Coldspring Branch, be sure to TURN either left or right onto Coldspring Branch.  There is a very well worn trail that goes straight ahead, and it appears that many a hiker has missed the fact that they have had to turn onto Coldspring Trail in order to cross the nearby Middle Saluda River.

NOTE #2 for hikers with dogs:  My 85 pound dog routinely accompanies me on my hikes, and he had little to no trouble descending this trail.  However, the time I ascended it, there was one section that he was almost unable to traverse, since it involved getting up a "step" that was around 30" high.  I got up this "step" by turning around backwards and giving myself a boost up onto it (much the way one would boost themselves up to sit on a counter or table top, for example).  As my dog is too heavy for me to lift, I finally cajoled him into maneuvering along a narrow ledge near this step, with my body holding him against the hillside so he did not slide off.

back to top