Are you new to hiking in the Upstate? The mountains are calling and everyone wants to go. With the forced quarantine during the ideal weather of spring and the early summer months here in the Upstate, many families who have never hiked decided to give it a try. And that is awesome! There are few things as freeing and exciting as trekking off into the forest in search of a stunning waterfall or new adventure.
I’ve been hiking since I was a kid but there were many years that I was off the trail. It was only when I moved here to the Upstate that I picked it up again and now, it’s a weekly occurrence at least. I’ve taken my kids on hikes all over this part of South Carolina throughout Greenville, Oconee and Pickens Counties. I’ve hiked probably hundreds of miles through the Western NC mountains and into the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s my happy place and my kids really enjoy the experiences we’ve had together on the trails.
If you’ve just started out hiking or you are thinking to get into it yourself or with your kids, this article is for you! I’m including the best trail etiquette tips to get you started and make sure you have a great time outdoors plus some of my favorite trail recommendations.
For important tips on creating responsibly, please see this story on the seven Leave No Trace principles.
How to Start Hiking
I see posts on social media all the time asking about trails for kids, best hikes in the area, or how to start hiking alone. It’s pretty simple: just go. I mean, do your research first, but just go. It’s walking, just in a way cooler setting than you would usually do in a parking lot or your neighborhood.
To find trails that you may enjoy, I highly recommend the free AllTrails app. I love this app. You can search for trails by how long they are, how easy or difficult they may be, how far away they are from you, if they include a waterfall or not, etc. I’ve found some pretty amazing trails through that app.
SCTrails.net is another great resource. I’ll browse that site more on my laptop than my phone and it doesn’t have as many reviews of trails but it does have some hidden gems that I didn’t find on AllTrails.
Joining local Facebook groups is also a great way to find lesser traversed trails or find new ones. I love Girls Who Hike SC, Girls Who Hike NC, North Carolina Waterfalls, South Carolina Hiking & Adventures, and Hiking the Smokies.
Trail Etiquette & Tips
It’s very important to know the basic trail etiquette tips and laws of the area when you go hiking. Most are common sense but well, people don’t always use that gift. All these listed below are so that you have a great time and others around you also have fun!
Wear proper clothing and bring enough water and snacks. Flip flops aren’t a good hiking shoe of choice. And the summer is hot. Bring water.
Be prepared and take the 10 essentials. The common 10 essentials to take on every hike are water, food, a flashlight, navigation, insulation, first aid kit, sun protection, matches or a fire starter, basic repair kit, and emergency shelter like a space blanket. I also carry bear spray on every hike. Day hikers are the most vulnerable hiking population to get in trouble and possibly not survive if something goes wrong because they aren’t prepared.
Leave no trace (LNT). The LNT principle is that whatever you bring into the forest goes out with you. No trash, no sign except footprints that you were there. This also means not to disturb the environment, picking flowers or trampling on brush. Here’s how to follow all seven LNT principles.
Keep your kids in sight at all times. Sure, it’s fun for them to run all over the place but there are many, many unforeseen things on trails that a cute little person may not see that could be harmful – a well-hidden snake, an unleashed dog, a blown out part of the trail. Keep them in sight at all times.
Leash your dog. Leash laws apply everywhere and there are signs at every trail I’ve been to that tell owners to leash dogs. It doesn’t matter if your dog is friendly. Many people have a fear of dogs, are allergic, etc. and by not leashing your dog, you are infringing on everyone else’s right to enjoy the outdoors. Plus, the liability of a possible, even accidental, attack on a child, adult, or other dog/wildlife in the area just isn’t worth it. Here are area dog parks if you’d like to let your dog off leash.
Stay on the trail. Going off trail can not only be dangerous given unforeseen slips or hidden snakes, but there are wildflowers, micro ecosystems, and animals whose environment is at risk and it’s sometimes really easy to get lost if you decide to go off trail.
Lock your car and keep electronics out of sight. Lately there have been several cases of cars broken into at trailheads all over Western NC and the Upstate. Leave your valuables at home, take them with you hiking, or stash them out of sight in your car.
Stay off waterfalls. I cannot emphasize this enough. Read the news, especially recently. One week, three people, including a teenager and someone on a rescue team, fell to their deaths at waterfalls. And watch your kids because they don’t know the dangers these beauties can have. All it takes is one slip, that’s it.
Know your fitness level and the attention span of your kids. Choose a trail that you know you can do and that won’t be too long for your kids. And bring snacks for your kids because they are perfect for bribery.
Do your research. There are many hugely popular trails here in the Upstate and within a reasonable driving distance. If you get to a trail too late, you may be turned away at the gate or you won’t be able to find parking at the trailhead. Have a backup plan if that happens or go really early in the day.
Get a map or use one on your phone. I can’t tell you how many times my map on AllTrails saved me a lot of frustration from getting lost. When I didn’t have a map on my phone or a paper map, I ended up tacking on several miles to a hike with my kids, who somehow don’t hate me for that hot, very long day.
Tell someone where you’re going. I do this when I’m hiking alone or with my kids. I mention where I’m going and what time to expect me to come back. It’s a basic safety precaution.
Great Trails to Hike
Now for the fun part! We have a huge Hiking Guide on our site which has links to stories about trails that are best for kids, trails that have a big waterfall reward, and other favorite local hikes.
These are my favorite trails in the area though:
Carrick Creek at Table Rock: This is a two-mile loop that is fairly easy but does have some inclines so you’ll get a workout. It’s a good one for kids but just be sure to watch them since it does cross some bridges without rails and runs next to a fast moving creek. It’s a fun trail that begins and ends at Carrick Creek Falls where you can wade, which feels amazing on a hot day. If you don’t have a park passport, you’ll have to pay for entry to the park.
Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park: This is a good hour and twenty minutes from Greenville right across the border in North Carolina. This trail is around four miles round trip and not difficult getting to the falls, which are enormous and gorgeous. But going back, you’ll be huffing and puffing. My kids first did it when they were 6 and 3 and made it with a lot of breaks. We’ve done it again since then but always pack enough water, especially in the summer heat.
Moore Cove Falls: This is in Pisgah Forest in North Carolina and is such a fantastic trail because it’s easy, about 1.4 miles round trip, and it ends at a spectacular waterfall that you can walk behind. The trailhead is just past Looking Glass Falls, which is a stunning roadside waterfall. Plan to drive about an hour and twenty minutes to get there.
Wildcat Wayside: This trail is perfect for kids because it’s just a mile loop that’s really easy and starts and ends at a waterfall where you can wade in. The parking area is on Hwy 11 and it’s just a roadside pulloff. There is usually someone selling boiled peanuts or hats there. It’s about 50 minutes or less from Greenville.
Lake Conestee Nature Park: Located in Mauldin, Conestee is a great introduction to hiking for young kids. With a combination of paved trails, unpaved trails and wooden walkways, plus a wildlife habitat this is a fun place where you can often see turtles or even a snake or two. There is no entrance fee and there’s a playground and shelter as well. Not all trails have been re-opened and dogs and bikes are no longer allowed on the natural surface trails.
Raven Cliff Falls: This waterfall is so pretty as it falls over a sheer cliff more than 400 feet. This trail is about 4 miles and will take you to an observation deck to see the falls. You’re not going to be close but you can see them. I like this trail for its beauty and the fact that it’s not very hard. The trailhead parking lot is really small so you need to go early. It’s a little over an hour from Greenville.
Frying Pan Lookout Tower: If you’d like a wow factor hike without having to go to a waterfall, this is it. The Frying Pan Lookout Tower is an old fire tower in Pisgah Forest and if you have no fear of heights, you can climb the rickety old stairs to get a 360 degree view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a short 1.5 mile trail but the first half is almost all uphill. It’s not terribly hard though (when I went, we had kids ranging from age 2 – 8 and they did fine). The drive is around 90 minutes from Greenville.
Our readers really love Dupont State Forest, just an hour from Greenville, as well as Jones Gap State Park. Both are hugely popular and are almost always crowded to if you choose to go, go early. There are several really easy trails there (make sure you have a map or one on your phone). Same with Jones Gap – it’s a really small parking lot that fills up fast on weekends. As of May 1, 2020, if you go to Jones Gap State Park on the weekends, you will need to purchase a parking spot ahead of time for $5, even if you have a state park passport. SC State Parks are also limiting the number of cars allowed and will close once they hit capacity.
Now that you know the basics and have a few trails to try, head out on your hike!
For more trails, see our huge hiking guide.