If being outdoors, chasing waterfalls, learning all about nature, and having a blast with your kids at Lake Jocassee sounds like the perfect day, then this Lake Jocassee Wild Child tour should be on your bucket list. Kristina took her kids on the adventure and tells us all about it.
Thanks to Jocassee Wild Child for the media tickets so we could do this review!
We had docked the pontoon boat at a small beach on the shores of Lake Jocassee and hiked a short ways to a little pond, surrounded by one of only two temperate rainforests in the country. Our awesome and knowledgeable guide, Kerry McKenzie, was up to her ankles in the muddy pond and paused for just a second before she reached down and grabbed a salamander, a slimy little creature that looks like part frog/fish/snake. The kids were in awe. They all wanted to hold it. Soon they were in the pond, muddy and happy, looking for salamanders to catch themselves. My daughter proudly showed me her slimy creature not five minutes later, beaming with pride at her accomplishment.
And that was only part of the fun of our truly amazing Jocassee Wild Child adventure tour. The four-hour adventure just flew by in a whirlwind of waterfalls, bird watching, salamander and tadpole catching, and learning about the exceptional Jocassee Gorges.
Jocassee Wild Child
Lake Jocassee, surrounded by the lush mountains of the Jocassee Gorges and intensely beautiful with its crystal clear water, is one of my absolute favorite places in the state. Every single time I go, I can’t believe this place exists in South Carolina. It’s one of those places that is peaceful and beautiful and pulls you back every time. You can access it through Devils Fork State Park, about an hour and 15 minutes from Greenville. When I heard there was an organization that sought to connect kids and adults to this amazing place, I had to go!
Jocassee Wild Child is a nonprofit geared towards kids that teaches them all about nature using the extraordinary ecosystem that is the Jocassee Gorges. Their vision is to “inspire youth and adults to make deep, lasting connections to wilderness areas, and to preserve, protect, and share beautiful wild areas like the Jocassee Gorges for generations to come.”
Because it’s a temperate rainforest, the Gorges consist of a vast diversity of plants, flowers, reptiles, birds, and trees. My knowledge is limited of the area so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go on an adventure with Jocassee Wild Child with my kids and learn from the experts.
Waterfalls, salamanders, birds, ponds, turtles, tadpoles, a boat, and lots of outdoor fun is just the beginning of what you’ll experience on a Jocasee Wild Child adventure.
The Adventure With Jocassee Wild Child
The boat is a comfortable pontoon boat and Kerry is truly an incredible guide. She is so knowledgeable about the Gorge, its history, and its inhabitants that it’s hard to remember all she taught us. The kids all got laminated little books about the area plus a scavenger hunt sheet to fill out during the trip. It has different kinds of flowers, animals, and habitats to look for. All the kids get a magnifying glass and binoculars, which came in quite handy during the trip. We were all set up to be explorers for the day.
The tour starts off leaving the dock where the beach is and heading out where the earthen dam is located. But the dam isn’t the star here: it’s what is under the water that’s holding our attention.
When Lake Jocassee was made in the early 1970s, there was a town in the valley where the water is now. There were houses, a church, and even a lodge where tourists would come and stay. Of course, all those people had to leave before their town was flooded but some things had to stay, like the headstones in the cemetery – which are all still there, more than 200 feet below the surface.
The lake is the deepest one in South Carolina at almost 400 feet deep. But there aren’t any sharks or alligators so I consider those pretty good reasons why the place is amazing.
Salamanders, Tadpoles, and Flowers Galore
After learning about the history of the area, we headed over to our first stop at the hidden frog pond. But on the way, we got to see two kingfisher birds and learn about why they are so interesting. We also saw their nest, which had been raided by a black racer snake. The binoculars came in handy here. We also learned that new growth of Hemlock trees can be eaten for their high vitamin C content – which we all taste-tested. It was good, considering I had never eaten part of a tree before. The kids loved it.
We meandered over to get a closer look at mountain laurel flowers, which are beautiful, and some of my favorites. The small pink flower looks like a star unfolded. They are blooming all over the lake around May and are certainly a sight to behold. We also got to see a juvenile bald eagle! Everywhere we looked, we saw some wildlife.
Once we got to the small beach where the trail to the pond was located, we saw deer tracks and then caught sight of a baby turtle. The kids were obviously enjoying this. I think the freedom to be able to just search around and find cool things was something they naturally sought. Once we got to the pond, it was even more so like that as Kerry led the way into the water to find salamanders and tadpoles. The kids caught on early that it was encouraged to have that connection with nature and be free to explore the area. They were more often than not the ones who spotted animals first.
Waterfall Chasing Around the Lake: Jocassee Wild Child Tour
There are several waterfalls that spill into Lake Jocassee from four different rivers. We went to Wright Creek Falls, which I had been to and just love. It’s at least a two-tiered waterfall, tumbling into a small cove that is totally hidden from the lake. You’d never know it’s there unless you knew where to look! It is just stunning.
We docked the boat and immediately the kids saw a couple of banded water snakes on the rock next to the boat. They were all crowding on the side to see them, thrilled with their find. Once we all got to observe the snakes, we jumped out of the boat and onto a small footpath that crept up (safely) the side of the waterfall until it got to a small pool beneath the first drop of the waterfall. We got to see all kinds of moss and flowers and experience the roar of the falls up close. It was awesome.
Kerry said that during the summer, they will take the kids to the bottom level where the pool is located and swim around there, which sounds really fun honestly. The water is this shade of bluish teal that fades to light green when the sun hits it. It looks unreal, like something from a movie.
We also got to see the very bottom of Whitewater Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. You can see the very top while out on the lake at some points. There are other waterfalls but we ran out of time to see them all!
Learning around every corner
One thing that really impressed me about the Wild Child adventure was that there was never a moment where we weren’t learning something new. Even while cruising to our next stop, Kerry had cards with different animals on them that we all got to choose from. She read a little information about each one and we could see how well we may match up with those same qualities. I had a wolf on my card and part of the description was that I’m a good teacher and creative. Well, sometimes that’s true!
We learned about the different rocks that are on the lake and how they formed. We learned about the variety of animals in the Gorges through another fun game.
And we even made some music on board the boat with Kerry drumming away and everyone else having maracas. It was a lot of fun. All of the programs are structured to care for personal safety and adhere to woodland ethics, which you’ll learn about also.
What you need to know about the Lake Jocassee Wild Child tour
Jocassee Wild Child lets you bring food and water on the boat, which comes in handy since the adventure is about four hours long. They have cold water on board but definitely bring lunch and snacks. I also brought a couple of towels, hats, and sunscreen. There isn’t any shade so just prepared for the sun on those warmer days.
When you get to Devils Fork during the summer they allow you to park in a grassy lot right before the entrance to the park. Just be aware that the park is very popular in the summer and you may need to wait in line so get there early enough before your tour begins. You’ll be shuttled into the park.
While there are not any bathrooms on the boat, you can use restrooms at the park before you board and then during the tour, take advantage of big trees. There is plenty of space on the trails to duck away to answer the call of nature.
What ages would love this? Probably most ages. My kids are 10 and 6 and immensely enjoyed the tour. There was another six-year-old and he loved it as well. I think that younger kids would certainly enjoy it but it will really depend on your kid’s temperament. There is a lot of time on the boat but it’s entertaining since 1) we are at Lake Jocassee, and 2) we are playing games and learning. All of us adults loved the adventure as well. We were just as interested, if not more so, for all the cool things we found!
Naturalist Certification and Kayak Instruction Tours
Jocassee Lake Tours also teaches kayak instruction to both kids and adults. We had so much fun doing this tour with them. Jocassee Lake Tours also has sunset tours, fishing charters, kayak shuttle services, and boat rentals.
Jocassee Wild Child also offers a Wild Naturalist Certification that consists of eight courses and four electives. This could come in quite handy if you’re involved in any kind of conservancy or environmental work or organization. Or if you just want to learn and play in the Jocassee Gorges.
Tickets for Jocassee Wild Child
Jocassee Wild Child adventure happens every Friday June 9 – August 25, 2023 from 10 am – 2 pm. Tickets are $60 per person for ages 4-15; $65 per person for ages 16 and up.
Entry fees into Devils Fork State Park are extra: $4 for ages 6-15; $8 for ages 15-64; $5 for ages 65 and older. Children 5 and under are free. If you have an SC State Park pass, then this fee is waived.
Ready to book your adventure? Check out their Jocassee Wild Child website for upcoming events.
Love to kayak? How about paddle boarding? Learn about all the beautiful places near the Upstate to kayak!