Where are you (park, forest, etc.)- Jocassee Gorges Natural Area
Nearest town (s)- Greenville, SC and Asheville, NC
How long is this hike- You have a number of options. Most commonly just a half-day hike.
Miles- 5 miles roundtrip, but on the much larger Foothills Trail
On your personal toughness scale: 4. A little bit of elevation gives it a 4, but I believe I was encountered by a bingo club on the way down. And by that I mean I think it was a retirement community outing. And by that I mean that almost any athletic ability can pull this off as long as they take their time.
Sassafras Mountain is the largest peak in South Carolina, topping out at a height 3553 feet. From my tenure on the east coast this is substantial, but the workout is put into perspective once you get to the summit. At the forested summit you can view the tallest mountains on the east coast (6000'+) a little further north in North Carolina. However this is a good test climb before you try for a larger peak.
To get here it is a pretty simple 45 minute ride north from Greenville. You have the option of stopping anywhere along the 77 mile foothills trail and making your trek to the mountain. However the most common route is stopping about 3 miles short near an area known as Chimneytop Gap. As you drive the windy road up towards Sassafras you will encounter a trailhead on both sides of the road. One is going west towards the lakes region, and the other side is going east towards Table Rock State Park.
You go east towards Table Rock and there is a gradual 2.5 mile climb to the top. The summit is 1900' above you at this point, but the incline is pretty forgiving. Your climb is mostly under the cover of trees until you reach a spine in an adjacent mountain. This area was clear cut back in the 70's and as unnatural as it feels, a lot of sunlight soaks this area. It seems as the first successional species are starting to mature, but it adds a strange bright twist to the hike.
After this area its a relatively easy mile hike to the summit. Sassafras Mountain is on the eastern continental divide. So one side of the mountain drains to the Gulf of Mexico and the other side drains to the Atlantic. Also Sassafras serves as a border between North and South Carolina. I learned this all at the summit given an opportune plaque next to a memorial bench.
Unfortunately that was about as exciting as the summit got. However I decided to explore the other path coming up and I stumbled upon a lookout. Little did I know that this whole route was drive-able. So really if you're not up for the challenge you can still enjoy the rewards via automobile. And you can park 20 feet from this lookout. As you probably hear often "the view made it all worth it". This was actually the first time I saw the lakes that separate South Carolina from Georgia from a mountain. For a fall day this was a nice choice for a day hike.
Would you recommend? Yes I would recommend. I am waiting for one of these posts to say "No, that rather sucked". But really this was a cool hike. It wasn't my favorite hike because you are in the tree line 99% of the time, but as I mentioned the lookout was well worth the workout.
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