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Foothills Trail 101: Thru-Hiking South Carolina Wilderness

The Foothills Trail winds its way through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in South Carolina. This semi-challenging 77-mile hike offers a taste of everything the Palmetto State has to offer: rolling hills, dense forests, stunning vistas, and plenty of wildlife.

If you’re looking for an epic starter thru-hike challenge, the Foothills Trail is it! There is not a glaring shortage of water anywhere along the trail, so you don’t have any long water carries, which makes it near perfect for a first-time thru-hike!

The Foothills Trail at a Glance

  • Length: 76.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: ~13794 feet
  • Elevation Loss: ~14644 feet
  • Expected Completion Time: (3-7 days, averaging 10-25 miles a day)
  • Location: South Carolina bordering North Carolina
  • Best season(s) to hike: Spring, Fall, Winter, Summer
  • Trail Type: point-to-point (Oconee State Park in South Carolina to Table Rock State Park in North Carolina)
  • Scenery: Beautiful foreMake the video sts, woodlands, wildflowers when in season, lots of beautiful overlooks and outcroppings, and amazing waterfalls.
  • Difficulty: Moderate, with no huge elevation gains, but lots of uneven trail due to rocks and roots
  • Navigation: You can find the map on FarOut (formerly known as Guthook). Old school topo maps are also available online for the people who carry maps as primary or backup directions.
  • Blazing: The blazes are white, and the trail is remarkably well-maintained and fairly easy to follow in any section.
  • Permits? None are needed, but parking fees are required for both Oconee and Table Rock State Parks. You can support the parks by purchasing an annual pass(1) which can help you explore other spots in the area afterward!

Foothills Trail Backpacking Thru-Hiking Guide

Let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of thru-hiking the Foothills Trail looking at when you may want to look to hike, what markers exist to follow, and keep you going the right way and then discuss the some of the differences between a NOBO and SOBO hike.

When to Hike the Foothills Trail

The trail is a year-round option to hike but there are some better times and seasons than others. The preferred start would be in Spring to see the Oconee Bells wildflower blooms which is an amazing sight as they are very rare!

If you can’t make Spring then the next best time is Fall as the weather will be much more favorable for hiking due to the heat of summer subsiding. The last preferred time would be winter to experience the trail without leaves and possibly with snow.

While the trail is hikeable in the summer this is not when most thru-hikers will want to start as the oppressive heat and humidity can be stifling as well as lots of day hikers and wild critters are out.

If you do choose to hike in the summer, start earlier in the morning to get as much of the day’s hiking mileage out before it gets too hot, and take some time to take breaks with the amazing views and falls.

Trail Markers

As with the Appalachian Trail, the main trail is marked with white blazes that are easy to spot and follow. These are very common overall on many trails and it helps ensure you know the path you are taking is the main trail and not an offshoot.

Difficulty Level

This trail is not flat and easy but not also full of steep climbs making it a good trail for all age ranges and is a prime place for a shakedown in preparation for an AT thru-hike due to the similarities in the trail, weather, and more.

Most are able to complete this thru-hike in as little as three days and some who will take it easier will complete it within seven. Short of a few spots on the trail though you are never going to be gassed out going up to huge peaks.

Hiking North-East Bound vs South-West Bound

On the Foothills Trail, there are only two directions for your thru-hike, a Northwest hike starting from Oconee State Park or a Southwest thru-hike starting from Table Rock State Park.

Below we will cover general travel and differences between the two different directions and what you can expect.

North-East Bound from Oconee State Park

Moving north out of Oconee is the better path for many who need to get some time on their legs before hitting bigger climbs as you start more generally flat and downhill to the Chattooga River from Oconee State Park.

Later at the end of the thru-hike, you will need to make a 2000′ ascent up to the top of Sassafras Mountain but this will be after giving your body time to adjust and to be ready for some work after about a week of hiking.

South-West Bound from Table Rock State Park

This is the tougher direction of travel for those without hardened trail legs as you start off with a large ascent up Sassafras Mountain out of the gates with an over 3000′ climb over the first 10 miles which can be brutal on the uninitiated and unprepared.

After Sassafras Mountain the trail becomes much more relaxed as you have done the biggest ascent and now will meander through some of the South Carolina foothills.

Key Points of Interest

Sassafras Mountain

The highest point in South Carolina at 3,553 feet Sassafras Mountain offers great views to the north and south from its bald summit.

Lake Jocassee

This lake is one of the prettiest in the state and is a great place to take a swim or relax on one of the many sandy beaches that line its shores.

Whitewater Falls

Located near the North and South Carolina border, Whitewater Falls is the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River at 411 feet tall.

Jocassee Gorges

This area is full of beautiful waterfalls, cliffs, and wildflowers making it a must-see for any hiker on the Foothills Trail.

Resupply Points

There are not any town resupply points along the way unlike other trails but you can plan resupply based on the state parks and use the road crossings as a meetup point to get to resupply in a town.

If you are planning a slower thru-hike where you need to resupply then the simplest way would be to hang or hide a resupply around the Bad creek parking area as this is accessible.

The only key to this is that you would need something like a bear canister that you could hide until you reached it or possibly hang a bear bag off away from the trail that you can recover once you reach this point.

Trail Resources

There are some good resources on the web for the Foothills Trail and below I’ve linked a few to get you started in your planning.

Foothills Trail Organization (Website)

Your go-to location online to see the current trail conditions, learn more about the trail and history, and help support the Foothills Trail. They maintain a list of shuttle drivers and ride service providers and an interactive map to help plan your hike.

They publish the guidebook below which we list below includes all the information you need to know about the trail, resupply options, and a detailed trail description.

Hiking South Carolina’s Foothills Trail by Scott Lynch (Amazon)

This slim pocket guide has concise directions for hiking the whole trail, from either end. It also has detailed maps, major and minor trailheads; the best day hikes and overnights; campsites, water sources, and GPS coordinates.

All this and more in an easy-to-use reference format that will help you keep your pack small and light.

The Foothills Trail Guidebook by the Foothills Trail Conservancy (Website)

This is the OFFICIAL guidebook of the Foothills Trail Conservancy. It has fold-out topo maps for each trail section. The text descriptions of each section provide excellent information about the route, difficulty, water sources, views, designated campsite locations, etc.

Trail Maps and GPX Data

I couldn’t find any good resource, if you know of one please feel free to put it in the comments or send me the link via email!

Foothills Trail Termini Details

There are two different places the Foothills Trail will come to an end depending on which direction you are hiking.

As with most trails, the Foothills Trail is a point-to-point hike meaning you will need to either have someone drop you off or have a plan to get back to the start once complete as the end isn’t the same place as the start.

Foothills Trail North Eastern Terminus: Table Rock State Park, South Carolina

The Foothills Trail Organization’s website provides info on the shuttle service providers that can provide service to long-distance hikers. In general, Table Rock State Park is about an hour’s drive from either Asheville, North Carolina, or Spartanburg, SC.

Table Rock State Park is located near Pickens, SC, and is about 3 hours from Atlanta.

Foothills Trail South Western Terminus: Oconee State Park, South Carolina

The Foothills Trail Organization’s website provides shuttle services that can provide service to long-distance thru-hikers. In general, Table Rock State Park is about an hour’s drive from either Asheville, North Carolina, or Spartanburg, SC.

Oconee State Park is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Walhalla, SC, and is the home to the Oconee Bells and is about 2.5 hours from Atlanta.

Shelters Available Along the Trail

There are no shelters on the Foothills Trail but there are some primitive camping sites located along the trail in state parks. There are campsites located along the trail itself.

As expected you will need to bring a tent or hammock and tarp as there are no options for sleeping in a shelter.

Thru-hikers will typically be geared pretty well for most environments but you can always look at where you are heading to supplement your gear with viable helpful additions for specific trails, this is what many spoke of while researching:

Bear Canister

There are loads of animals like bears in the area but there are also lots of climbing ground dwellers like squirrels who can carve into the corner of your bag dropping and exposing your food.

In addition, a lot of the comments stated that many campsite areas do not have trees that are conducive to a proper hang on a food bag.

I don’t suggest bear canisters all the time as they are much heavier than a traditional food bag and PCT hang but for a shorter trip they won’t cause as much pain and they can provide you a seat when resting, so kind of a win? Not sold.

Umbrella

I love my umbrella and with the timing of heavy storms or sun exposure, you can look to add an umbrella to help minimize being soaked in heavy rain or to help block out the sun and provide a high SPF protection.

Emergency Signaling Device

This is something with our technology level today that no one should decide to skimp on, while most trails are pretty clearly marked going off-trail to use the restroom can easily get you turned around and lost, the PLB is a safety system.

Also on the trail, there are venomous snakes and these are usually very time-sensitive issues should you be bit by one, you don’t want to speed up your heart rate hiking to get out in most cases signaling could save your life or someone else’s.

Foothill Trail Video

Foothills Trail FAQs

How long does it take to thru-hike the Foothills Trail?

According to foothillstrail.org, the thru-hike is 5-10 days and most hikers average about 10-20 miles per day. With the fastest hikers completing the entire trail in 3 days, after about 5 days though you may need to pre-plan a resupply or food drop.

Is the Foothills Trail Hard?

The Foothills Trail is just shorter than 77 miles long and runs between South Carolina and North Carolina. The terrain is essentially the same as on the Appalachian Trail, with rocky ground and physically demanding in nature. This means there are a lot of steep climbs over difficult terrain, which might be tough.

Are there bears on the Foothills Trail?

Yes, there are black bears in the area, but no grizzlies. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy website has some good information on how to hike safely in bear country.

Final Thoughts on the Foothills Trail

The Foothills Trail offers hikers an incredible opportunity to explore the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail is just shorter than 77 miles long and runs between South Carolina and North Carolina, with rocky ground and physically demanding terrain.

Definitely a perfect thru-hike for a beginner or to get a gear shakedown through a proper torture test, definitely take the time to go over your gear and get to know what you’re bringing.

Do you have any additional tips or advice for those considering a thru-hike of the Foothills Trail? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to check out our other trail guides for more information on planning your perfect hike.

Happy Trails!

2 thoughts on “Foothills Trail 101: Thru-Hiking South Carolina Wilderness”

  1. Update to this great article – Guthooks (FarOut) app now has a complete map of the Foothills trail available for purchase within the app.

    Reply

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