Reviewed by SCgregg1 on November 4, 2010
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This passage runs through Poinsett State Park, Manchester State Forest, and private land in the Wateree Swamp. Buffers are established along the route to help protect the corridor.
This a very long out-and-back. 14.4 miles, and it is anything but easy. There are no camping opportunities to break up the trip but camping is available at Poinsett State Park.
The trail starts at Poinsett State Park, near the recreation building, and follows the Scout Nature Trail for a bit before it departs on the Campbell's Pond Mountain Bike Trail. It then departs the bike trail and follows an old railroad grade a ways until it starts climbing steep bluffs. Soon, then, it swings sharply left and falls rapidly to another railroad grade. That grade goes over nine trestles that have been nicely modified for foot and bike traffic. 1000's and 1000's of volunteer hours were put into those trestles, making it possible to pass through some very remote and rugged territory.
About 8 tenths of a mile beyond trestle #8, the trail leaves the railroad grade on a set of steep steps to the right. The trail then follows the old cast iron Wateree River trestle supports to trestle #9 and the Wateree River. The trail next to the supports is often under water so when it isn't, it can be faint. The Palmetto Conservation Foundation (PCF) has recently done a little trail clearing and has put up surveyors tape but following the supports is the best rule of thumb. They will eventually lead you to the Wateree River, and the final trestle of the trip at exactly 7.2 miles. Now, all you have to do is retrace those 7.2 miles back to Poinsett State Park.
This will take an experienced hiker at least 8 hours to complete but I would recommend having 10 hours of daylight ahead of you, before you start.
Long day - long trip, but there are many spectacular things to see along the way. In my opinion, this is the most diverse area of South Carolina. Over 300 plant species have been identified and there is a very healthy variety of animal and bird life. The area is also richly steeped in antebellum period and civil war period history.
Fall is the best time to do this but it must be known that deer hunting is allowed in most of the territory the trail runs through. Even with the buffers, caution should be taken. I wear a blaze orange cap and tie a cheap blaze orange vest to my pack. That's all you really need to do.
I'm going to rate this trail as Difficult due to it's length, steep up and downs, and the abundance of ground vegetation in the second railroad grade; however, I am giving the trail 5 stars here for it's unique biodiversity and the opportunity to walk through sandhills, floodplain forest, and mountainous ecosystems in the same hike.
There is one guide book available for this Palmetto Trail Passage. It is contained in The Palmetto Trail Lowcountry Guide, available from PCF. The guide gives good trail descriptions and provides maps of all the passages from the Atlantic Ocean to the end of the Wateree Passage. The guide is also a fantastic history book!
Information about the guide book and PCF can be found at www.palmettoconservation.org. PCF is a non-profit organization and is responsible for orchestrating all development of The Palmetto Trail.
As a final note: there are two other starting points other than Poinsett State Park. Campbell Creek Road and Foxville Road. The Campbell Creek start only eliminates two miles of the 14.4. The Foxville start eliminates all the climbing, and turns the 14.4-mile round trip into nine. A 20-yard spur trail will take you to the second railroad grade where you will follow it down to the Wateree River, and back.
Both roads can be treacherous during wet conditions. I've tried to access the Foxville Road trailhead twice and had to turn back both times due to flooding. I only recommend trying this road if you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and it has not rained for several days prior to trying.
Directions for both roads can be obtained in The Lowcountry Guide or by calling Manchester State Forest Headquarters at (803) 494-8196.
EDIT 10/12/2010: PCF has mowed the rail grade from Foxville Road Trailhead to the departure steps after trestle #8. This has improved travel on the trail 10-fold. PCF trail coordinator's phone number is listed on the PCF website. Call for current trail conditions.
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