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Table Rock Mountain: A Carolina Hiker’s Rite of Passage

by Scott Lynch 

There are many recognizable landmarks in the wilds of the Carolina Mountains: Max Patch, Grandfather Mountain, Clingmans Dome, Caesars Head, and Devils Courthouse are just a few that come to mind. There’s also Table Rock. This massive granite dome towers above Pickens County in the Upstate of South Carolina and gives its name to one of the most popular South Carolina state parks, with more than 300,000 visitors each year.

A hike up Table Rock is a legendary rite of passage for just about any aspiring or seasoned hiker.  I once worked as a professional outfitter in Greenville, SC. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “Have you hiked Table Rock?” or “How hard is it….can I get to the top?” But I can tell you this: Hiking up Table Rock is well worth the effort.

Here’s what you can expect.

  • You’ll gain more than 2,000 feet in elevation
  • There are at least 3 major overlooks with unobstructed views for up to 30 miles.
  • You can see 2 counties from the top of the mountain.

To have a safe and enjoyable adventure, keep a few things in mind before you go.

  • Don’t underestimate this hike. It’s arguably the toughest 3.6 miles of trail in the Carolinas.
  • Each hiker should carry a minimum of 2 to 3 liters of water. After the 0.5-mile point there is no place to resupply your water filter.
  • The hike can take 4 to 6 hours.
  • The weather can change quickly on top of the mountain. Watch out for storms and lightening. Bring season-specific layering clothing—and don’t forget the snacks.

Table Rock Trail begins at the Nature Center trailhead in the state park. After crossing over beautiful Carrick Creek several times, the trail climbs with very little reprieve until you reach the top. At the 1.9-mile mark, you’ll reach a Civilian Conservation Corps-built shelter that’s a great place to relax and enjoy winter views. By mile 2.5 you’ll come to Governor’s Rock. At 2,254 feet elevation, it offers impressive southwest views of the surrounding mountains. And just when you think the trail is just a tough hike, at mile 3.0 there’s a hard-hitting rock scramble to negotiate.

Table-Rock-view-680The official summit of Table Rock at 3,124 feet is under tree canopy at 3.1 miles, but don’t stop there. Keep going and there are extraordinary overlooks at mile 3.2 and where the trail ends at the mountain’s granite cliff rock face. Be cautious here; it can be treacherous when wet. From the summit you can easily see Caesars Head, two gorgeous mountain lakes, and a large part of the Upstate. After celebrating your hiker’s rite of passage, return the same way you came.

Scott Lynch is the author of Hiking South Carolina’s Foothills Trail and Family Hikes in Upstate  South Carolina


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