Just over the South Carolina state line is a highway tracing an ancient Cherokee path located just below the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a place that my Cherokee ancestors lovingly called “The Great Blue Hills of God.” This picturesque two-lane road follows a colorful path for more than 100 miles through the lower rolling hills into the higher mountains of South Carolina.
When traveling north from the Atlanta area along I-85, exit just after crossing Lake Hartwell and the South Carolina line at the first turn-off, which is also used for the Welcome Center. You may visit the center to the right or continue straight to the beginning of the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (SC Highway 11).
If you happen to be hungry and it’s after 11 a.m., less than two miles from I-85 going north on Highway 11 on the right side of the road is the Spotted Pig. This eatery is a country place with great hospitality and mouthwatering BBQ that is unforgettable and served in hearty portions.
Though the next 20 miles has some farms, businesses and small villages just off the highway, keep going until you see a sign on the right side of the road pointing toward Lake Jocassee for what could be the best part of your trip. Turn left on Jocassee Lake Road and travel three miles to Devil’s Fork State Park (www.southcarolinaparks.com/devils-fork), which includes a boat ramp, camping, RV sites, spacious lakeside villas and a trading post.
You will instantly be stunned by the breathtaking beauty of Lake Jocassee which is named in honor of a Cherokee maiden who drowned herself in grief over her lover who had been murdered. During my youth, my father and I traversed these deep gorges before the lake was impounded and stalked the wild trout that thrived in these rugged streams and scenic rivers … now 100 to 400 feet below the surface. Days spent carefully scaling those beautiful wilderness canyons taught me many of the lessons that molded my life and gave me a burning love for the outdoors.
From Devil’s Fork Boat Ramp, nearly five miles of open, crystal-blue water can be seen surrounded by picturesque mountains. The land around 7,500-acre Lake Jocassee is mostly undeveloped, and the only public access point to the lake is through Devil’s Fork State Park. Four mountain streams and several waterfalls feed into the lake, making it cooler than others and a great South Carolina trout fishing spot.
After returning to Highway 11, turn left and within a couple of miles, you will cross the gorgeous Lake Keowee, which is the lake just below Lake Jocassee. Less than 20 miles from that scenic view is Table Rock State Park (www.southcarolinaparks.com/table-rock). This beautifully diverse state park contains 3,000 acres and had its beginning with the CCC workers in the Great Depression years. The historic lodge shows the excellent workmanship of those years before World War II and has a fantastic view of Table Rock Mountain. Also, many of the cabins were meticulously restored so that visitors can enjoy them today.
The park has a campground, two lakes, a swimming area, fishing possibilities, and many hiking trails. Some of these trails connect to the 80-mile long Foothills Trail that takes hikers past many babbling streams, numerous cascading waterfalls, and to the top of both Table Rock and Pinnacle Mountains.
For the golfing enthusiast, a beautiful mountain golf course is located near the scenic highway and Table Rock State Park. It is simply called The Rock (www.therockgolfclub.com) and I will expand more about its beauty and opportunities in my next article!
Toward the end of the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway is Jones Gap State Park with 11,000 acres of stately woodlands that join with the lofty Caesars Head to become the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. South Carolina’s first designated Scenic River (the Middle Saluda River) runs through Jones Gap State Park (www.southcarolinaparks.com/jones-gap) and is well-known as one of the best trout waters in the South.
Just to experience the magnificent beauty and hidden treasure of the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway with gorgeous lakes, many breathtaking waterfalls and a historical past is enough to make indelible memories. One would surely have to travel to the Rockies or Alaska to find beauty comparable to this Blue Ridge Mountain paradise.
Photos: by Bill Vanderford