Day 38: Chattooga Wild and Scenic River & Andrew Pickens RD / Sumter NF

Road Miles: 36.9

Total: 4098.7

Trail Miles: 5

Total: 108.6

Sites: Chattooga Wild and Scenic River / Bull Sluice, Reedy Branch & Long Creek Falls on the Andrew Pickens RD of the Sumter NF

After days of rain, I finally woke up to a beautiful sunny day. So, I took one last hot shower, packed up, and headed back into South Carolina to chase waterfalls using the Mountain Lakes Visitors’ Guide I’d picked up at the Backwoods Community Shoppe a few days earlier. My first stop was a repeat visit to the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River off of US-76 at the Georgia / South Carolina border to see Bull Sluice, which is actually more of a rapid than a waterfall. From the upper parking area on the South Carolina side, it’s only a 0.5-mile round-trip walk to the river and rapid. I could have easily spent a lazy day at this popular put-in site for rafters and kayakers, just watching the river and clouds drift lazily by overhead.

But, I’m on a mission! And that was to see as many of the dozens of waterfalls dotting the South Carolina highlands as I could before making my way south to Florida. So, off I went, and within a mere 15 minutes, I was parked at the access point to Reedy Branch Falls, and within 20, I was looking at them. These 30-foot falls are only about 300 yards down an easy trail off of US-76 near Long Creek, SC. Despite their proximity to the road, I only saw one other person during my visit.  

After awhile, my stomach started grumbling, so I hit the Long Creek General Store to grab some lunch. A no-frills fried chicken sandwich and a soda set me back just $5 including tip; the unfriendly attitude I experienced from two of the three employees I encountered was no extra charge. Because Long Creek is central to many of the falls, and the General Store is pretty much the only game in town for food, I found myself there several times over the course of these few days, and about the best things I can say are that they have free wifi, and the bathroom is spotless.

However, while I was eating my fresh-from-the-microwave sandwich, I did chance into a delightful local character who worked part-time as a river guide for nearby Southeastern Expeditions, which I’d by now passed three times, each instance thinking that it would be great to profile them on my outdoor economy page. A lot of people think of public lands as just that – land. But access points for water activities have to originate from somewhere on dry ground, and guess where those usually are? Yep. On public lands. 

Anyway, my new friend informed me that most of the local river outfitters were looking for guide trainees right now, that they specifically looked for people with no experience (hello! that’s me!), so I should go over to Southeastern to apply because they not only don’t charge for their training, they actually offer free housing during training and employment. What?? Thus, I shortly found myself sitting in front of General Manager Jonathan McKenzie, faced with the first job application I’d seen in about ten years. So, get this: I used to run resume-writing and job interview workshops when I was a case manager at a homeless shelter. Now here I was, looking at this entry-level fairly generic job application form, and I was stumped by the first question.

“Um… my address? I live in that van out there,” I hemmed, motioning vaguely in the direction of the parking lot.

“You can skip that one.”

After finishing the app and profile interview for this site, I got back to the serious business of chasing waterfalls. My lunch buddy had told me that dispersed camping was allowed at the trailhead to Long Creek Falls, so that’s where I headed next. I arrived early enough to make the ~3.5-mile round-trip hike to these 50-foot multilevel falls before dark. This time, I had the entire place to myself, not seeing one other person on either the trail or at the falls. Even though the correct route was not always clear (there are some forks in the road that are not marked or described in the guide), the payoff of getting to see not only the falls in one direction but the confluence of Long Creek with the Chattooga in the opposite direction was more than worthwhile. This was a gorgeous spot, and I’d go back anytime. 

By the time I got back up to the van, it was getting dusky. I was still the only one parked at the trailhead, and there were no signs prohibiting overnight parking, so I decided to stay put. In all, it was a fantastic day exploring capped off with a relaxing evening, surrounded by the fireflies and sweet sounds of the South Carolina forest.