South Carolina Hikes: Croft State Park and The Cottonwood Trail

After relocating to Spartanburg, South Carolina, I was eager to get outside and explore the area's best hiking and camping spots. Conveniently, there is a state park in Spartanburg called Croft State Park, as well as numerous small hiking and nature trails. Here are three recent trails I've done.

Croft State Park / Fairforest Creek Trail, 3.5 miles/ Difficulty: Moderate / September 30, 2015

For my first South Carolina outdoor expedition I picked Croft State Park. This is a 7,000-acre park just outside of Spartanburg proper. The park is popular with equestrian enthusiasts, as it has many horse trails in addition to hiking and biking paths.

I wanted to get a feel for the terrain in a place that was less remote, with marked trails. I took a small REI light daypack with a granola bar and water bottle since I knew I would only be on the trail for a few hours.

I initially wanted to hike the Lake Johnson Trail, but I parked in the wrong place and wandered around for a half hour trying to find the trailhead. After setting out through the woods and coming into a surprise clearing by the horse stalls, I ambled across the ring to a road and found a 3.5 mile loop trail called Fairforest Creek. I took it, not sure of where it would lead.

Fortunately, it quickly delivered on its promise and brought me to the creek. A wooden bridge offers the chance to cross over into mountain biking trails, but I decided to stick with the hiker footpath.

Bridge over Fairforest Creek.

Bridge over Fairforest Creek.

The trail winds through the woods, hugging the creek bank, and joining up with park roads. It took about two hours round trip, traveling at a comfortable pace and stopping often to avoid large spiders—who had spun their webs smack in the middle of the trail. I don't know what it is about the South, but these were some serious spiders, much larger than any I had seen in Vermont! I was not looking to get up close and personal, so I usually walked around the central footpath if I came across a big web strung across the trail.

The trail was hopelessly waterlogged and muddy. After 10 days of rain and the damage from Hurricane Joaquin, this was the first sunny day, but the ground was still saturated. I slogged through, and definitely took a few spills on some muddy inclines.

On my return loop, I stopped near the bridge to dip my hat and feet in the cool water. I desperately wanted to swim, as it was muggy and damp under the thick forest covering. I meandered the creek bank and splashed a bit, before packing up to walk away. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a rope swing on the opposite bank. Aha!

I crossed the bridge and scrambled down the rocks. I threw off my backpack and stepped out to grasp the rope swing. The water was not very deep, maybe three feet, so this couldn’t be called a proper swimming hole. Nevertheless, I jumped in and splashed around. Refreshing!

Rambling creek.

Rambling creek.

I was lucky enough to catch a look at a doe and her fawn on my way back. They were lurking across an open field, keeping close to the edge of the forest. I stopped, staring at them across the field. The fawn leapt away quickly, but the mother stayed, watching me for a few minutes before taking off.

The trail loop ended back at the parking lot of Lake Craig. The clouds were large and fluffy, reflecting perfectly in the glassy lake surface.

All in all, a good introduction to the Croft trail system. 

Cottonwood Trail / 3.5 miles/ Difficulty: Easy/ October 6, 2015

The Cottonwood Trail is part of the Edwin M. Griffin Nature Preserve. The preserve protects a stretch of Lawson Fork Creek and the surrounding area. There are several trails, all rated fairly easy. I decided to try the Cottonwood Trail, a 3.5 mile loop. Beginning at the parking lot, you see the trail map to guide you.

Walking along the Cottonwood Trail.

Walking along the Cottonwood Trail.

Sculpture near the trailhead.

Sculpture near the trailhead.

I only had about 1 1/2 hours, so I didn't end up doing the entire trail. Plus, it was miserably flooded in many places, still from Hurricane Joaquin. 

So, it was short, and more of a walk than a hike, but still beautiful in places. This would be ideal for a quick trip to recharge mid-week. Plenty of people run or jog these trails as they're nearly flat.


Rocky Ridge Trail: 3.5 miles/ With connections to Foster Mill Trail, total of 4.5-5 miles / Difficulty: Moderate/ October 7, 2015

Bridge crossing.

Bridge crossing.

This was my first hike trying out my own fully-loaded backpack. I’ve done long day hikes where I didn’t need sleeping gear, and have also done lots of camping, but I have always done camping by canoe or car where you can pack extra gear and not worry about weight.

I needed to test myself on carrying a 20-25 pound load on my back for backcountry hike in/hike out camping, and to do so on a relatively easy/moderate loop trail. A 4-5 mile day hike was a good test run, so completing Rocky Ridge with a few add ons would suit my needs.

I fully loaded my hiking backpack with all the necessary gear for a weekend to test how it felt. I have an Osprey Kestrel 38, which is ideal for long day hikes or light overnight/ weekend hikes. For multi-day trips, I plan to use my dad’s much larger Osprey Argon 85, which he took to the Australian outback.

The pack itself weighs 3 pounds. I was already wearing one pair wool socks, one synthetic tshirt, one pair cropped leggings, hiking/walking shoes, baseball hat, and a synthetic sports bra. In the pack went: sleeping bag (Marmot 30 degree, 3 lbs 14 oz), tent and poles (Marmot Limelight 2 person, 4 lbs 10 oz), stove and fuel (MSR Pocket Rocket, 3 oz for stove and 4 oz for fuel), cooking system (pot, nesting mug and bowl, utensils, ), one long synthetic pullover shirt, one coldweather synthetic legging, one pair wool socks, one pair synthetic underwear, one synthetic sports bra, first aid kid, headlamp, small toiletries, rain jacket (Marmot), rain cover for backpack, large knife, bandana, and Tevas for camp shoes/lounging. So for all the clothes and small gear I would guess another 2 or 3 lbs. Total of about 12 lbs.

For late fall or winter I would use a wool knit camp instead of a baseball cap, add a long sleeve thick fleece, and swap a long sleeve/long legging instead of the tshirt/cropped leggings I was wearing. I would also wear a bigger ski-type jacket instead of the thin rain jacket

The Osprey also has an integrated hydration pouch, so my 3 liter Camelbak (8 lbs of water) could fit right in. I also tucked a 40 ounce Klean Kanteen water bottle (2 lbs of wter, 9.7 oz bottle) in a side pocket. I could also have fit another water bottle if I chose. I’ve yet to acquire a water filtration or purification system, so at this point anything beyond 2 days would be pushing it. That's 10 lbs just for water.

So rounding off, the pack was about 22-25 lbs. I did not include food, but for a weekend hike I could keep it reasonable by bringing dehydrated, instant meals. That would add more pounds. It definitely felt heavy (perhaps heavier than 25) and I will learn to reduce weight for sure.

Back to the hike.

Rocky Ridge bears off of Foster Mill just past the Kelsey Creek Bridge crossing and is open to both horseback riders and hikers. The trail hugs creeks as it makes it way to the historic Whitestone Springs Spur Trail. This spur trail offers a one way route to the historic location of Whitestone Springs.  According to Croft's website "Trail users venturing to this location can view the spring and see evidence of the bottling business, several foundations, and the foundation of the 4 story hotel from the late 1800’s. This trail is a must if you really want to immerse yourself in the rich history and tranquil beauty that make Croft State Park so special."

I ended up doing the entire Rocky Ridge and adding on some connections to Foster Mills, but did not do the out and back to Whitestone Spur. I would guess 5 miles total, with Rocky Ridge being 3.5 and another mile or so with my connections. 

I saw a lot of wildlife, including two deer, a doe and a buck! I saw them again together, and then the doe a third and fourth time! I spied a green lizard and more big spiders (must be a Southern thing.)

The best wildlife sighting was, by far, this stunning blue butterfly. This butterfly was spectacular, and not at all humble. It showed off its wings for over five minutes, gently breathing and beating them slowly, open and close, open and close, so I got a good look at the pattern. Royal blue pattern on the inside that fanned to light blue at the wings' edge. 

I saw it on my way back down the trail, on the  Foster Mills connection. I was feeling frustrated and a little frazzled from various things, and the interaction with that butterfly really snapped me out of it. It was so peaceful to just watch it flutter around and show off. 


History of Kelsey Creek.

History of Kelsey Creek.

Lots of lovely plant life too. I have no idea what these berries were or if they were edible, so I just admired them instead of sampling them.

So those are three trails I sampled in Spartanburg, in a one week period. I was feeling good and ready for some bigger challenges...I started planning some trips into North Carolina to bigger mountains and more intense, diverse trails. Posts about those trips coming soon!