Best Hikes in Francis Marion-Sumter National Forests (SC)

Francis Marion-Sumter National Forests Overview

The Francis Marion-Sumter National Forests encompass more than 629,000 acres throughout South Carolina with areas near Charleston, Columbia, and on the TN/GA state lines. The forest remains a lush landscape of pine stands and wildlife-filled swamps and marshes shaded by towering bald cypress trees. Four wilderness areas, one with a marked canoe trail, offer visitors a unique opportunity to glimpse the wild landscape as it might have appeared earlier in history. Most of the best hikes in Francis Marion-Sumter National Forests described below are in the Andrew Pickens Ranger District in the western part of the state.

StateSouth Carolina
Nearest Metro AreaColumbia, SC
Area Size629,765 acres
EstablishedJuly 10, 1936
Hiking Trails362 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Francis Marion-Sumter National Forests

(*** = Best hikes in Francis Marion-Sumter National Forests)

Chattooga Hiking Trail to Spoonauger Falls – 0.5 miles out and back
Spoonauger Falls, Photo by US Forest Service

Set back into a hillside and surrounded by an explosion of rhododendron, Spoonauger Falls runs down a stepped rock face in a broad sheet. The 50- foot high waterfall is among the more popular in this area of the Chattooga River watershed, in part due to the easy 20-minute hike. Like its cousin, King Creek Falls, this waterfall is picturesque, especially in the summer when foliage is leafed out and afternoon light highlights the innumerable horizontal slashes of the rock.

I’on Swamp Interpretive Trail – 2.5 mile loop
I’on Swamp, Photo by US Forest Service

A fascinating walk through a wetland world, this historic, self-guided, interpretive trail traverses embankments built as far back as the 1700s. The embankments and ditches were built to create a patchwork of fields for rice production during the lucrative rice era of the low country.

King Creek Falls Trail – 1.6 miles out and back
King Creek Falls, Photo by US Forest Service

This 70-foot tumble is on King Creek. After a moderate 30-minute hike, you will reach a spot where you can relax and enjoy the spray from the falls. Perhaps it is the backward slant of the rocks that makes the drop appear much higher than 70 feet.

Opossum Creek Falls Trail – 4.4 miles out and back
Opossum Creek Falls, Photo by US Forest Service

The two-hour journey is worth the effort to reach the 50-foot Opossum Creek Falls. Most of the two-mile hike ambles along a pleasant trail shaded by an assortment of hardwoods and bordered at times by small partridgeberry wildflowers. But when you reach the Chattooga River, you will turn left onto a heavily vegetated path. Then scramble around rocks and trees for the last half-mile hike to the base of the waterfall.

Palmetto Trail / Awendaw Passage*** – 8.6 miles out and back
Palmetto Trail, Photo by Daniel Barcelona

The Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail provides both hikers and bike riders with a gateway to the maritime forests and pine ridges of the low country as well as linking to 47 miles of the Swamp Fox Passage which traverses the entire forest.  Both these passages are part of the statewide Palmetto Trail and its 425 miles of trail. This trail can be accessed from either the Buck Hall Recreation Area, the Awendaw Canoe Launch Trailhead or the Swamp Fox Trailhead.

Riley Moore Falls Trail*** – 2.0 mile out and back
Riley Moore Falls, Photo by US Forest Service

A moderate 45-minute hike along a newly constructed trail is worth the effort. The view of this 100-foot wide, 12-foot high waterfall on the Chauga River is amazing.

Station Cove Falls Trail – 1.0 mile out and back
Station Cove Falls
Station Cove Falls, Photo by Eric Harrison

Station Cove Falls, a stepped 60-foot waterfall forms from headwaters atop Station Mountain. An easy, 30-minute hike through a gorgeous Appalachian cove takes you to the waterfall. In the spring and summer, countless wildflowers bloom along the trail. You may see trillium, may apple, pink lady’s slipper orchids, bloodroot, and redbud.

Yellow Branch Falls Trail*** – 3.0 miles out and back
Yellow Branch falls looks like a layer cake.
Yellow Branch Falls, Photo by Josh Tremper

A moderately difficult out-and-back trail leads you to the base of a spectacular 50-foot vertical cascade. After a short hike on the Yellow Branch Nature Trail, you will come to the junction with the Yellow Branch Falls Trail. You will pass through groves of dignified hardwoods and cross meandering creek bottoms before turning to circumnavigate the steep terrain.

Featured Image: Francis Marion National Forest, Photo by Daniel Barcelona

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