Oconee County Waterfalls
March 20, 2020
We went for the Oconee Bell blooms. But we got hooked on the waterfalls.
Here’s our guide to chasing waterfalls in Oconee County, South Carolina.
- Why visit Oconee County
- Waterfalls of Oconee County
- Add-on adventures
- Where to Camp
- Tips for visiting
Why visit Oconee County
Oconee County, bordered on two sides by lakes and rivers, is the north-western most county in South Carolina.
Oconee County – the big playground for outdoor enthusiasts – has:
- over 25 waterfalls
- 2 rivers (including rapids)
- 3 lakes
- so many day and long-distance hiking trails
- access to Sumter National Forest
We went to see the Oconee Bell blooms in early March.
The Oconee Bell blooms were pretty (and environmentally significant) but underwhelming so we switched to waterfall hunting. We were not disappointed.
Waterfalls of Oconee County
Here are the ones we have visited. We barely scratched the surface of waterfalls to explore.
Reedy Branch Falls
|Reedy Branch Falls|
Limited, unpaved, and easy to miss off of US 76.
Look for the stone wall gate on your left as you head west on US 76.
|Trail Description||Easy to follow short hike. |
Some steepness at the beginning of the trail.
|Trip Duration||< 1 hour|
|Why Visit||Feels like a remote hike without actually being remote|
|Height||14-feet. Technically a class IV/V rapids on the Chattooga River|
Plentiful and paved
Off of US 76, marked with “Bull Sluice” US Forest sign
|Trail Description|| Steep, short trail|
Right fork takes you to overlook of the rapid
Trail-head is behind the bathrooms at the top of the parking lot
|Trip Duration||< 1 hour|
|Why Visit||Easy to access, beautiful views of Chattooga River|
|Parking||$2 per car fee|
Dirt parking, somewhat limited
|Trail Description||Easy unpaved walk to viewing platform (did it with toddler in tow)|
Unmaintained trail to base of falls
|Trip Duration||~1 hour including visiting Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel|
|Why Visit||Impressive falls with interpretive signs of its historical legend|
|Insider Tip||Be sure to visit Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel in the same park|
Chau Ram Falls
|Chau Ram Falls|
|Parking||$2 per car fee|
Paved parking, plentiful inside Chau Ram County Park
|Trail Description||Park your car and view|
No hiking is necessary
|Trip Duration||<1 hour unless you add in hiking the river trail|
|Why Visit||Gorgeous easy-to-access waterfall|
|Insider Tip||Name of the falls comes from its existence at the junction of Chauga River and Ramsey Creek|
Station Cove Falls
|Station Cove Falls|
Park either at:
– Oconee Station State Historic Site (plenty of paved parking)
-off of Oconee Station Road (limited unpaved rutted parking)
|Trail Description||3-mile round trip unpaved moderate hike from Historic Site|
|Trip Duration||1 – 3 hours|
|Why Visit||A hidden gem of Oconee County!|
|Insider Tip||Stop by the State Historic Site and talk to Ranger Scott – he is full of historical tidbits delivered in a dead-pan entertaining narrative|
There are over 20 waterfalls in Oconee County that we haven’t yet explored!
Waterfalls could keep you busy 24×7 but consider taking in a few other adventures as well.
Oconee Station State Historic Site
The area at Oconee Station State Historic Site was originally a military compound and then later served as a trading post.
You can view the Oconee Station (originally part of the fort) and the William Richards House – both original structures from the 1700 and 1800s.
Stop by the onsite ranger station and talk to Ranger Scott. He has in depth knowledge of the historical significance of the area and can even recommend books to learn more about the history of Oconee County.
Things do at Oconee Station State Historic Site include:
- Walk to Station Coves Waterfall
Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel
Part of Stumphouse Park, the unfinished Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel is only 400 yards long.
It’s a nifty little walk – dark, cool, and drippy. Even in the summer, the air temperature is downright cool inside the tunnel.
Expect *someone* to holler to hear the echoes.
Watch your footing on the path inside the tunnel – it is not maintained. And you will need a flashlight to see – it gets real dark a little past the entrance.
While you are at Stumphouse Park, you can also visit Issaqueena Falls or the mountain bike park.
Devils Fork State Park
A gateway to Lake Jocassee, Devils Fork State Park is not a park we’d recommend for hikers. It’s a boater’s and water-lovers park.
For hiking, there is only the 1.5 mile Oconee Bells Trail. The Oconee Bells bloom in March and this is one of the few areas in the country to see the flowers in the wild. Definitely an environmentally significant plant, it’s worth protecting.
Is it worth visiting the park just to see the blooms? We’d vote no. The ground-cover plant makes it difficult to appreciate the blooms. If you are in the area anyway? Absolutely, stop and take the hike but expect to pay a steep day-use fee to do so.
Activities available in the park:
- Boating including motorized and non-motorized
- Scuba diving (yep, really!)
- Waterfalls… all accessible only by boat. Per a state ranger, you could paddle to the waterfalls but it’s easily an 8-mile paddle to get to the closest waterfall.
Where to Camp
Chattooga River Lodge and Campground
|Chattooga River Lodge and Campground|
|Location||Long Creek, South Carolina|
|Insider Tip||Tent site #14 rocks!|
We highly recommend Chattoga River Lodge and Campground after our camping experience.
Owners Mat & Teresa are making some renovations since purchasing the facility in January 2020.
The tavern/restaurant and the footbridge across the creek were under renovation (March 2020) when we stayed but likely all are fully open by the time you are reading this post.
The site has some indoor lodging as well as RV camping. Our review is on the tent camping.
The tent camping is listed as ‘primitive’ on their website but we’d call it primitive+. Each site has a sheltered picnic table, a fire ring, and electricity. There is no designated tent pad but it’s obvious where the flat spot is. Water is available at the bathhouse. The bathhouse includes flush toilets and showers.
Many of the tent sites are creekside so you can listen to Long Creek burbling during the night.
Campground host “Hop” is onsite and his most recent rescue dog Angel is hard at work to become the official camp greeter. If you are lucky, Hop will turn on his laser light show.
Near tent site #16 there is a footbridge across Long Creek. This will lead you onto a trail in the Sumter National Forest. Turning right will lead you to a small island like forest retreat. Turning left will lead you back towards the road.
Technically you could get to the tavern via a steep spur trail…but your best option may be to walk the roads to the tavern. If you try the trail back to your campsite after a few cold ones, don’t say you weren’t warned how dark the forest gets at night.
Chau Ram County Park
|Chau Ram County Park|
|Description||County campground with about ~25 sites|
No full RV hookups but they do have a dump station for RVers.
|Website||Chau Ram County Park|
|Insider Tip||Steep, narrow road thru camping area. Large RV – beware!|
If Chattooga River Lodge and Campground is full, try one of the county campgrounds.
While we didn’t stay at Chau Ram County Park, we did scope it out for future trips. Their staff is extremely welcoming.
Tips for visiting
Pick up a hard-copy guide of the “Visit Oconee Visitors Guide” and the “Waterfalls of the South Carolina Upcountry” pamphlet available at most visitor centers and tourist suppliers.
These guides describe some of the trails differently in terms of difficulty so choose the guide that fits your fitness level and comfort zone the best.
Plan your tentative route in advance to spend less time mapping your “which waterfall next” during your trip.
Cell Phone Service
Expect it to be spotty. Locals say Verizon is your best chance for service but even it is spotty.
So be sure to have a hard-copy map with you.
Have cash (singles) to pay parking fees at self-pay stations.
You are in the south – so you can’t be in a hurry.
Southern hospitality mandates you’ll be having some long conversations about where to go, what to do and the best places to visit. Soak up that local knowledge!
For more waterfall hunting adventures, check out the area of Cashiers, North Carolina or Tallulah Gorge, Georgia.