Life In the Big Green Jolly

Embrace local. Explore often.

Embrace local.  Explore often.

Oconee County Waterfalls

Chau Ram Falls

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

Oconee County, bordered on two sides by lakes and rivers, is the north-western most county in South Carolina.

Chattooga River
Crystal-clear Chattooga River

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. 

Oconee Bell flower - white flower on green groundcover
Oconee Bell flower

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 Waterfall
Reedy Branch Falls, 30-feet
Reedy Branch Falls
Height 30-feet cascades
Parking Free.

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 DescriptionEasy to follow short hike.


Some steepness at the beginning of the trail.
Trip Duration < 1 hour
Why VisitFeels like a remote hike without actually being remote

Bull Sluice

Bull Sluice rapids
Bull Sluice, rapids on the Chattooga River
Bull Sluice
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

Issaqueena Falls

Issaqueena Falls
Issaqueena Falls, 200-feet
Issaqueena Falls
Parking$2 per car fee

Dirt parking, somewhat limited
Trail DescriptionEasy 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 VisitImpressive falls with interpretive signs of its historical legend
Insider TipBe sure to visit Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel in the same park

Chau Ram Falls

Chau Ram Waterfall
Chau Ram Falls, 40-feet
Chau Ram Falls
Height 40-foot cascades
Parking$2 per car fee

Paved parking, plentiful inside Chau Ram County Park
Trail DescriptionPark 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
Station Cove Falls, 60-feet
Station Cove Falls
Height60-foot stepped 

Park either at:
– Oconee Station State Historic Site (plenty of paved parking)
-off of Oconee Station Road (limited unpaved rutted parking)
Trail Description3-mile round trip unpaved moderate hike from Historic Site
Trip Duration1 – 3 hours
Why VisitA hidden gem of Oconee County!
Insider TipStop by the State Historic Site and talk to Ranger Scott – he is full of historical tidbits delivered in a dead-pan entertaining narrative

Other Waterfalls

There are over 20 waterfalls in Oconee County that we haven’t yet explored!

Add-on adventures

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:

  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • 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.

Lake Jocassee
Lake Jocassee – boaters and scuba divers will love it

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.  

three Oconee Bell flowers
Oconee Bell flower

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!)
  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • 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

Green tent beside sheltered picnic table along Long Creek
Creekside camping at Chattooga River Lodge
Chattooga River Lodge and Campground
LocationLong Creek, South Carolina
DescriptionIndoor lodging

RV sites

Tent camping
Insider TipTent 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
Location Westminter, SC
DescriptionCounty campground with about ~25 sites


No full RV hookups but they do have a dump station for RVers.  
Website Chau Ram County Park
Insider TipSteep, 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

Waterfall Guides

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.

Take Cash

Have cash (singles) to pay parking fees at self-pay stations.

Slow down

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.