The Greenville Watershed is touted as one of the most significant, untouched wilderness areas in South Carolina's upcountry
. A principal water source for the city of Greenville
, the 19,000-acre tract has been carefully protected since it was acquired in the 1950s.
While most of the land is off limits to the public, hikers can explore the northern perimeter of the watershed on the Palmetto Trail’s Poinsett Reservoir Passage. The 6.6-mile moderately difficult trail begins at Vaughn’s Gap, the end of the Palmetto Trail’s Blue Wall Passage
There is no parking at the juncture of the two trails, so unless you’re up to trekking an additional 3.5 miles from the entrance of The Nature Conservancy’s Blue Wall Preserve
to Vaughn’s Gap, you’ll need to start your hike at the other end located inside Orchard Lake Campground
Although the campground parking lot is open to Palmetto Trail hikers, this time of year you might find the gate closed. When we made the hike a couple of weeks ago, we parked along the road just outside the entrance.
The trailhead kiosk is on the far right side of the campground. As you begin your hike, you’ll walk across a footbridge and up a path that leads to the road. Cross the street and turn left. The yellow-blazed trail reenters the forest just a short ways up.
At this point the elevation is 2,125 feet. You’ll walk up and down through the woods for the first mile and a half or so. Then the real climbing begins. It’s a steep ascent to the ridgeline between South Carolina and North Carolina, but the views of the surrounding mountains are fantastic.
After about a mile, the trail takes a decidedly downward turn through a series of switchbacks before climbing again to Brushy Ridge. The route continues along the state line for another couple of miles before reaching the high point of 3,060 feet at Rocky Spur Mountain.
The trail comes out on Hog Back Mountain Road. To get to the beginning of the Blue Wall Passage, walk south 1.9 miles to Vaughn’s Gap.
For a map and directions to the Poinsett Reservoir Passage trailhead, click here