John Muir famously wrote, “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” During times of stress and endurance, humans have instinctively turned to nature for rejuvenation and comfort. As we endure what we hope will be the last few grueling months of the pandemic, many of us are feeling uncertainty, anxiety, and burnout. Scientific studies show that the body’s nervous system quietens in nature, helping us feel less fatigued, sharper, and calmer. Fortunately, in South Carolina, we are gifted with mild winters and an abundance of outdoor beauty. There’s never been a better time to get outside and find peace in nature. Here’s our pick of four lesser-known trails to quiet your soul.
Nine Times Preserve
Gentle endurance embodies Nine Times Preserve in Pickens. The preserve’s name stems from the nine bridges on the property that guests must cross to gain access. Situated where South Carolina’s Southern Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Piedmont along the Eastatoe Creek, Nine Times is a 560-acre nature preserve with good climbs, breathtaking woodland, plenty of obstacles, and the opportunity to hike to a rewarding outlook. The preserve has approximately five miles of trails. The uphill Rocky Bald Loop and Cedar Rock trails provide more strenuous hikes totaling around four miles. You’ll navigate trees, boulders, and steep gradients. Hikers report seeing black bears, peregrine falcons, rattlesnakes, and freshwater trout. Families with young children may also enjoy Nine Times’ quarter-mile Trillium Trail along the Eastatoe Creek, abundant with wildflowers in the spring. As in many preserves, you should be aware of hunting seasons and wear an orange vest during active hunt periods.
Pickens, SC. sctrails.net/trails/trail/nine-times-preserve
Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve
North of Paris Mountain State Park, just outside Travelers Rest, is the quaint Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve. This low-key preserve has a 1.25-mile loop that offers a pretty, meandering stroll through intermittent woodland and prairie. The preserve is named after the rare Bunched Arrowhead plant, a federally endangered species that grows in its wetland seeps and blooms from mid-May to July. The species is prevalent in just four counties in South Carolina and North Carolina. You could complete the loop in less than an hour or follow the lead of local birdwatchers whose stillness and patience rewards them with sightings of a variety of feathered species hiding amid the brush.
Travelers Rest, SC. southcarolinabirdingtrail.org/regions/piedmont-western/greenville/bunched-arrowhead-heritage-preserve
Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve Trail
Immerse yourself in the forest at this understated beauty spot in Landrum. What starts off as a fairly ordinary hike, develops into a creekside excursion to striking hardwood forest and rocky terrain. Nature lovers have reported sightings of bears, deers, raccoons and turkeys. A moderate 5.1-mile out-and-back dirt trail takes hikers to Squirrel Mountain and onwards to the South Pacolet River. Factor in two-and-a-half hours and take time to relax by the water, letting your worries float away. The dates of hunting season at Chestnut are posted on the trailhead kiosk. Keep your orange safety vest on hand.
Landrum, SC. sctrails.net/trails/trail/chestnut-ridge-heritage-preserve
Norman Wilder Forest
This 185-acre preserve between Saluda and Tryon, North Carolina, offers sheer cliffs, a waterfall, and mountain views. Set aside an hour and follow the yellow trail for a two-mile out-and-back amble through towering trees to a vista above a waterfall looking out to the mountains. The red trail features more strenuous uphill terrain to another rewarding view at the top. Sit down, breathe, and be still. Find joy in bird song.
Polk County, NC. conservingcarolina.org/norman-wilder-forest