South Carolina Highway 11 Road Trip
Looking for The Great Carolina Road Trip? If you’re anywhere near north western South Carolina, I would humbly suggest taking a drive along Highway 11. Known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (and yes it does live up to that name), Highway 11 passes through some of the most scenic areas of the state. In the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are plenty of places where you can get up high and enjoy the view, but if you’re not a fan of winding mountain roads, there’s still plenty of stuff to see.
For this list we, we choose spots along Highway 11 or just a short drive from the highway. We focused on places where you could stop for a little while, walk around, maybe have a picnic, and then hit the highway again to see something else. You know a Road Trip. That’s why some major spots along Hwy 11 like Table Rock aren’t listed. They may be great places to visit, but you could spend all day at one place. So without further adieu, lets jump right in and start at the Oconee County end of Highway 11.
An unfinished railroad tunnel just a few miles off of Highway 11 in Walhalla, South Carolina. Work began in 1856 with workers using hand tools to cut the tunnel through the solid granite of Stumphouse Mountain. Construction was abandoned in 1859 after only 1600 feet had been dug.
Admission is $5 and includes the nearby Issaqueena Falls. Picnic tables are available on a first come first served basis. You can walk about a quarter mile into the tunnel, so expect it to be dark and damp. It’s a cool sight and a great place to visit, but not an all day thing. But it’s a great place to start our Highway 11 Road Trip.
This is a two for one on our Great Highway 11 road trip. You leave your car in the same spot and just walk from the tunnel to the Falls. There’s an interesting legend that surrounds Issaqueena Falls that I’mnot going to spoil here, but if interested click the link below. Since the falls share the same facilities as Stumphouse Tunnel, you’ve got picnic tables and restrooms at the falls too.
Heading back down Highway 11 you’ll pass just a few miles from one of the best spots of the road trip. Hagood Mill is a fully functional water powered grist mill dating back to around 1845. It doesn’t operate every day, but if happen by during their monthly folk life festival, you can not only witness the mill in all its glory, but enjoy live music and home life demonstrations too. If you miss the festival but still want some grits or meal ground the old fashioned way, stop by the gift shop and pick some up.
Besides the mill itself, there’s also a Petroglyph Center that houses a large boulder that was found onsite decorated with stick figures that researchers believe date to prehistoric times. There are also a few other historic houses that have been moved to the site and a one mile nature trail.
There are picnic tables available near the mill and restrooms nearby. The gift shop is open most days where you can find out more about the mill and local history as well as buy books, trinkets, or grits ground onsite. All in all, Hagood Mill is a great place to spend a few hours on your Highway 11 road trip and a must see.
Our next stop is a little further off of Highway 11, but still worth the detour up winding mountain roads. It’s of course Sassafras Mountain, the highest point in South Carolina. Built right on the state line, the observation tower offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see a good 50 miles all the way into Georgia. If driving along Highway 11 during the fall, Sassafras Mountain has some of the best views of fall color in South Carolina.
Other than the observation tower and a couple benches there’s not a lot of infrastructure at the site. There are open areas around the tower where you can put down a picnic blanket and some boulders that can be used, but there aren’t any picnic tables. If you want a picnic table, hold on to your appetite and drive to Caesar’s Head. You can get there via back roads without having to drive all the way back down to Highway 11, and in the fall it’s a much nicer drive. You can reconnect with the highway later.
You could spend all day at Caesar’s Head and lots of people do. There are over 60 miles pf hiking trails accessible from the park including hikes out to Ravel Cliff Falls. But most people who come to Caesar’s Head do so to take in the view. The overlook at the namesake rock offers an amazing view of the valley below and Table Rock in the distance. It’s a popular stop all year round, but especially in the Fall when people come from miles around to enjoy the changing leaves and annual hawk migration that can see upwards of 1000 raptors a day pass over Caesar’s Head.
There’s a line of picnic tables just off the parking lot as well as bathrooms and a park store. Combined with the trip to Sassafras Mountain for a great two for one on your Highway 11 road trip.
As we travel out of the mountains, we have two historic bridges just a few miles away from each other. The first is Poinsett Bridge, a stone bridge featuring a unique Gothic Arch. Built in the 1820, it was part of the State Road project that sought to connect the Port of Charleston to markets in North Carolina and Tennessee.
The bridge still stands today, but this stretch of the old state road is no more. It sits in what seems to be the middle of the woods in the Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve. Parking is available on the other side of the road from the entrance to the [reserve and if you’re careful you can walk down to Little Gap Creek at the base of the bridge. If you’re looking to a place to have a picnic, you’re out of luck here, but just a few miles away you’ll find the second of the historic bridges on our road trip.
As the last historic covered bridge in South Carolina, Campbells Covered Bridge played an important role in bringing the local area into the twentieth century. Built in 1909, Campbells Bridge was part of an effort to improve transpiration between the Dark Corner of South Carolina and the rest of the state. Today it’s a roadside attraction with picnic tables and a short nature trail. It’s only a few miles from Poinsett Bridge and the two bridges together make great stops on our road trip.
For the next stop, we’re going to have to drive all the way to Gaffney, but we’ll find one of the most important sites from the American Revolution. On this site in 1781, Patriot forces under the command of General Daniel Morgan defeated British and Loyalist forces under the command of Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton. On it’s own, the Battle of Cowpens didn’t turn the tide of the American Revolution, but it did start a series of events that led to Charles Cornwallis’ eventual defeat at Yorktown Virginia.
The site features a battlefield trail where interpretative signs tell the story of the battle and a visitor center where you can get more information and view a short film on the battle. There’s also a two mile nature walk and picnic areas all part of the national historic site.