Sign on side of the road reading "Enoree Ranger Station Sumter National Forest Us department of Agriculture"
At Ranger Station on Highway 176 just outside of Newberry you can pick up maps and info on all Sumter National Forest facilities.

Sumter National Forest Field Report

Sign on side of the road reading "Enoree Ranger Station Sumter National Forest Us department of Agriculture"
At Ranger Station on Highway 176 just outside of Newberry you can pick up maps and info on all Sumter National Forest facilities.

Today I decided it was finally time to start exploring the Sumter National Forest. Now Sumter is unique in a lot of ways, for one there’s no main entrance, so I didn’t have a logical starting place. The closest thing to a main entrance are the ranger stations for each of the three districts. Yes, I said ranger stations and districts plural. There are three self contained districts in Sumter Forest that not only aren’t connected to each other but aren’t even close to each other. Today I decided to check out the Enoree District.

The drive to ranger station took me down Highway 176 from the north. Between Union and Whitmire, I passed lots of rural homes, churches, a few businesses, and lots of tree farms. It wasn’t long before I started seeing Sumter National Forest signs pointing mainly to a few boat launches and other infrastructure in the forest, but soon I’d be back driving past private homes. This whole thing makes sense because even this part of the forest isn’t rally connected. It can be best described as islands of largely unconnected public land surrounded by private property. Which of these islands you drive to depends on the type of activity you’re planning.

CCC era picnic shelter with two picnic tables inside, a brick fireplace and chimney on one side, and a grill outside.
Molly’s Rock is a great place for a picnic if you’re in the Whitmire area. Just one shelter, but there are plenty of picnic tables outside and lots of parking nearby.

I found the ranger station on Highway 176 between Whitmire and Newberry. While it’s not really a visitor center, more of an administrative office, you can pick up maps and pamphlets about the forest amenities. The door’s locked, but you just have to ring the bell to have a ranger let you in and help you out. There aren’t any public facilities at the station, but there’s a picnic area just a few miles away, so that was my next stop.

Molly’s Rock Picnic Area is only a few miles from the ranger station just off Highway 176. The shelter itself is was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps with a brick fireplace on one end and a grill just outside. There are other picnic tables scattered around the area to the right of the shelter each with smaller grills. The parking lot is large with trash receptacles on one side of the lot and restrooms on the other. There is a well pump not far away, but the water isn’t tested, so any water from the well needs to be boiled.

Small pond with green foam floating on top. In the woods with a clearing and a fishing platform on the right of the photo.
Although there was some trash floating on the water, it could have been from the previous weekend – although there are plenty of trash cans just 50 feet away. The fishing platform would make a great place to enjoy a day and unwind after a picnic.

The shelter overlooks a small pond. Unfortunately the pond has a good bit of trash floating in it – especially since there are plenty of trash cans nearby. On this winter’s day the pond was covered with pond scum, but there wasn’t any smell. There’s a fishing area and according to information on site, the pond is stocked with fish.

There’s a nature trail leading away from the picnic area marked with white blazes. I followed it for a little way but not far enough to know where it goes. The same white blazes mark a trail around the pond leading to a small bridge leading back to the picnic area. The bridge looks suspicious, but it feels really sturdy.

Sign on the side of the road that reads "Pittman Lake Sumter National Forest."
The whole area between Lockhart and Newberry is dotted with areas of public land and forest facilities.

After checking this spot out, I made a 16 minute detour to Newberry. Getting back underway I discovered that my next stop was almost an hour away. Luckily at about the half way mark I saw a Sumter National Forest sign for Lake Pittman. After turning around and driving down a gravel road, I found myself at a small lake in the woods.

A small lake with muddy water on a cloudy day in winter. Looking to the far bank, it's full of trees with some evergreens behind the first row of trees.
Unlike other National Forests, Sumter doesn’t have one large signature attraction. Instead it’s made up of smaller facilities each serving a specific purpose.

The gravel road ends in what looks like a boat ramp, but the lake is only big enough for something the size of a john boat at most. There’s a good sized parking area to the left just before the lake. There aren’t any picnic tables or other facilities, but there does look like there might be a trail to at least the far side of the lake. There are signs warning about mechanical wild animal traps in the area, so any pets should be kept on leash and people should stay on the designated trails.

Sign on side of road that reads "Woods Ferry Recreation Area Sumter national forest." a smaller roadsign past it reads "end state maintenance" and a informational kiosk can be seen further back but none of the posts are legible at this distance.
Woods Ferry in Union County is along the Broad River and is one of the nicest picnicking spots in the forest.

Now it was time to finish my drive to the Woods Ferry Recreation Area. It’s in Union county not far from Lockhart. That should give you an idea of how large Sumter Forest is stretching from Lockhart to just a few miles north of Newberry.

There’s a big imposing red sign stating that reservations are required at the entrance to this area of the forest, but I think that’s just for the camping area. I would have driven up to check out the campsites, but there were some people camping and I didn’t want to disturb them. So I kept straight and drove down to the river.

Zig Zagging covered picnic shelter with three tables underneath in a wooded area. A short stone wall runs around the perimeter with openings for people to enter.
The picnic facilities at Woods Ferry are well maintained and most likely used all year round. This was the only place today where I saw other people out enjoying the National Forest.

Again this area had lots of parking down by the river. The picnic area is easily the nicest area that I saw today. There are two covered picnic shelters with a few tables under each. The shelters are fairly small, but there are also lots of concrete picnic tables in the wooded area around the shelters. There are plenty of grills around. You’ll see the trash cans and restrooms as you drive to the parking area.

Cement picnic table the type you typically find in national parks with a grill behind it. Two large pine trees are in the background along with other picnic tables.
Even of you don’t get to use one of the shelters, there are still plenty picnic spots nearby.

There’s a short walking area next to the river with benches where you can have a have a rest and watch the water flow by. There are a couple wooden fishing platforms. One thing to note is that there’s a hydro plant nearby. The spillway is only 2.5 miles away, so there’s no swimming.

Small brown bench in a sandy area beside large river, Cloudy sky and  trees without leaves.
Located along the Broad River, Woods Ferry Recreation Area is one of the best places to just sit and enjoy watching the waters flow to the sea.

That was my last stop of the day. I knew there would be lots of driving, but I was surprised by how much. It looks like it’s going to take another day to get all I need to write up this site. At least now I have a map and can make a better plan. And I’m really need to go back to Woods Ferry and get some photos when it’s not overcast.