observation tower with walkway leading to the top at Sassafras Mountain South Carolina
New Observation tower at Sassafras Mountain

Sassafras Mountain

About Sassafras Mountain

This one sits right on the line between South and North Carolina. Sassafras Mountain, named for the large number of sassafras trees known to grow on the lower slopes, is the highest point in SC at 3,553 feet and offers panoramic vies of the entire area.

On a clear day you can see up to 50 miles, all the way to Georgia. Notable sights include the 6000 ft Mount Pisgah in North Carolina as well as Currahee Mountain near Toccoa, Georgia. To the south, you can see most of South Carolina’s mountains as well as Lakes Keowee, Jocassee, and Hartwell. Sassafras Mountain also offers great vies of Jocassee Gorge, named one of National Geographic’s “Last Great Places In the World”.

The mountain sits along the Eastern Continental Divide, separating waters that drain into the Atlantic Ocean from waters that flow to the Gulf of Mexico. But it’s also what’s called a tripoint. That is, a point that separates three different watersheds. Rain that falls on the eastern side of the mountain flows into the Saluda River. From there it flows into Lakes Murray and Greenwood, before it joins with the Santee River finally ending up in the Atlantic Ocean. Rain from the south side of the mountain eventually flows into the Savanna River feeding lakes Hartwell and Russell until it spills into the Atlantic near Savanna. Waters from the north side of the mountain flow into the French Broad river and take a long journey through North Carolina and Tennessee Eventually they join up with the Ohio River in Kentucky. From there the waters flow down the Mississippi River and spill into the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans.

History of Sassafras Mountain

view from high area - mountains and lakes in the distance
View from Sassafras Mountain

The mountain was once owned by Duke Energy, but left open to public. The fire tower atop the mountain, although off limits to visitors, became a popular spot until it was demolished in 1993. For years the top of the mountain remained neglected and became littered with trash. In 2004 Duke Energy sold their holdings on the South Carolina side of the mountain to the SC Department of Natural Resources.

With the state’s purchase of the mountain, residents hoped that it would be cleaned up and an observation deck would be built on the peak. Unfortunately, the SCDNR didn’t own the North Carolina side of the peak. That changed in 2010 when The Conservation Fund purchased 8000 acres from former Congressman Charles Taylor. 4.8 acres at the top of the mountain were donated to the state of South Carolina with the remainder going to the North Carolina Forest Service for the creation of Headwaters State Forest.

With that donation, the SCDNR had all the land they needed to build an observation deck, but it would take almost 10 years for the project to be completed. In 2012 graduate students at Clemson University built an overlook and installed it near the parking area. This was a step forward, but a far cry from the panoramic views most people were hopping for. Then in 2015 Duke Energy donated $350,000 towards construction of am observation platform and things finally began to move along. Additional funds were raised and construction began in November 2017. The tower finally opened on April 22, 2019 at a cost of $1.1 million.

Visiting Sassafras Mountain

Today it’s easier than ever to visit Sassafras Mountain. Just drive up F Van Clayton Memorial Hwy off of highway 178 in Pickens County, South Carolina. The road ends at the parking lot, and from there, it’s just a short walk to the observation tower. From one side of the parking lot, you’ll find a paved road leading to the peak. From the other, you can visit the observation deck built by students from Clemson University. Then you can follow a short trail to the new observation tower.

There aren’t any picnic tables at Sassafras Mountain, but there are plenty of flat areas including some boulders behind the observation deck. Lots of people, including folks hiking through, stop here for a break or a picnic lunch.

Trail System

If you’d rather hike to the mountain than drive, you’ve got a lot of options. Sassafras Mountain is part of the 77 mile Foothills Trail system linking Table Rock State Park with Oconee State Park. The closest access point along the trail would probably be along Highway 178. That would give you an eight mile hike up the mountain and back.

Other hiking distances are:

Sassafras Mountain to Chimneytop Gap – 2.1 Miles

Sassafras Mountain to Table Rock State Park– 9.7 Miles

There’s also a spur trail to Caesar’s Head – 14.2 Miles

Fast Facts About Sassafras Mountain

Type:Roadside Attraction – Scenic Overlook
Admission:Free
Location: F Van Clayton Memorial Hwy – Pickens County South Carolina
Jump to map

Things to do: Scenic Views, Photography, Hiking, Picnicking but no picnic tables

Map to Sassafras Mountain