On the first cold day of the year, I wound my way through the South Carolina Upstate. The leaves were at their peak as the cold mountain air whipped through, slicing them off the trees to which they were once so creatively attached.
The car motor revved as we wound our way up a steep winding road. Accompanying me on this trip once again was my faithful travel companion, my granddad. A small parking lot came into view as we rounded a large curve in the road. As we pulling into the lot, a small red, covered bridge came into view.
Campbell’s covered bridge — located in Greenville, South Carolina just off of Hwy. 11 — is the last covered bridge in South Carolina. At one time, the little red structure that spans across Beaver Dam Creek was the home of a grist mill, which milled cereal grain into flour and middlings.
There are numerous grist mills across the state, but none have a backdrop quite like that of the Campbell’s covered bridge. This bridge, built in 1909, is surrounded by park land and is situated next to the old mill. Though not much of the mill still remains, Campbell’s covered bridge makes for a quick pit stop where you can relax and step back in time from the stress of the modern world. The bridge costs nothing to see and at the most is a 10-minute drive from the main road.
It was the early morning hour, so we were the only people at the historic mill and bridge site. It is interesting to see and read the history and makes a good short stop to stretch your legs to enjoy the graciousness of the outdoors.
Once we departed from Campbell’s covered bridge, we drove southwest on the scenic highway in search of our next venture. Our next stop seemed to be straight out of medieval times.
Poinsett Bridge, located off of Hwy. 11 in Greer, has been the subject of many ghost stories, and upon arriving, we could most certainly see why. With its Gothic arch and medieval stonework, the bridge stands tall — under which Callahan Branch flows gracefully, as did Beaver Dam Creek at Campbell’s bridge. However, this bridge was not built in the Middle Ages but in 1820 as a part of the road from Columbia to Saluda Mountain.
Though still old, this bridge with its 14-foot Gothic arch looks as though it was built several hundred years earlier. It is placed very gracefully in the landscape between two mountains. Once again, the bridge cost nothing to see but offers enjoyment to the sightseer and nature-lover alike. There is a parking lot across the street where you can walk across the less-than-busy street to the breathtaking landscape surrounding Poinsett Bridge.
Leaving Poinsett Bridge, we found ourselves wondering where the time disappeared; it was nearing lunch time. We were both becoming more than slightly grouchy from the lack of food, we sought out a place to eat lunch. Unlike us, it would be wise for the organized traveler to plan ahead for lunch. It can be hard to find any restaurants or even a gas station on Hwy. 11.
At last, we located a small roadside restaurant. It was good, but sadly as hard as I try, I fail to recall the name of the restaurant.
Hitting the road once more, we sought out our last stop of the day: Wildcat Wayside, a waterfall directly off Hwy. 11. When I say it is directly off Hwy. 11, I am in no way exaggerating. From the time you step onto the pavement out of the car, the falls are in sight.
The lower falls are easily accessible and yet stunning with their 30-foot cascades. They are a must-see for anyone who longs to enjoy a waterfall but doesn’t enjoy a long hike.
This site — officially known as Greenville Wayside Park — is home to not one but four waterfalls. The first two falls can be seen from the road, but with a short easy trek of less than two miles, the grandiose 100-foot falls can be viewed. The trail is one massive loop, so there is no need to turn around and return the same trail you walked on the way. You can simply follow the trail out of the park.
The hike is modest and is the easiest I have yet to trek in the mountains. It is well worth the reward of the waterfall that awaits your arrival.
The most trouble that we had on this trek was finding the trail leading to the upper falls. We were looking for a way around the lower falls to the trail. Upon closer examination. we realized that the trail was actually just below the first cascade in between the two falls. It was then that we noticed the small stepping stones paving the way across the top of the lower falls to the trail.
The easy hike along the Wildcat Wayside trail is especially scenic in the autumn. The whole length of the trail is lined by a small creek, which takes the displaced water from the upper falls and deposits it to the lower falls.
Once arriving at the upper falls, you will notice that the creek triples in size. I glanced up, and through the trees could make out water flowing down a vertical rock face in the distance. The stream of water is significantly more impressive after a rain, as the rock face is nearly as wide as it is tall and covered in the gush of cool stream water.
At the base of the large rock face, there are numerous large boulders, which seemingly hold up the giant slab of stone. Take notice of how smooth each bolder is after possibly hundreds of years of being carved to perfection by nature. The walk-out was equally as rewarding as the walk-in, following the flowing water back to the lower falls, parking lot, and car.
Though it seemed as if the day had just begun, the sun was dropping below the trees and with it, the temperature. In this day’s trip we sought out adventure and took an exploration through the remarkable history of the upcountry with Campbell’s and Poinsett Bridges. My only regret is that we did not have more time to explore the backwoods of Carolina in full splendor with all of the autumn leaves.
It is satisfying to know that living in South Carolina, you can travel to the scenic mountains in the Upstate or to the Atlantic Ocean in the Lowcountry all in one day. What a majestic state we are proud to call home!
Story by Will Harmon / Published January 9, 2020