Hiking the Palmetto Trail in South Carolina with my Dog

Hiking the Palmetto trail is a lifelong experience that I recently encountered. In this article, I'll share that expedition with you.

There are two different kinds of morning alarms: the ones you set the night before you have an obligation, like work, and those you set before a day jam-packed with fun. 

When Monday finally rolled around (which makes up one day of my weekend), I rose with the rest of the work-going world and prepared to face the day—only, I wasn’t going to an office, but to the trail. South Carolina’s own Palmetto Trail, to be exact.

I’m new to the state so I decided what better way to get to know the local flora and fauna than to immerse myself in it? Plus, my three-year-old golden retriever could always use the exercise. Lately, he’s taken to strategically dropping tennis balls throughout the apartment, his not-so-subtle way of telling us he’d like to go outside please, and play ball. 

So, when I heard from the Palmetto Conservation Foundation asking me to monitor a section of the 500-mile Palmetto Trail, I jumped at the opportunity. That’s plenty of miles to wear out my pup, break in my hiking boots, and explore Enoree Passage, the name for the section of the trail I was to check. The type of forest just outside of Kinards is very different from the rain-saturated, moss-covered woods in my home state of Washington.

Happily, Sumter National Forest allows dogs on the leash, provided their owners clean up after them should they need to potty. I go through some resources on hiking with my dog; dos and don'ts stuff.

I loaded a canvas bag with a small bundle of homemade dog treats, a collapsible bowl, plenty of doggie bags, and a huge thermos of ice water. That’s one thing about golden retrievers—they’re always thirsty. Very thirsty. Apollo is no exception to this rule. I have given up on trying to stop him from drinking out of the toilet.

After a light breakfast, I grabbed my backpacking backpack which I had loaded the night before, Apollo’s leash and day bag, and a ball cap to keep the sun off my face. I pulled up the map on Avenza one more time just to make sure I had the right destination. It was just going to be the dog and me, so I wanted to make sure I was equipped for a successful day on the trail.

Not being familiar with the woods and surrounding area, multiple ways of viewing a map of the trail could really come in handy. And little details like a full tank of gas, extra snacks & no-cook food; as I didn't want to spend much time preparing food nor compromising with nutrition and energy. These easy backpacking lunches require no cooking but provide enough energy to replenish your body.

The Palmetto Trail

Established in 1994, the Palmetto Trail is composed of 500 miles of hiking and biking paths spanning from Walhalla in the Blue Ridge Mountains to Awendaw on the Intracoastal Waterway. Stretching from the mountains to the sea, the Palmetto Trail is South Carolina’s longest trail, composed of 31 passages ranging from 1.3 to 47 miles in length.

These passages are open for hiking & backpacking; designated sites for mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping.

Palmetto Trail Passages, Length and Activities

PASSAGES

LENGTH (Miles)

ACTIVITIES

1. Croft Passage

12.6 Miles

Hike

Camp

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

ride

Ride

2. Enoree Passage

36.88 Miles

Hike

Camp

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

ride

Ride

3. High Hills of Santee Passage

11.4 Miles

Hike

Camp

Bike

ride

Ride

4. Swamp Fox Passage

47.6 Miles

Hike

Camp

Bike

ride

Ride

5. Peach Country Passage

14.1 Miles

Hike

Bike

Run

6. Hub City Connector

12 Miles

Hike

Bike

Run

7. Peak to Prosperity Passage

10.7 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

Camp

8. Wateree Passage

11.4 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

Camp

9. Lake Marion Passage

35.9 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

Camp

10. Santee Passage

13.9 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

Camp

11. Eutaw Springs Passage

21.3 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

Camp

12. Lake Moultrie Passage

26.7 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

Camp

13. Ross Mountain Passage

5 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

14. Stumphouse Passage

(1.5 Mile Hiking Trail & 9.34 Mile Mountain Bike Park)

1.5 Miles

Hike

Bike

15. Oconee Passage

3.73 Miles

Hiking

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

16. Blue Wall Passage

14 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

17. USC Upstate Passage

1.3 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

18. Cedar Springs Passage

2.9 Miles

Hike

Bike

19. Glenn Springs Passage

7.3 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

20. Lynch’s Woods Passage

4.9 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

21. Newberry Passage

10.7 Miles

Hike

Bike

22. Capital City Passage

10.2 Miles

Hike

Bike

23. Fort Jackson Passage

16.3 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

24. Awendaw Passage

7.1 Miles

Hike

mountain bike

Mountain Bike

25. Eastatoe Passage

4.6 Miles

Hike

26. Blue Ridge Electric Co-Op Passage (Jocassee Gorges)

12.6 Miles

Hike

27. Roundtop Mountain

5.9 Miles

Hike

28. Middle Saluda Passage

11.1 Miles

Hike

29. Saluda Mountains Passage

9.1 Miles

Hike

30. Poinsett Reservoir Passage

6.6 Miles

Hike

31. Blackstock Battlefield Passage

1.6 Miles

Hike

We started at the Sedalia Campground and headed south.

Enoree-passage-of-the-palmetto-trail-Avenza-Maps

Hiking the Palmetto Trail - Getting There

We drove just over an hour from the Columbia area on SC121, leaving the highway at exit 72 and winding through US 176 West for 16 or so miles. We took a left on Old Buncombe Road and after 11 miles turned right on Bombing Range Road to reach Sedalia Campground. 

Apollo’s excitement was palpable, and I found myself experiencing flutterings of anticipation as we drew nearer to the trail. We passed a sign for the historic Rose Hill Plantation and, just minutes after, pulled into the trailhead parking lot.

Of course, I made him pose by the trailhead…but he was itching to explore the trail!

We set off as soon as I could get him to hold still long enough to hook up his leash. We stepped into the woods and I was hit by the particular scent of the forest—it wasn’t nearly as earthy, damp, and musty as the forests in Washington, but rather had a cleaner, vaguely pine-y smell. 

The ground was covered in leaf litter in many places, so I was grateful the trail was so well-marked. Yellow squares painted on trees indicated our route, with the occasional trail marker. 

Apollo’s survival instincts set in and he immediately took a “scent bath” in the leaf litter to “blend in” with the local environment.

Once he was good and “camouflaged” in whatever stinky scent he found to roll in, we proceeded to the shores of Johns Creek Lake. I’d budgeted our miles to pass by three lakes in total for the day, so this milestone meant we were right on track. We waved to a fisherman loading his morning’s supplies into his rig before ducking back into the woods again.

After crossing several bridges, we came to a beautiful patch of forest with tall, slender trees and minimal understory. It was unlike any wooded landscape I’d seen in the Pacific Northwest, and I was struck by how pleasant it was to walk through, with high visibility and a sense of spaciousness.

We crossed over gurgling creeks, one of which had carved a slight gulley in the undergrowth. The sunlight danced on the earthen walls above the creek, a rare hint through the canopy of the blue skies above us. Apollo was very interested in drinking from the stagnant creek, so I reminded him that we do not drink yucky water by pouring him a bowl of fresh ice water I’d carried with me. He drank heartily, and we carried on.

Apollo-in-the-post-water-break

We came to a fork in the trail and Apollo relished in clomping through the mud puddles. “So much for the bath I gave you yesterday,” I told him, but his enthusiasm was contagious.

We passed by the modest Sedalia Lake and had yet to see a single soul on the trail. It was amazing, having the whole trail to ourselves! I ate a celebratory snack of mixed nuts and dried fruit, and we continued to journey south to Macedonia Lake.

Along the way, I noticed a familiar friend. This sword fern is abundant where I’m from, and I felt a new sense of kinship with the natural landscape of South Carolina:

Just before we made it to our third and final lake of the day, at around mile 7, we came to a fantastic clearing.

beauty-of-palmetto-trail.1

As soon as we reached Macedonia Lake, I filled Apollo’s water dish once more. He drank the contents and flopped on the ground, signaling to me he was ready to head home.

We turned tail and headed back the beautiful route we had come.

As we journeyed back to the car, I could tell Apollo was exhausted. He flopped down in the shade several times to press his belly to the cool earth and pant.

He wasn’t too tired to find a way to drive his mother nuts, however…

…Yes, there went the interior of my car. Next time, I will pack emergency towels! 

As we drove homeward, I felt the day’s work in my legs. I fed Apollo bites of the hatch green chile sausages I’d brought along. I rolled down the windows for him and pondered the roughly 15 miles we’d journeyed that day. It’s a small chunk out of the 350, so there’s plenty more for us to explore in the future! Who knows what next weekend will bring?

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R. Adrian
 

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