From Saluda, NC the Green River Cove Road drops more than a thousand feet into the Green River Gorge to a meeting alongside the Green River. On the other side of the river is the Green River Cove Trail, at the southern boundary of the Green River Game Lands. The trail starts at Wilderness Cove and follows the river for 4.2 miles to the base of the Green River Narrows, a world class whitewater destination that is revered by kayakers all over the globe. This hike occurred on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 beginning at 10:45AM and ending about 2:55PM. My plan was to take the Green River Cove Trail to its dead end at the base of the Narrows, then return.
Hike Length: 8.4 miles Hike Duration: 4.25 hours Blaze: None
Hike Rating: Mostly easy, some strenuous climbing and rock scrambling.
Elevation Gain: 1,560 feet Hike Configuration: Out and back
Trail Condition: Mostly good. Some exposed roots. The river bed is very rocky.
Starting Point: Parking area at Wilderness Cove on Green River Cove Road.
Trail Traffic: I encountered one group of six hikers enjoying a picnic.
How to Get There: Take I-26 to the Saluda, NC exit. Turn north (away from Saluda) on Holbert Cove Road, go 0.2 mile, then turn left on Green River Cove Road. You will dive into the gorge on a series of switchbacks. Go a total of 3.9 miles on Green River Cove Road, look for Wilderness Cove, cross the bridge over Green River and park on the right side of the road. The trailhead is just up a driveway on the left side of the road.
You can access Green River Cove from up above in the Game Lands either from Pulliam Creek, or from Long Ridge. But if you simply want to stroll along Green River for how ever long you feel like it, then this Green River Cove Trail is the way to do it.
You won’t see many pictures in the gallery below of the trail itself, because let’s face it, in winter it isn’t particularly attractive. The reason for coming here, however, is Green River. There are rapids and islands, small waterfalls and hidden coves. At the end of the trail is the base of Green River Narrows. If you really feel like roughing it, you can continue on a rugged and harrowing hike up, up, and up through the gorge. It’s exciting up in the Narrows, I’ve been there, but for the purposes of this trail report I’m only going to talk about Green River Cove Trail.
Coming from Saluda on the Green River Cove Road is exciting itself. The road plunges into the gorge on what seems like nearly 20 switchbacks that wiggle seemingly forever. From the top it is 3.9 miles to Wilderness Cove, a camping and tubing adventure park that is open during the green season. Across the river from the park is the trailhead and parking. The trailhead is kinda hidden around the corner up a driveway. Look for it.
Right off the bat you will climb a couple hundred feet to a small ridge above the river. For the next two miles you’ll stroll through a mostly hardwood forest, past the occasional granite outcropping and boulder field, descending to the river level then back up a hundred feet or so. It’s easy hiking as you pass the summer homes on the other side of Green River along the Cove Road.
There are a few small islands in the river that might be neat to wade over to when the water is a bit warmer. Don’t know if they are private property though, so look for No Trespassing signs.
After about two miles the river gets rockier, generating a series of rapids and small waterfalls. The walls of the gorge get steeper, so it’s more difficult to maintain the trail next to the river. There are some very nice photographic spots though, if you’re willing to bushwhack a bit from the trail to the river bank. One in particular that I call 2.5-mile Falls ( it probably has a real name, but it’s about 2.5 miles from the trailhead) is a great place for pictures, or summer recreation.
Not far past you will make the most strenuous climb of the hike. It’s only about 100 feet up, but it’s steep enough that the trail maintainers have placed a series of log steps up the hill. Piece of cake. At the three mile mark is a nice riverside beachy area that I call Picnic Cove because lots of hikers stop there to enjoy the peace and tranquility, and perhaps a bite or two. There were six folks there doing exactly that when I waved and strolled on by.
There’s one more climb at the three and a half mile mark up to a junction with the Pulliam Creek Trail. PC goes off to the right and the Green River Cove Trail bears left. You are the farthest point away from the river here, but the last 0.7 mile to the end of the trail descends back down to river level.
When you reach the end you’ll know it. It is very, very rocky here with car sized boulders strewn about as if left my giants playing marbles. Both sides of the river bank suddenly get very steep and become more of a gorge. There is a seldom used trail that continues up the steep hillside above the river to take you into the Narrows, but it is quite rugged terrain. Proceed at your own risk.
For me, this was the destination. I setup my tripod for photos and found a perfect table top boulder to enjoy lunch. I’ve always enjoyed the sound of rushing water
— the different harmonies of trickle, flow and torrent create a natural symphony of cooperation. Traveling over, under, around and between the hundreds of boulders tossed about here, the water is a revitalizing constant.
When I’d finished with lunch and photos it was time to head back. The energy from nourishment made the 7/10 mile climb back up to the trail junction pass by before I knew it.
I reached Picnic Cove, and by now the other hikers had departed. I took some pictures and resumed the return trip. There is one place near the three-mile mark where there is a very scenic horseshoe-shaped waterfall in Green River. You can see it well from the trail, but at this point the trail is about 50 feet above the level of the river.
There is a kinda, sorta trail that goes straight down steeply to a large stone slab just downriver from the falls. I debated with myself about how badly I wanted closeup pictures and decided to give it a try.
The hillside was leaf covered, with very soft soil underneath. It’s fair to say that I more slid down the hill, than walked. Grabbing saplings along the way to steady myself, I managed to stay upright all the way to the… uh oh, a ledge.
There was a granite ledge about six feet above the level of the slab in the river. I knew that I could skooch down the ledge like a crab, but the bigger question was, could I get back up? Heck, I’ll worry about that when the time comes. So down off the ledge I went looking for a place to locate the tripod. The photo you see at the top of this post is the result. Click it for a larger image.
Well, my previous concern was justified, because I couldn’t get back up the ledge. There just wasn’t anywhere to get a good hand hold. So I started searching up and down river for another way back up the hill. I found a spot about 10 yards down river that was beyond the ledge, but I would have to crawl through a very thick rhododendron thicket to get back up the hill.
It was steep, and the ground was slippery, and the rhodie branches kept grabbing my arms and legs and tripod strap, but I lived to hike another day… and tell you about it. Hey, I wouldn’t be a good Meanderthal if I didn’t do something just a little bit dumb every now and then.
The rest of the 3-mile hike back was uneventful, simply a terrific stroll along Green River on a beautiful late winter day. It was perfect hiking weather and I was in my element.
To summarize, the Green River Cove Trail is a delightful four-season hike that is great for the entire family, and do-able for all levels of hiking experience and age. I’ve rated this as moderate difficulty, but only for the length. At 8.4 miles round trip, it will take 3-4 hours to complete even if you don’t stop for lots of photos. Otherwise, this trail is quite easy to navigate and there are plenty of good places to stop and turn around well before the end of the trail. I’ve been on this trail in summer, fall, and winter now and enjoyed each.