Matthews Creek plunges more than 350 feet over Raven Cliff Falls into the gorge it has carved below Raven Cliff Mountain. One of a myriad of landmarks along the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Caesars Head State Park, the rim of this gorge offers a gentle and rewarding hike. Part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area that also includes Jones Gap State Park, this is the most extensive trail system in South Carolina. More like Western North Carolina than the coastal and central regions, the South Carolina Upcountry is similar in elevation and forest to its northern neighbor. It is less than three hours round trip to a man made platform that peers across the gorge at the magnificent waterfall. Ken an I enjoyed this trail on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 from 10:30AM to 1:00PM. Our plan was to take the Raven Cliff Falls Trail to the falls overlook, then return.
Hike Length: 4.6 miles round trip Hike Duration: 2.5 hours
Hike Configuration: Out and back Blaze: Red
Hike Rating: Easy. A mostly level trail with some mild exertion.
Elevation Change: 240 feet, 880 feet gain Elevation Start: 3,050 feet
Trail Condition: Excellent. The trail is wide and mostly free of exposed roots and rocks. There are no creek crossings. Extremely well maintained.
Starting Point: Trailhead is at the Raven Cliff Falls parking on Hwy 276.
Trail Traffic: We had the trail all to ourselves, despite beautiful weather. Everyone else missed out on a stellar December day.
How to Get There: From Greenville, SC follow Hwy 276 north 23 miles to reach Caesars Head State Park. Raven Cliff Falls parking is an additional 1.2 miles past Caesars Head State Park Visitor Center. From Brevard, NC take Hwy 276 south 14 miles to the Raven Cliff Falls parking in the state park.
South Carolina State Parks have a voluntary $2 hiking fee, so be sure to register either at the Visitors Center or at the sign box at the parking area. It really helps keep all the trails in great shape, and most of the trails in Mountain Bridge Wilderness are indeed in really great shape.
The Raven Cliff Falls trailhead is across Hwy 276 from the parking area. You may get a little confused at first though, because the trail sign says Foothills Trail, Caesars Head Access. Don’t worry, you’re on the right trail. It is designated trail #11 on the parks map and has a red blaze. It starts out as a downhill gravel road for the first few hundred yards before turning southwest along the ridge.
Oddly enough, every time I’ve hiked this trail (3 times) it has been in the month of December. I need to change that up some so I can see what it looks like in different seasons. In late Fall, with all the leaves down, the forest is highly visible. There is very little ground cover, so you can see all the tree trunks of this mostly cove hardwood forest. You can also see through the trees to the flat lands of Upstate South Carolina.
Most of the time, the view is either to the south or the west. Raven Cliff Mountain blocks the view of the Table Rock massif from this trail, but you can get a stunning view of both Table Rock State Park, and the reservoir there, from the Caesars Head Visitor Center.
There are stretches of the trail where it really hugs the rim of the escarpment, not a good place to fall because you would probably still be bouncing until you reached Greenville. The trail is plenty wide enough, though, so falling off is extremely unlikely.
About a mile in we encountered three levels of wooden steps that helped with navigating a short steep stretch. Another 1/2 mile later, the Gum Gap/Foothills Trail comes in from the north. This is the Foothills Trail access that was mentioned on the trailhead sign. You can go all the way to Oconee State Park on this trail, 80 miles away.
We continued on the Raven Cliff Falls Trail for another half mile to the junction with Dismal Trail, #12 on the parks map. Dismal Trail will take you deep into the Matthews Creek Gorge, then up the other side to Raven Cliff Falls. Unfortunately, Dismal Trail has been closed for a couple years.
At this junction you want to turn right onto the spur trail to the Raven Cliff Falls Overlook. It’s a very short little up and over of perhaps 300 yards to a nice treated-lumber shelter. There we found an excellent view across the gorge at the full 350 foot drop of Matthews Creek over Raven Cliff Falls.
This overlook shelter is very well done. It’s a good resting spot for the casual hiker who may not be in the best shape, and just wants to view the falls. It’s a great place to get protection from quick moving bad weather. Oh, and did I mention it has an excellent view across the gorge at the full 350 foot drop of Matthews Creek over Raven Cliff Falls? The return trip is just back the same way you came.
I’ve been nursing a minor knee injury for the past few weeks, so this short hike to the Raven Cliff Falls Overlook and back is just what the doctor ordered to test my recovery. I’m happy to report that all went well and I should be able to resume normal hiking by Christmas.
To summarize, if you want to see a really tall, magnificent waterfall in all its glory, you would be hard-pressed to find a more spectacular view than this one of Raven Cliff Falls. This is an all-season and all-family trail. The 4.6-mile length will stretch your legs a bit, but there’s nothing so strenuous that you can’t bring grandma along too. Pack a lunch and enjoy a family picnic at the overlook shelter while being amazed by the incredible view.