Named for an opportunistic traitor who supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War, Paris Mountain State Park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Richard Pearis owned 150,000 acres including what is now Greenville, SC and this state park north of the city. Once no more than a rural retreat, Paris Mountain is now a bustling destination for hikers and mountain bikers who test their conditioning on the park’s mature trail system. In addition to the near 15-mile trail infrastructure, there is plenty else here for the entire family including swimming, fishing and boating in the park’s three reservoirs. I paid a visit to Paris Mountain on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 from 10:00AM to 2:30PM. My plan was to make two loop hikes, the first around Lake Placid at the Park Center. The second is a longer affair that included the Brissy Ridge Trail to Pipsissewa and the path around North Lake, followed by a climb to the top of the park on Kanuga Trail to the old fire tower, and a return on Sulphur Springs Trail.
Hike Length: 8 miles Hike Duration: 4.5 hours
Hike Configuration: Two separate loops Blaze: Many different colors
Hike Rating: Moderate. Some elevation gain on Kanuga Trail but nothing particularly strenuous. There are many options for making the mountain loop shorter or longer.
Elevation Change: Lake Placid Tr is level, mountain loop changes 690 ft, gains 1,540
Elevation Start: Lake Placid is 1,060 feet; Brissy Ridge is 1,480 feet
Trail Condition: Some good, some fair. Pretty much every trail is rocky and rooty from erosion through the years. None of the trails are difficult to follow. Sulphur Springs Trail is probably in the best condition of all.
Starting Point: Park Center for the loop around Lake Placid. The Brissy Ridge trailhead at the top of the park road for the mountain loop that includes North Lake and the old fire tower.
Trail Traffic: I encountered two other hikers and a school field trip on Lake Placid Trail. The mountain loop was busier with perhaps a couple dozen other hikers and 8-10 mountain bikers. I suspect this is real busy during green season.
How to Get There: From Hendersonville, NC and points north take Hwy 25 south to Travelers Rest, SC. From Greenville, SC take Hwy 25 north to Travelers Rest. Turn onto State Park Road from Hwy 25 and travel 9 miles. Take a hard right turn, remaining on State Park Road, and travel an additional mile to the park entrance on the left. Park Center is a half mile inside the park.
When I passed through the double-stone gate at Paris Mountain State Park, east of Travelers Rest, South Carolina, the first thought that came to mind was how quaint the park is. It is reminiscent of parks I remember as a boy back when gasoline was still 25 cents a gallon. The building they call Park Center was formerly a bath house, used by recreation seekers who came to swim in the reservoirs that provided water to the growing city of Greenville. The restroom facilities are log houses. There are paddle boats and fishing piers
— all of it cast in the forest shade of giant white pines.
I went to the front door of Park Center to pay my $5 entry fee and to buy a trail map (you can also download one here), but much to my surprise, they didn’t open until 11:00am. So with a little less than an hour to kill, I decided to take a stroll around Lake Placid, the primary recreation spot right there at Park Center. This very easy loop around the lake is just 0.8 mile in length and surrounded by oak and pine. I traveled around the shore clockwise, visiting the marshy area on the west end first.
As I rounded the tip and followed the north shore I could hear the unmistakable giggling of children ahead. Sure enough, in a few moments I passed right through the middle of an impromptu nature class conducted by a park ranger to the youngsters lucky enough to enjoy the gorgeous weather on this early spring day. I fondly remembered the rare opportunities I had as a child to do the same thing. It sure beats sitting in a classroom.
On the east end of the lake the trail descends the slope below the stonework dam that contains Lake Placid. Droplets from the overflow were twinkling in the bright mid-morning sunshine. A quick climb back up to surface level continues the circuit to the south side. You cross a boardwalk bridge over Mountain Creek as you pass picnic tables and shelters. I can imagine this place really jumpin’ in the dog days of summer.
The final hundred yards takes you back to Park Center… and how about that… perfect. It was now 11:00 right on the dot. Here are a few photos from my first walk of the day around Lake Placid.
Once inside the visitor center I took care of the financial transactions then asked the employee for some multi-hour trail recommendations. She said my best bet was to drive to the end of the park road at the top of the mountain and begin a large loop on the Brissy Ridge Trail. From there I would have several options for a shorter or longer hike depending on my stamina and endurance. At the least, though, she said I had to pay a visit to North Lake.
The drive along the park road is very picturesque, through groves of pine and assorted cove hardwoods. There are picnic areas seemingly every few hundred yards and trailheads on both sides of the road. All told, there are nearly 15 miles of trails in Paris Mountain State Park and I was hoping to knock off about half of those on this adventure. After a couple miles of twisty, turny steeply uphill driving I reached the parking area for an assortment of trails.
Five different trails take off from here, and there are but nine marked parking places. Even on this Wednesday morning the parking was full. I would learn later a big reason for that was the club group of 20 or more hikers that all arrived together. Well, what to do? I continued farther out the park road and much to my relief there was overflow parking a quarter mile away. At the gate for Camp Buckhorn there are about a dozen parking spots on a hill to the left.
The Brissy Ridge trailhead is at the far western end of the original parking area. There is a large signboard there with a park trail map and other typical warnings and education postings. Brissy Ridge Trail takes off to the right and as its name implies, winds along a ridge through the heart of the forest. It is marked yellow on the trail map and with blaze marks on trees.
The forest is completely different to what I’m used to in the Smokies and Western North Carolina. Mostly pine, and quite sparse, almost even bare, it is typical of this elevation. Everything seemed to me to be very dry… the trail, the woods, the fallen leaves. It has been a few weeks since a good rainfall. After about a mile Brissy Ridge Trail passes Kanuga Trail. This is an option for one of the shorter loops and is preferred by mountain bikers.
After another quarter mile Brissy Ridge meets the green-blazed mile-long Pipsissewa Trail that takes you to North Lake. This trail is more of the same rocky, rooty, almost even dusty trek through a thinly forested ridge line. It descends just a bit into the bowl where North Lake Reservoir is. I passed a couple mountain bikers coming up as I was going down.
I could tell I was approaching North Lake when it finally began to get a little green. There were rhododendron and laurel, and even a few leaf buds just beginning to peep out. There must be water nearby I thought. The grey colored North Lake Loop junction offers a choice for circuiting the lake. I chose the left fork to take the southern shoreline.
There are campsites all around North Lake. When I arrived at the one named Rhododendron #5 it was time for lunch. So I took the little spur trail and much to my delight, there was even a picnic table. The photo at the top of this post was taken from my spot for lunch. I could hear voices coming from the west, at the far end of the lake.
When I got back on the trail after lunch, I found where the voices were coming from. There were at least 20 hikers sitting at another campsite at the Kanuga Trail junction. I don’t think they ever saw me as I kind of surreptitiously crept by and took a left on red-blazed Kanuga. The next three-quarters mile is really the only stretch of this loop that requires any exertion. It makes a steady uphill climb of about 600 feet to the highest point in the park.
Fortunately it does so with wide, sweeping switchbacks that surround the mountain. Other than the lakes, I saw the first water on this ascent. There were a few small streams flowing down the drainages to North Lake. As I stopped for the occasional photo op, I was passed by a young woman walking a menagerie of pooches. What a delightful way to spend the day.
I began to notice more and more leaf buds poking out of the tips of the tree branches. Little hints of spring greening popped here and there. As I approached the top of the ridge, I could see North Lake far below and the flowering trees of Greenville subdivision landscaping far in the distance. This would not be available in summer when the view would be obscured by the tree canopy.
At the top of the mountain is a little connector to the Fire Tower Trail. Marked with blue blazes, this trail goes in both directions. I took the right turn to go see what the fire tower was all about. The CCC constructed fire tower is long gone, but the red brick ruins of the four room house used by forest rangers still remain. What also remains is a very high rent district. Perched high on this mountain are several trophy homes that stand sentinel above the community of Travelers Rest. This is the park boundary. It goes without saying that the homes are on private property, so behave yourself.
I sat on the former front porch steps of the ranger dwelling enjoying a snack and pondering life here during the Great Depression. When real estate developers came up the mountain during World War II the fire tower was moved, and the ranger home abandoned. I went back the way I came to take the other fork of Fire Tower Trail and its eventual meeting with Sulphur Springs Trail, one of the more popular mountain biking circuits.
It is pretty obvious that white-blazed Sulphur Springs Trail used to be the road to the fire tower. It is wider, smoother, sandier, and a lot more conducive to mountain bike enjoyment than the very rocky Brissy, Pipsissewa and Kanuga trails. It is also the longest loop within the park at 3.6 miles, but for my purposes it was the final mile-long leg back to the Brissy Ridge parking area. By the time I finished and returned to my car I had done about seven miles on the variety of trails that made up my loop. A good endeavor.
To summarize Paris Mountain State Park, and judging by the number of folks I saw visiting on a mid-week day in March, this must be very popular with the local South Carolina Upstate communities. Not only were there hikers and bikers out on the trails, but nearly every picnic ground had several groups enjoying the beautiful weather. Except for the school field trip, none of them were kids, because it was a school day. So even adults love coming to this little slice of outdoor activity to get away for a few hours.
Located conveniently 10 miles east of Travelers Rest and north of Greenville, it is easy to get to and ideal for the whole family no matter the season. There is an entry fee of $5 per person (half price for kids and discount for SC seniors). You can purchase an annual pass if you plan on visiting frequently. I have not been there during the busy warm-weather seasons, but I suspect it can become crowded. So keep that in mind. I do plan to return to explore the other trails in the central part of the park.