Pinnacle Mountain Trail and Ridge Trail, Table Rock State Park, SC

This park sits right on the cliff’s edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment that drops down from the mountains in western North Carolina to the upcountry of South Carolina. The park is more than 3,000 acres of trails, lakes, cabins and camping. Pinnacle Mountain Trail is the most challenging within the park, with a climb that exceeds 2,300 feet. The lower section follows Carrick Creek, while the upper levels offer fantastic views into the South Carolina Upstate, with massive rock outcroppings along the way. Ken and I hiked Pinnacle Mountain at Table Rock State Park on Monday, December 18, 2017 beginning at 9:30AM and ending about 3:30PM. Our plan was to hike Pinnacle Mountain Trail to the Mill Creek Pass Trail, connect with the Ridge Trail, then take Table Rock Trail to the summit of Table Rock. It didn’t work out that way, and we visited the Pinnacle Mountain summit instead.

Hike Length: 9.4 miles Hike Duration: 6 hours

Hike Rating: Difficult. Particularly the upper portion is extremely strenuous.

Hike Configuration: Lasso Blaze: Yellow, orange, blue

Elevation Change: 2,306 feet Elevation Start: 1,119 feet

Trail Condition: Some very good. Other sections are still recovering from a 2016 wildfire and 2017’s Hurricane Irma. Trail crews are working very hard to restore the pathways to their former condition.

Starting Point: Parking lot next to north end of Pinnacle Lake.

Trail Traffic: We encountered 12 other hikers, actually kind of a surprise for a December weekday.

How to Get There: Table Rock State Park is on S.C. Hwy. 11 near the Greenville-Pickens county line. Enter at the west gate, go past the campground and follow the signs to the Nature Center. Park in the lot across from the Nature Center and cross the road. The trail is behind the Nature Center. Please fill out the hiker registration form at the kiosk. It’s for your safety. There is a $5 day use fee.





When we arrived at the Table Rock State Park Visitor Center on Lake Oolenoy we learned that a change of plans was in the cards. Instead of heading up Table Rock via the Pinnacle Mountain Trail and Mill Creek Pass, we would instead hike to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain. Why? 2016 brought a devastating wildfire to the forest of Table Rock and 2017 saw Hurricane Irma ravage the area, blowing down trees and eroding trails. Not to worry. This would still be an enjoyable hike. We also learned that over the years since our last visit to Table Rock State Park, they had raised the day use fee from $2 per person to $5. Still a bargain.

The lower part of this hike follows Carrick Creek past a series of small waterfalls, over wooden footbridges, and along smooth creek bedrock. It shares the first quarter mile with the Table Rock Trail, one that we had hiked way back in 2011. At the split we turned left onto yellow-blazed Pinnacle Mountain Trail, while Table Rock Trail goes to the right.

We happened to arrive on a very foggy morning. The forest was actually kind of eery. However, a pair of hikers coming down the mountain from an overnight camp told us there was good news ahead. We would eventually climb above the cloud inversion, offering a masterpiece view of the low valley fog.

The next two and a half miles are gently uphill, passing through deciduous forest and groves of mountain laurel and rhododendron. You continue to follow Carrick Creek for a mile or more, much of it rubbed bare and smooth over thousands of years draining Pinnacle Mountain. You could almost slide on your behind along the path of the creek like a water park, but don’t. They wouldn’t like that.

The higher you get, the rockier the terrain. Car sized boulders and fins appear in the woods, crumbling eons ago from the escarpment high above. Just past the 2.5 mile marker you reach The Mill Creek Falls spur trail. It was our intention to take the 0.4 mile sidetrack to observe the waterfall. However, it is still closed thanks to the thoughtlessness of Hurricane Irma.

So on we pushed, soon passing the southern end of the Mill Creek Pass Trail, one that we would use for our return after visiting Pinnacle Mountain. The rocks are house size now, and we began to enter the wildfire zone. It was really hard to tell how much the ecology has recovered in one short year because we were there in winter. There was no green to be seen. There are, however, still many, many burn marks.

The trail really begins climbing in earnest now, becoming increasingly steeper the higher you go. This makes it all the more amazing how the wildfire burned this steepest part of the mountain. We had also now cleared the fog layer, and were looking down upon it. Nearly 400 feet above the Pass junction, you reach the remarkable Bald Rock.

There are two levels to this massive cliff face, each offering a unique view of the South Carolina Upstate. The first level is a little more rounded, with a less scary edge, but the upper level has a definitive precipice. You don’t want to get too close because it is a very long way down. The vista to the south was limited because of the sea of clouds below us, but there is a magnificent view of the Table Rock pluton off to the east.


Don’t get too close to the Bald Rock edge. Believe me, the bottom is not as soft as those clouds look.


There was a nice couple sitting on Bald Rock, enjoying lunch. We chatted for a bit and learned this was to be their turning around point. Based on what I learned later, I kinda wish I’d made the same decision.

From Bald Rock, the trail climbs another 625 feet to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain in just a half mile, or less. That is steep folks… and I’m not afraid to tell you that it took everything I had to make it to the top. I’m not as strong a hiker as I was five years ago (I am older after all), but I can still hold my own. Believe me when I tell you that this half mile stretch is strenuous.

About half way there you reach the junction with the famous Foothills Trail. If you are ever interested in a multi-day trek in this neck of the woods, there is a lot to behold along the Foothills, including the nearby Sassafras Mountain.

It’s still another 340 feet up to the summit, the steepest part yet. It doesn’t get any easier. As you’ll see from the picture below that I took of the summit sign, I did make it, but I was a wreck when I reached the top. The good news is the nice logs at the summit that make perfect seats for a rest, and a lunch break.

Ken, as he always does, still seemed fresh from the climb, but he did admit to me that even he was tired. We stayed for about 20 minutes, eating lunch, and catching our breath. There isn’t really much to see on the summit, unfortunately. There are no cool views or historic artifacts, just the self-knowledge that you accomplished the feat.

Here, the Pinnacle Mountain Trail meets the orange-blazed Ridge Trail. You can take the Ridge Trail all the way nearly two miles to its meeting with the Table Rock Trail, but our plan was just to descend to the upper junction of the Mill Creek Pass Trail. As you would expect, the first quarter mile going down is very steep, just like the ascent. We ran into more evidence of the 2016 wildfire along the way.

It’s ¾ mile to the bypass, dropping a total of 550 feet. Then, the blue-blazed Pass Trail is another ¾ mile, and drops another 400 feet. Hard on the knees and hips. Look for lots and lots of mountain laurel along the way. This stretch of trail is probably quite beautiful with pink and white flowers in May.

Once back on the Pinnacle Mountain Trail, it’s then a three mile trudge back to the trailhead, terrain already covered on the way up. It was more clear now, as the fog layer had finally burned off, and the air temp had warmed nicely. We encountered a half dozen more hikers getting a late start on their way up, likely overnighters.

In summary, this hike is hard, but that doesn’t make it a bad experience. Bald Rock, for example, is by itself well worth the effort. The views are stupendous. Perhaps just consider an up and back to there. If you are a really gung-ho super hiker, then go for the entire loop to Pinnacle Mountain, on to Panther Gap and Governor’s Rock, and then up to the summit of Table Rock, a total of about 12 miles with two major ascents. Y’know, I’ve only visited Table Rock in the winter so far. I think I need to plan a spring excursion.

I'd like to pass along a well deserved pat on the back for all the employees and volunteers of the SC Parks Dept. who have been working on repairs to the Table Rock trail system since the devastating wildfire and hurricane. The crews have done remarkable work restoring access to the trails. There's still a lot of work to do, but they earn huge kudos from me.



This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.


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