Norman Wilder Forest, Pacolet Area Conservancy

Located in an area of Polk County, NC between Tryon and Saluda, the Norman Wilder Forest is a conservation easement that first opened to the public in 2001. Owned and operated by the Pacolet Area Conservancy, the 185 acres of protected mature third growth mixed hardwood forest provide hikers with a small trail system that meanders beneath the shady canopy. Lying on the southern slope of Little Warrior Mountain, you will find trails to sheer granite walls, weeping waterfalls, rocky outcroppings, and vistas of the surrounding farmland. Despite the short duration, you will still get your exercise on the moderately difficult trails. I was alone for this hike on Monday, September 1, 2014 beginning at 7:45AM and ending about 10:25AM. My plan was to take the Blue Trail from the parking area and explore each of the five distinct colored trails within the easement.

Hike Length: 3.5 miles Hike Duration: 2.75 hours

Hike Configuration: Out and back. Blaze: No blaze, but colored markers.

Hike Rating: Moderate. Red & Yellow Trails are strenuous, but short. Others easy.

Elevation Gain: 1,260 feet Elevation Change: 640 feet

Trail Condition: Fair. Summer conditions are not good. It is overgrown and not clearly defined. Perhaps conditions are better during other seasons.

Starting Point: Wilder Forest parking along Hwy 176 between Tryon and Saluda.

Trail Traffic: I encountered one other hiker, and her dog.

How to Get There: From Hendersonville, NC take I-26 East to exit 59 at Saluda. Turn right on Ozone Drive and go one mile, then turn left on Hwy 176. It is 5.3 miles to the Norman Wilder Forest parking on the left. Go through the little community of Valhalla, and just shortly past Tau Rock Vineyard Road.

How to Get There: From Spartanburg, SC take I-26 West to exit 67 at Tryon. Turn right into traffic circle. Continue across the bridge and exit right out of the circle onto Hwy 108 toward Tryon. Take Hwy 176 West toward Saluda to the Norman Wilder Forest parking on the right just past Riverview Road.

 

Rather than making you read all the way to the end, I’ll tell you right up front that I didn’t particularly care for this hike. Part of it was my fault for the timing. In the dog days of summer, it was muggy, buggy, and covered with spider webs. I do most of my summer hiking in the high country, and by straying 5,000 feet lower to the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment I was inviting all the badness that comes with hiking in the humidity.

In fairness to the hard-working folks of the Pacolet Area Conservancy who take care of Norman Wilder Forest, perhaps the trails are lined with beautiful wildflowers in spring. Perhaps the views through the forest in winter when the leaves are down are spectacular. Many trails become overgrown in late summer, so this one is not alone. The conservancy is making a diligent effort to eradicate the kudzu that is pervasive along the Blue Trail. The fact remains, late summer is not the time to walk these trails.

Coming down from the north, it’s a beautiful drive along Hwy 176 from Saluda into Pacolet country. The road descends steeply down the escarpment through twists and turns that offer long distance views of the South Carolina Upstate. The little community of Valhalla is quite lovely and quaint, nestled between the escarpment and the fresh flowing water of the North Pacolet River.

When you reach Valhalla, begin slowing down because the pulloff for Norman Wilder Forest is just past Tau Rock Vineyard Road on your left, or past Riverview Road on your right if you’re coming from the south. There’s enough room for 3-4 cars at the trailhead. If you didn’t print my trail map above, or the one offered on the conservancy website, there are paper maps on the sign at the trailhead.

You’re starting on the Blue Trail. All the trails within the Forest are color-coded, and while you won’t see any blaze markings, there are occasional ankle-level colored directional pointers. The Blue Trail starts out very promising. It’s covered in freshly mown grass and lined with summer flowers and butterflies. I was thinking, “I could get into this.” That daydream soon ended when I got the first face full of spider silk… and then another 15 steps later. The trail then makes a sweeping turn to the right, begins climbing, and changes from grass to dirt, roots and rocks.

You’ll pass the overgrown ruins of an old homestead, including the still-standing block walls and chimney, then enter kudzu country. You can see where the trail maintainers have been hard-at-work removing the ornery kudzu, but their task is quite daunting. There is still lots to be done, and as you reach a foot bridge, you will find that the kudzu is encroaching on the trail… and the spider webs are increasing in size and frequency.

Soon after, the Blue Trail pops out on Tau Rock Vineyard Road for a couple hundred yards, and then plunges back into the forest again on the left side of the road. Don’t worry. It’s well marked. It’s then another couple hundred yards to a t-stop where the Red Trail goes right and up, and the Green Trail goes left and down.

Pacolet Area Conservancy

I usually like to get climbing out of the way early in a hike while I’m still energetic, so I chose to make the climb on the Red Trail to the cliffs of Little Warrior Mountain first. I won’t kid you, the climb is steep, but at least it’s short… only a quarter mile. You will follow a series of switchbacks along a trail that was literally covered with acorns. Oh, and did I mention spider webs? By now, I had enough cobweb silk on my face and arms to knit a blanket.

One of the things I hoped to find on the Red Trail was an overlook at the top of the cliff. Instead, what I found was warning signs that said in no uncertain terms not to climb on the rocks. So instead of getting a breathtaking vista, what I got was the base of a large granite wall. It reminded me of a smaller version of Rumbling Bald at Chimney Rock, a very impressive stone face. Still, I would have liked to see the surrounding mountains from the top. I walked about 50 feet along the base in each direction searching for photo opportunities.

And, I paused for some water and nourishment. With the 90+% humidity, and the warming Labor Day heat, the climb up the Red Trail had caused me to sweat profusely. I even felt a little light-headed, so not wanting that to get worse, I downed some granola and probably 10 ounces of water. While sitting on a bench, thoughtfully provided by PAC, I also tried to peel some of the spider webbing from my clammy and sticky skin.

Feeling better after the rest, I proceeded back downhill to the Green Trail. It’s just a short distance on the Green to a junction with the Orange Trail, and then just another 50 feet or so to the Yellow Trail. The Orange Trail is very short, less than a tenth of a mile, and the reward is an outcropping in the middle of the forest. You can skip this one unless you’re simply looking for someplace to sit down on a flat rock.

The payoff for the Yellow Trail is Drip Falls. The Yellow Trail is a loop that basically surrounds the waterfall. Take it either direction, the steepness of the descent and re-climb is about the same. If you go left, you’ll see the upper view of Drip Falls first, then drop to the lower level. It you go right, the opposite is true. I just happened to go left, and encountered the only other person I saw all morning. She appeared to be a local, out for an early stroll with her dog.

Drip Falls is exactly as the name sounds. The water flow isn’t much more than a drip. Even after a hard rain there can’t be much water tumbling over this free fall. There are two channels where the creek splits and drip, drip, drips about 20 feet apart. While parting the rhododendron for pictures, I think I managed to find every spider web at the base of the falls.

I have to imagine the forest was filled with the undetectable sounds of spider sirens warning the others about the mad web destroyer who was out and about today. I still never have made the commitment to trekking poles, but y’know, that’s another positive reason in their favor. If you hold them out in front of you, the poles break the spider webs before your face does. Oh well, perhaps some day.

After visiting the base of Drip Falls, it’s a steady climb back up the Yellow Trail to the Green. There’s another foot bridge over the creek that drops off Drip Falls down below, and then an opportunity to try the tenth mile Troop 3 loop constructed by the local Boy Scouts. Unless you’re looking for more spider webs, as apparently I was, save your energy.

The rest of the hike is just a reverse back to the Blue Trail, down Tau Rock Vineyard Road, and back into the kudzu forest. By now, the sky above had blued, so I did get a nice photo of one of the farms along the North Pacolet River. I finished in just over two and a half hours, taking lots of time for breathers, pictures, and to wipe away the webs and dead bugs.

In summary, everything conspired to prevent me from enjoying Norman Wilder Forest. There really isn’t much to see, the trails are only fair at best, the spiders and other bugs are atrocious, and the humidity of a late summer day will drown your pores. But that was the problem, I think. I picked the absolute worst time of year to try these trails. Perhaps I will give it another go in spring sometime. Having said all that, I still appreciate everything that Pacolet Area Conservancy is doing to preserve and protect our wild places.

 

 

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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