As you may know, Horsepasture Road provides an excellent access in to the Jocassee Gorges but except for 6 weeks in the Spring and 3 months in the Fall and Winter, this road is closed to vehicular traffic. This is because of the fragile ecosystems and the presence of the rare Oconee Bells and the endangered Peregrine Falcon.
But, making a run in late October is well worth it because of the Fall colors. Note that we are talking about 10 miles of single-lane, gravel, mountain road with uncountable turns and some pretty good bumps. A high clearance vehicle is recommended.
From the intersection of US 178 and SC 11 north of Pickens, take US 178 8.1 miles to just past Rocky Bottom. Then you will cross a bridge over Eastatoee Creek and immediately turn left at a sign for Laurel Valley Lodge. Take the right fork, which is the gravel Horsepasture Road
You’ll quickly pass parking lots for the Foothills Trail and the Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserve. At the 3.6 mile mark, you’ll see a road coming in from your right. 0.2 miles up this road is the Foothills Trail. Immediately in front of you will be an open gate. This is as far as you can go when the road is closed.
Proceeding past the gate, your first open views will be to the east. The second view is provided by a firewood access site. As you continue on, the road will move to the other side of the ridge and you will have views to the west so you will be looking at North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway. There will be about 3 of these, 1 of which has a stone bench placed by the SC Bear Hunters Association.
Your next landmark will be Dawkins Flat Road coming in from the right with Gantt Fields1 just a bit further on your right. If it is bear season, you will find bear hunters camped here.
A little further on, you will cross a power right-of-way followed by a field that is used as a helipad. There is usually a motor grader parked there that is used to work on the road. As you pass the helipad, the road drops down beside it and there is immediately a parking area with Jumping Off Rock marked on your right.
The “real” Jumping Off Rock is actually about 100 yards further down but this vantage point has been closed off because of Peregrine Falcons nesting in the cliff face.
About 50 yards up this short trail to the rock face and you will be presented with the 2nd best view in all of South Carolina (the view from the top of Table Rock is #1, but that’s a 3.6 mile hike!).
The fall presents a blaze of color on trees as you drive along Horsepasture Road and the views from the ridges and Jumping Off Rock will give you miles and miles of color at your feet. (It should be noted that 2012 was relatively dry and affected the brilliance of the colors.)
Just because they’re not in bloom in the Fall is no reason to not stop and see the rare Oconee Bells in the area. Knowing how rare these plants are, you get a special feeling just being around them.
Horsepasture Road is a special treat anytime the gate is open. Wildflowers in the Spring and colorful leaves in the Fall. And regardless when you go, there are extraordinary things to see.