Road Trip Alert: Upstate South Carolina

by Janean Flowe
lake jocasse gorge

If all you know about South Carolina is what you can find on its coast or in its capital, you’re missing out on a real treasure — the northwestern part of the state known as Upstate.

Here’s a peek at the natural beauty, fun adventures and local treats that combine to provide an entirely different set of South Carolina memories.


lake jocassee

Lake Jocassee


Natural Wonders

The star in the Upstate is Mother Nature, and she shows off every chance she gets. The area boasts some tremendous state parks, plus stunning lakes and plenty of wildlife. Something you most definitely can’t find anywhere else is the Blue Ridge Escarpment. It’s a geographical phenomenon of the southern Appalachian Mountains that’s a little hard to explain. But we’ll try.

Most of the Appalachian chain resembles layers of blue waves. However, in the Upstate area, the mountains plummet more than 2,000 feet in less than a half mile, straight into the piedmont below. That dramatic shift creates something incredible to see. It’s a unique sight that the Cherokee nation dubbed “The Blue Wall” generations ago. The drastic change in elevation also creates cliffs that drop off at nearly 300-foot-deep gorges and hundreds upon hundreds of waterfalls.

Those Jocassee Gorges are so incredibly deep that micro-weather patterns are created within them. It all adds up to an amazing diversity of plants and animals. The gorges also create a temperate rain forest – one of only two in the “Lower 48.” It’s not a stretch to say that there are countless natural phenomena happening here.


Oconee Bell flower

Oconee Bell


Among the flora and fauna you might see here is the Oconee Bell, an incredibly rare flower that only exists in this part of the Appalachians. You can find a few in Georgia and North Carolina, but the best place to see them is within Devils Fork State Park in the town of Salem, South Carolina. The park boasts an easy one-mile hike along the Oconee Bell Trail. However, you can only see them from mid-March to early April. That’s exactly when we all began to hunker down at home, so this year very few people got a glimpse of these charmers.


Pair of Nubian Goat Kids at Split Creek Farm

Nubian Goat Kids at Split Creek Farm


Wildlife Abounds

A water bird you can find here may not be rare, but it’s odd to see it in this type of geography. Each winter about 150 loons come to Lake Jocassee in these mountains rather than joining their pals along the coastal regions of the Atlantic. It’s such an interesting phenomenon that Brooks and Kay Wade, who operate Jocassee Lake Tours, launched a loon research program nearly five years ago. Every winter about 20 volunteers join scientists conducting research on these birds.

There are a lot of other interesting critters in this region of South Carolina, including eagles and black bears and tigers (in the very broad sense of the word, because this is where you’ll find Clemson University). But our favorite furry friends can be found at Split Creek Goat Farm in Anderson. While we were busy sheltering in place in late March, the farm welcomed dozens of new baby goats, each one cuter than the next. Here are a few of this year’s kids, which in an ordinary year would have been available for the public to see soon after their arrivals.

The farm also operates a market where they sell their delicious goat cheese, yogurt and fudge. If you can’t get to the market in person, the market can come to you (with a shipping fee). If you’re placing an order, we highly recommend the award-winning feta in oil. You won’t be disappointed.

You know what goes great with cheese? Booze. And you know who’s really great at making booze? Moonshiners!


Blackberry Breeze drink

Plametto Moonshine


Local Makers

Bryan and Trey Boggs were inspired by their grandfather, who made moonshine decades ago and ran it bootleg. They created Palmetto Moonshine and became the first moonshiners to legally attain permission from the state to craft their liquid fire. In addition to their full collection of Palmetto Moonshine brands, they also produce the state’s most awarded craft whiskey, Palmetto Whiskey. They also produce musician Darius Rucker’s signature brand, Backstage Southern Whiskey.

In “normal” times, the distillery offers fun tours and generous tastings, where they’re always happy to share recipes. They also ship their products to certain states, including North Carolina and South Carolina (yay!). If you place an order, we encourage you to try this cocktail. It’s the distillery’s most popular signature recipe and it’s perfect for summer.

Blackberry Breeze

  • Pour 1 part Palmetto Distillery Blackberry Moonshine.
  • Add 3 parts lemon-lime soda.
  • Mix in sliced cucumbers.
  • Garnish with a lime wedge.

Another Upstate offering that’s shippable (and incredibly delicious) is Dottie’s Toffee, located in Spartanburg. Their. Homemade toffee recipe originated in Dot Smith’s kitchen in 1976. Today, Dot’s grandson continues the tradition of blending Belgian chocolate, sweet cream butter, pure cane sugar, almonds and a hint of sea salt.

(Go Magazine July-August 2020)

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