Many South Carolina hikers have heard of Jumping Off Rock and its view of the Jocassee Gorges but not that many have stood on this outcrop 1000 feet above the surface of Lake Jocassee and, on a clear day, had a 180 degree view stretching out for 40 miles.
One reason is that it is not all that easy to get to. It is 10 miles down Horsepasture Road from the nearest paved road and even then, Horsepasture Road is only open a couple of times a year (3/20-5/10 and 9/15-1/1). If you try it when the road is closed, you’ll have to walk the last 6.5 miles.
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. Fasten your seat belt, you’ll spend 10 miles on Horsepasture. It is twisty, narrow and steep. High clearance vehicles are required and 4-wheel drive is useful.
You’ll pass trailheads for the Foothills Trail and Eastatoee Creek Heritage Preserve in the first mile. At 3.6 miles, you’ll find the gate that will end vehicle traffic if closed. You may also encounter some vehicles parked here as folks will be walking up the road to the right to pick up the Foothills Trails and hike down to Virginia Hawkins Falls and possibly on to Laurel Fork Falls.
When you approach the 8 mile mark, you’ll first an overlook opening to your right. This is looking toward North Carolina. A little further along, you’ll find a smaller overlook with a stone bench built by the SC Bear Hunter’s Association. About a mile further on, you’ll find Dawkins Flat Road coming in from the right. You’re getting close now.
As the road swing back around to the right, you’ll see Gantt Fields Campsite on the left. Bear hunters use this area in October. Landmarks now come quickly. Cane Creek Road comes in from the left; a power line right-of-way crosses the road; a large open area on the left that’s used for helicopter landings.
As you pass the helipad, the road drops quickly down to the base of the open area. You’ll see a parking area on your left and a marked trail on your right. Jumping Off Rock is 100 yards down the trail.
Plan on staying some time at the rock. This view is unrivaled in the state of South Carolina and to call it “spectacular” just doesn’t do it justice. Be aware that the cliffs you are standing on are nesting areas for Peregrine Falcons and, if you’ve lucky enough to see them cruising the thermals that rise up the cliff faces, you’re in for an air show presented by birds with a sense for aerobatics and who, in a dive, can hit speeds of 200 mph.
One last tip, bring your binoculars.