Standing on the observation deck near the 3,533′ summit of Sassafras Mountain I could see the towering Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. Gentle rolling hills and short mountain peaks dotted the lush landscape. It had been a crazy ride getting here, but now that I was standing at the highest point in South Carolina I realized it was all worth it.
I had stopped at nearby Table Rock State Park to see what there was to do in the area. After talking for a few minutes with the pleasant lady behind the desk I started to leave, mentioning that I was continuing west along the Cherokee Foothills Parkway. “Are you gonna head up Sassafras Mountain?” she asked. “It’s the tallest mountain in the state.” That caught my attention.
I asked her how to get there. The directions that spewed from her next were confusing and a little bit intimidating. Something about curvy roads, missing turns, and how it takes “normal” people forty minutes to get there but she could do it in twenty. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I wrote down the directions and decided to give it a try.
Oh, what an adventure it was getting there. At first it was a nice two-lane highway winding through a ravine. Not bad. But then the road begin descending around sharp turns, and the turns to the left and right became closer to each other. For a long stretch of the road I never had a moment where I actually drove straight, and I was down to just 20 mph. Finally I made another turn onto a two-lane road and began the long ascent to the top. This road was smoother and straighter, but not without a sharp turn here and there. When I finally reached the small gravel parking lot at the summit it had taken me nearly forty-five minutes; I’m not sure how it was possible for that lady to make the same trip in half the time, but I’m certain I never want to ride with her.
The summit is rather unremarkable. I mean it’s really just a gravel parking lot, a short one-minute trail, and a large observation deck on the side of the mountain. Suddenly the unremarkableness of the summit fades away as the vista before you soaks in. Rolling hills, small mountain peaks, a few lakes here and there, and in the distance the massive dome of the Great Smoky Mountains. It was amazing to think from this point in South Carolina I could see Clingman’s Dome fifty-five miles away!
I took in the sights for about twenty minutes. The view was somewhat narrow, but the trees in front of the deck were trimmed to give a clear view ahead. Using my favorite travel app for planning sunrises and sunsets (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) it looks like winter sunsets are straight ahead at the observation deck, while summer sunsets are off to the right almost lining up with Clingman’s Dome. I would really like to see a few sunsets from here. Would you?
UPDATE: Seems like I had just written this (about a month ago) and I was already back in the area of Sassafras Mountain, so of course I visited for a sunset. I could not have asked for better! You’ll find the photo below, captured from the scenic overlook. What do you think?
If you would like to see more photos from the scenic overlook on Sassafras Mountain, please visit my photography website at http://photography.southeasterntraveler.com/South-Carolina/Sunset/
Hours: I did not see any posted hours or gates, so I would imagine it is open 24/7. However, many places like this operate on Day Use Hours so be cautious.
Parking: A large gravel parking lot can easily hold about two dozen vehicles.
Family Friendly: Yes.
Handicap Accessible: The path leading from the parking lot to the observation deck is primitive with a few rocks and roots, so a wheelchair or walker might be difficult, but not entirely impossible. The path is flat and only a 3-minute walk.
Getting There: From all points in South Carolina start on the Cherokee Foothills Parkway (Highway 11). Turn north onto Highway 178. The turn is 42 miles from I-26, and 46 miles from I-85 near the Georgia border. Once on Highway 178 continue north about 7 miles to F. Van Clayton Memorial Highway.
From all points in North Carolina start in Rosman along U.S. 64. Turn south onto Highway 178 and continue 10 miles to F. Van Clayton Memorial Highway. Turn left onto the road.
From here continue along the memorial highway 5 miles to the parking lot near the summit of the mountain.
Things to Know: Forget what your GPS or Google Maps tells you about how long it will take to get there; it will take longer. The roads are very curvy so you might wanna pop a few Dramamine before you go.