Hiking the Table Rock Trail, Pickens, South Carolina
When Dave first moved to South Carolina in 2018, I spent a lot of time searching the internet for things to do in the “upstate” region. Something that kept popping up in my search was hiking Table Rock, which claims to have the best views in the area.
If you’ve ever been to South Carolina, you’re aware that the weather can often make hiking difficult. Between the heat and the humidity, you’re just setting yourself up to be miserable, especially on a trail that has been labeled “very strenuous” by the parks system. In general, its not easy to find the “perfect” time to hike.
About the hike
A mere one hour drive from Greenville, the trail is a 3.6 mile out and back hike (nearly 8 miles round trip), which gains a whopping 2000 feet in elevation. There is a lot of rugged terrain with many sets of steep human-made rock staircases and some light bouldering. Despite its difficulty, the views are 100% worth it. The Park Rangers recommend that you allow at least 3-4 hours each way.
The Table Rock Trail is marked very clearly with red markers.
Planning the day
While we were planning our weekends out last fall, we decided January might be a good time to try. The temperature tends to be in the 50s-60s, and the humidity lower; however, we only had 10 hours of daylight, so if it was going to take 8 hours, we needed to make the most of our time.
I usually plan my weekends in South Carolina by flying Friday after work and returning on Sunday. Since we planned to hike Saturday morning, a midnight arrival didn’t make sense. I decided to take Friday off and arrive Thursday night instead.
What we were not planning on was rain on Saturday ☹. We’re talking heavy downpours, thunder, and lightning. We were leaning toward canceling the entire hike when we noticed the weather on Sunday was going to be nearly perfect.
Sunny and 62: it doesn’t get much better than that. Despite this, we still had my flight to worry about later that day. Fortunately, it wasn’t until 5:30 PM. It just meant we had to start the day very early.
Welp. We’re doing it.
After a night of poor sleep, thanks to some boisterous neighbors . . . we awoke at 0600. We thought if we could get to the trail base right before sunrise, we could make it work.
We arrived at the Nature Center around 0715. Fortunately, the trail starts directly from the center.
A few things to note:
You must register at the Nature Center before going on your hike: leave a name, address, and emergency contact in case something happens, and you need to be rescued.
In January 2020, there was a $6 per person fee for entry to the park. If you get there before the park rangers, you must pay in cash. We didn’t bring exact change, intended to pay when we left, and ended up getting a ticket. If this happens, you have to go across to the Main Visitors Center. Bring exact change. It’s easier.
The park is heavily trafficked. There are multiple trails and not a lot of parking. Get there early.
There are bathrooms at the Nature Center. They are open even if the rangers are not there yet.
Bring LOTS of water. And snacks.
The beginning of the trail is very deceptive for what comes later. The first three-quarters of a mile is relatively easy. The trail winds gently through a series of small waterfalls and beautiful bridges allow for an easy crossing.
After this, the trail makes a sharp change. The reasonably flat landscape between waterfalls ends abruptly, and you are faced with nearly two miles of man-made staircases. Fortunately, after the mile and a half mark, the trail begins to flatten out some. Please note, I said some. The stairs are still pretty miserable; there are just more stretches in between them.
The landscape is beautiful. There are large boulders strewn between the trees and glimpses of the surrounding mountains.
After a challenging climb, we ran into the halfway shelter closer to the two-mile mark. Since we began our climb so early, we were the only two at the shelter (this was not the case on the way back). It was a perfect place the enjoy the beauty of Table Rock Park and grab a snack.
After a short break, we hit the trail again. The path becomes somewhat less rugged at this point, and there are significantly fewer stairs.
However, after a brief reprieve, we ran into what I would consider the most challenging part of the trail. At about the 2.5 mile mark, before reaching Governor’s Rock, you are required to begin a steep climb. Fortunately, there are stairs cut into the granite. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make breathing any easier.
After making it up the stairs, you are rewarded with panoramic views and another great spot for a break.
Just past Governor’s Rock (2854 ft), the trail flattens out again. For nearly three-quarters of a mile, the trail gently weaves through trees.
There is still one more challenge before reaching the top, however. The trail steepens greatly as you near the three-mile marker. You must climb over rock slabs and boulders to gain a lot of elevation in a short distance. Luckily, there are a couple of great places to rest before the final push.
The trail reaches the pinnacle (3124 feet) before the end of the trail.
You must continue on past the sign for 10-15 minutes before reaching the final overlook (I will this was a bit deceptive as it seems as though after coming so far, you’re so close . . . but then, why not give your calves a bit more of a workout, eh?) The rock face overlooks Table Rock Reservoir. The views are incredible.
It took us just about three hours with a couple of breaks to get to the end of the trail. We sat for a while, snapped some pictures, and enjoyed another snack before heading back down the mountain.
The descent took us just under two hours. It was getting closer to the time I needed to my flight time, and I wanted to get back to shower as it ended up being about 70 degrees.
The halfway shelter was packed with college and high school kids on our way back through. We ran into so many people on the trail who had absolutely NO idea it was 3.6 miles one way.
We had a few people ask us at the 1.5-mile marker if they were “almost there.”
Yes, you can bring your pets.
Although this trail was labeled “highly strenuous,” and it was difficult, it was less strenuous than I was expecting. There were plenty of places for breaks and parts of the trail, which were fairly easy. That being said…DO NOT underestimate this trail and show up in flip-flops or without water.
Plenty of water (we brought two large bottles and electrolyte drinks for the car), decent shoes (they don’t need to be full-on hiking boots), sunscreen, and clothing layers are highly recommended.
Hours are Sun-Th 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. (extended to 9 p.m. F and Sa).
Sun-Th 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. (extended to 10 p.m. F and Sa), during Daylight Saving Time.
Seasonal winter hours M-Su 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
$6 adults; $3.75 SC seniors (age 65 & older); $3.50 children ages 6-15; ages 5 and under, free.