One of the best ways to see the Upcountry is to hit the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC11). This will take you from the Georgia/South Carolina border at Lake Hartwell through the rolling hills of the Piedmont all the way to historic Gaffney. You can do the drive in about four hours and there is plenty to see along the way, but we’ve lined up seven side-trips for you adventurous types.
Side-trip #1: Take Hwy. 76 into the apple country of Oconee County, because there is nothing like fresh-from-the-farm apples. A unique way to see this area is from the water or from the trees. A whitewater rafting trip down the Chattooga or flying through the trees on a canopy tour via a zipline just may be the thing.
Side-trip #2: Jump on Hwy. 28 north to Walhalla. Here you’ll find antique shops to explore. If you are hungry, head to the Steakhouse Cafeteria. If you want to act like a local, order the chicken because that is what they are famous for. Go figure. Continue north on Hwy. 28 to explore Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls. Take Hwy. 107 to Oconee State Park where you can treat your partner to a paddleboat ride and an excursion to Hidden Falls waterfall. When you hit Hwy. 130 head north to Lower Whitewater Falls to see the highest set of falls in eastern North America then head south on 130 to run back into Hwy. 11.
Side-trip #3: Lake Jocassee offers 75 miles of undeveloped shoreline. The surrounding areas are owned by the State and the State Park Service, so you’ll find a beautiful slice of nature here. If you are one to drop a line, this would be the place to do it. You’ll find trout and bass in these waters. You can rent kayaks and pontoon boats to get up close and personal with the many waterfalls that flow into the lake. You might like it so much you’ll want to rent a cabin at Devils Fork State Park or Keowee-Toxaway State Natural Area with its outstanding views of the Foothills and Blue Ridge mountains.
Side-trip #4: Take Hwy. 276 north to Caesar’s Head State Park for breathtaking views. From this granite outcropping you’ll see Table Rock, which is within 100 feet of being the tallest point in South Carolina (Sassafras Mountain is the tallest. It’s off of Hwy. 178). One of the most popular trails at Caesars Head leads to the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls, where a suspension bridge offers one of the two publicly accessible overlooks to the falls as they splash deep into the mountain cove below.
Side-trip #5: Check out some bridge history. Poinsett Bridge, the oldest in South Carolina, is on Callahan Mountain Road. You’ll see signs for it on Hwy. 11. It is surrounded by a nice wooded area. A little further up Hwy. 11 is Campbell’s Covered Bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in the state. Both are great spots for a picnic.
Side-trip #6: After leaving Campbell’s bridge, head north on Hwy. 14 to the charming town of Landrum. There are some outstanding antique stores lining Main Street. You’ll want to park and walk. If you want to eat you’ll find plenty of options including the Hare & Hound Pub, Soulisa’s Fine Thai Dining, Southside Smokehouse & Grille, and Southern Delights and More, just to name a few. Take Hwy. 176 south back down to Hwy. 11.
Side-trip #7: Hwy. 11 rolls into Gaffney, where Gaffney Outlet Marketplace, known locally as “the Yellow Mall” offers outlet pricing at what seems like a zillion stores. Downtown is quite quaint with new and old mixed together. A replica of the city’s founder homestead, The Michael Gaffney Cabin, is located in the heart of downtown. If you want some insight in the Revolutionary War, head north on Interstate 85 to Kings Mountain National Military Park. The drive up the mountain is gorgeous and you’ll be able to retrace the steps of one of the most important battles in our nation’s history.
Highway 11 is not called the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway for nothing! Get out and enjoy the drive.
Read more: Finding Fall Foliage in Upcountry South Carolina.