Last Sunday provided a final opportunity to enjoy fall colors. Kevin and his girlfriend Leigh decided to join me for a dayhike. Kevinís friend, Bob, who hails from Chicago, joined us as well. Since Bob is a flat-lander, I felt that an easier hike was in order. Nobody wanted to get up early, so something in the foothills seemed like a good choice. Plus, I expected better fall color at the lower elevations. Eventually we settled on a hike at South Mountains State Park.

We rode together, taking back-roads from Lincolnton. It took about 90 minutes to reach the park from Charlotte. I decided on a route that would hit several of the highlights in the park. Weíd climb up to Chestnut Knob for the views, and then loop around to High Shoals Falls.

After a brief warm-up, we started on the switchbacks towards Chestnut Knob. It was a fair climb, but nicely graded, and nobody had trouble. The first overlook gave us a nice view of the fall colors in Jacobs Fork Gorge. High Shoals Falls was visible on the opposite side of the valley. From there we climbed the ridge to the summit of Chestnut Knob. Then we descended the side trail to the overlook. Here we found rocky cliffs with nice views of the gorge and over to Benn Knob, the highest peak in the park. In the distance, Crowders Mountain, Kings Pinnacle, and even the skyline of Charlotte were visible.

After lunch, we left the growing crowd at the overlook. We hiked down a series of old dirt roads, which serve now as horse trails. We did pass one group of horseback riders. This stretch of trail was more difficult than expected, as we went up and down a long series of small hills. Finally we turned onto the Possum Trail, and descended into the Shinny Creek drainage. We reached the creek, and found a nice, semi-primitive walk-in campground. There were several nice sites situated between the stream and a meadow. Firewood was provided, and there was even a bathroom. It looked like a nice winter backpacking destination.

We joined the headquarters trail, which is another old road. Itís open to pretty much everything, including rangers driving pick-ups. We passed a large cascade on Shinny Creek. There appeared to be a very steep path down to the falls, but I couldnít talk anyone into exploring it with me. Instead we continued on, and reached the loop trail to High Shoals Falls. The falls are the prime attraction of the park. This became apparent as we joined a virtual parade of families hiking to the falls. The trail was mostly stairs and boardwalks, as it climbed steeply alongside a long run of cascades. This climb got the heart rate up, but soon enough we reached the platform at the base of the falls.

The waterfall was impressive. With a little jockeying for position, I was able to take some photos. There was a nice deep pool at the base, which looked ideal for swimming. Iím sure thatís against park rules though.

Instead of heading directly back, we climbed up to the top of the falls. Here we found a beautiful spot at the upper falls. The upper falls are much smaller, but perhaps more scenic than the main drop. I slide down a wet rock face for another photo. However, I didnít realize how difficult it would be to get back up. The rock was steep and wet. Fortunately I was able to find just enough holds to scramble back up.

We crossed the river on a sturdy bridge, and enjoyed another nice view looking out over the top of the falls. The autumn color here was the best of the hike. From there, we followed the loop trail back down. Along the way we encountered a vine, which Leigh, Bob, and Kevin enjoyed swinging on. From there, it was an uneventful walk back to the parking area. It had been a good hike, with exercise, scenery, and companionship. South Mountains has a lot of trails, so weíll have to go back and explore some other areas of the park.

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