From the screened porch of our villa, we had a clear view of the expansive lake.
“I can’t believe I’ve lived in South Carolina for 40 years and I’m just discovering Lake Jocassee,” our friend Ron enthused. Even another friend who had gone to Clemson just 30 minutes away wasn’t sure where it was. Maybe that’s because the wild, remote Jocassee Gorges area, which borders both South Carolina and Georgia, is surrounded by 150,000 acres of protected forests and there’s almost no place to stay on the waterfront except Devils Fork State Park.
My husband Mark and I are accustomed to the adequate but simple accommodations from other state park stays. These were not those. They really deserve the name villas. Large and beautiful with comfortable furniture, indoor gas fireplaces, lovely patios with a BBQ grill and fire pit, WiFi, high-end kitchen equipment and huge porches – they rival any expensive hotel. And the price in March for the two bedroom unit was only $128 per night. Although not crowded in the off season, the park is teaming with swimmers, boaters and fishermen in the summer when the rental fees increase to $305 per night.
The lake is even touted as South Carolina’s best scuba diving destination where clear depths up to 30 feet reveal wrecks, graveyards and forests.
The highlight of our stay was kayaking on the lake. Jocassee Lake Tours made it easy. We launched steps away from the villa and came back to the same place. It was fascinating to paddle over to the dam, a huge rock-filled structure standing 385 feet tall that was completed in 1973 as part of the Keowee-Toxaway Hydroelectric Project owned and operated by Duke Energy. There were almost no other boaters on the placid lake which surprised us by its sweeping 75-mile shoreline surrounded entirely by tree-covered rolling hills. Jocassee Lake Tours also offers popular boat rides to see several waterfalls which were too far for us to see by kayak.
The park’s visitor center has great hiking and driving tour maps. Right in the park there’s a 1-mile loop, the Oconee Bells Nature Trail, to see these rare wildflowers which were just starting to bloom in March. We drove about a half hour to see Twin Falls where an easy walk led to viewing platforms of the side-by-side cascades plunging 75 feet over massive granite slabs. The 77-mile Foothills Trail crosses Jocassee offering strenuous and easier sections and the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve, about 20 minutes away from Devils Fork State Park, provided us with a 2-mile trail through an old growth hemlock forest to a creek known for its rainbow trout.
You can even drive almost to the top of the state’s highest peak, Sassafras Mountain, where a short walk from the parking lot leads to a viewing platform at the 3,553-foot summit.
The Jocassee Gorges area was named a “destination of a lifetime” by National Geographic. It is maintained by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Duke Energy and the Mellon Foundation with the goal of protecting the natural area and providing recreation.
“I can’t believe that we’ve discovered a new destination of a lifetime right here in South Carolina,” I told Mark as we relaxed from a long day of kayaking.
“Yes, it’s great that they put this land into protection,” he responded, “It’s an outdoor paradise.”
Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within driving distance of Charleston, as well as more far flung locales. For information, visit online at peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.