Here’s another waterfall to add to your Upstate waterfall bucket list! Moonshine Falls is a 40 foot cascade that was once the site of a moonshine still, the evidence of which is still on scene today. The other unique feature of this Greenville county waterfall is that the trail takes you behind the falls, a rather exclusive adventure here in the Upstate.
There are four different ways of reaching Moonshine Falls, none of them under 5 miles and all of them rated moderate to strenuous on the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area trail scale. The most difficult route is probably from the Raven Cliff Falls parking area, as it includes 2.1 miles on the Raven Cliff Falls trail, 1.5 miles on the Dismal Trail, 1.2 miles on Naturaland Trust Trail and a little over ½ mile to the falls for a total of 5.3+miles – and that’s one way! You can also park at the Caesars Head Visitor Center and take the Frank Coggins Trail to Naturaland Trust Trail and come in from the east. A third option is jumping on Pinnacle Pass trail (which originates at the Jones Gap Learning Center) where it crosses US 276 and tying in with Naturaland for a one-way hike of about 2.8 miles (also from the east) – be warned it is mostly uphill on your way out. All of these routes feature significant elevation change, and although I don’t shy away from a challenge, there were two factors that played a role in selecting the fourth option: Mikus and Vilis. (For detailed trail instructions and elevation profiles for all four routes, visit Brenda J. Wiley’s blog here.)
|easy to see where the red tailed hawk gets its name|
An out and back from Asbury Camp might be the easiest route to reach the falls, but it does originate on private property, crossing into the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area after a short stretch on Naturaland Trust Trail. I had been putting this hike off as the degree of technical difficulty and remoteness aren’t conducive to hiking alone with two kids, but the perfect opportunity came when the Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) announced their spring hike series. Not only would we have permission to enter through Asbury Camp, but we would also have company on what is around a 6-mile hike.
|this eastern tiger swallowtail was caught by the late frost|
From downtown Greenville it’s about 45 minutes to Asbury Drive in Cleveland, SC. If you reach Bald Rock, turn around and head back down 276 about a mile to Asbury Drive. Asbury welcomes hikers to use their trails, as long as camp is not in session; call ahead of time to check the schedule and to request permission – (864) 836-3711. Having turned west, follow Asbury Drive all the way north until it ends; this is the trailhead.
|Follow the signs for Asbury Trail past the impoundment|
Starting up the gravel road you’ll soon reach the impoundment for a tributary of Matthews Creek, the small lake providing swimming and boating for Asbury campers. Follow the trail into the woods, where you’ll start your climb on a wide trail blazed red – this is the main Asbury Trail and you’ll want to take care to stay on it. There are half a dozen other trails that split off to various other attractions, and it’s easy enough to get sidetracked if you’re busy paying attention to other things such as spring blooms or your children!
|Largeflower heartleaf - hexastylis shuttleworthii|
One such turnoff is marked “Cascade Falls,” and although we were hiking with the group and didn’t visit the waterfall on this hike, I’m told it’s only 500 feet to reach the small cascade that has an excellent swimming hole. Someday we’ll also explore the “Asbury Falls” turnoff, however on this particular day we stayed on Asbury Trail for another tenth of a mile or so to reach Matthews Creek and the cable bridge.
|Photo courtesy of PAC|
A couple miles upstream the creek tumbles 400 feet from Raven Cliff Mountain, while downstream Matthews Creek flows into the South Saluda near Saluda Hill Baptist Church. Here at the crossing, the creek is swift and rocky. Mikus wasn’t tall enough to attempt the cable crossing alone, but with a little help was able to rock-hop across the creek. Vilis rode in the backpack carrier for the crossing, but in another year getting to the other side might pose a problem; we’ll have to bring water shoes and wade across. A few members of our group crawled across on a downed tree, but to most the cable posed no problem. Remember, it just looks intimidating, however be prepared!
After crossing the cable bridge the trail soon intersects with Naturaland Trust Trail (blazed pink), where we turned east and started climbing in elevation again. The ascent didn’t last long, as in about ½ mile we reached the turnoff to Moonshine Falls. The trail to Moonshine is marked by a rock cairn, and although it’s not otherwise signed or blazed, you’ll know you’re on the right track when you see an old wooden kiosk a hundred feet down the trail. At one point the shelf housed a hikers log, but these days visitors walk right by. From the cairn continue on for another ½ mile to the top of a small rise. Here you’ll want to take the well-worn trail that descends down to the left, and soon you’ll find yourself in the cave behind Moonshine Falls.
The rocks behind the waterfall provide the perfect lunch spot, or a point to further explore the falls from. Following a little goat path down to the right (before the cave) will take you to the base of the falls where you’ll want to take off the shoes and wade around in search of the perfect angle for your shot of the falls. Meanwhile in the cave you’ll find the detritus of the moonshine days, rusty old barrels heaped in a pile. The boys explored while I photographed, and once everyone was rested up had finished their lunch, we took a group shot before heading back up towards Naturaland Trail.
If you still have the energy, just 0.2 miles downstream is another waterfall, Confusion Falls. The name probably refers to the two separate currents; they are actually from two separate creeks which come together at this precise spot to form the falls, and just a short distance later it all empties into Matthews Creek. For directions to Confusion Falls and another small cascade, click here.
Other than the initial ascent from the cave and the cable crossing, the route back is pretty much a walk in the woods. We kept our eyes peeled for animals & interesting plants and were rewarded with a sighting of a red tailed hawk in addition to many beautiful wildflowers. Mikus enjoyed learning the names of the ferns and flowers, and Vilis was able to alternate riding in the backpack with walking. There are still spring hikes left on the PAC schedule, including this Friday on the Pisgah and next Friday on the Palmetto Trail; for a full schedule visit the PAC website.