It’s summertime and the right time to chase waterfalls! The beautiful and rugged upcountry of South Carolina is home to many scenic waterfalls. In fact, along with Transylvania, NC, Oconee County in South Carolina could easily contend for the title of “Land of Waterfalls”. Northwest South Carolina shares a very similar geology and topography with Western North Carolina which makes both geographical areas conducive to waterfalls. And there are plenty! For this piece, I wanted to spotlight one of my favorite waterfalls: Miuka Falls (sometimes referred to as Cheohee Falls). This waterfall technically is a giant cascade, but it’s a beauty nonetheless. And it’s one that doesn’t get a lot of press. Hiking the relatively easy 1.5 mile Winding Stairs Trail (2 miles r/t) will most likely be a solitary hike, and one that provides many interesting features along the way.
Before moving along, I want to say a word or two about waterfall safety and ethics. Never climb a waterfall. Never swim above or walk across the top of waterfalls. Waterfalls are slippery and the cascading water often masks dangerous, jagged rocks beneath the flow. Each summer there are numerous injuries and even deaths around area waterfalls. Even shorter waterfalls can be deadly. Waterfalls are best viewed from their base. In addition, climbing waterfalls can lead to ecological destruction. Numerous animals and plants – some of them quite rare – make waterfalls their home. Climbing on and around waterfalls upsets the ecological balance, plus it violates the “Leave No Trace” wilderness ethic all hikers and adventurers (should) strive for. Again, practice common sense waterfall safety.
To find the trailhead, park at the Cherry Hill Campground parking area on Highway 28 north of Walhalla, SC, in the Mountain Rest community. You’ll see a sign and an obvious parking area. Park at the gate. The hike begins to the right of two yellow posts on the Winding Stairs Trail, which is marked and blazed in orange rectangles.
The trail immediately meanders down to a creel and a “T” intersection. Continue following the trail to the right. This portion is dense in rhododendron and mountain laurel. We found remnants of what was perhaps an old moonshine still next to the creek, which would be in keeping with the Dark Corner’s colorful history.
After .75 mile, you’ll come to a huge sheer cliff face on the right, a few yards off the trail. The trail catches a sharp turn left here. The cliffs are beautiful.
We spotted several species of salamanders at its base, as well as cranefly orchids. Be careful walking here.
You can also catch nice views of the valley below to the right at the switchback.
The trail now looks more mountainous. After perhaps a .25-.50 mile hike, you’ll hear Miuka Falls, then you’ll see a short spur trail to the left at a switchback. This trail leads to a rock outcropping from which you can view Miuka Falls. Miuka Falls is awe-inspiring. The 75 foot cascade plunges over several levels as it makes its way down the mountainside.
For better views, carefully climb down and negotiate over rocks and through the thick rhododendron to the base of the falls. Footing is tricky, and one slip could send you plunging down a very long and rocky cascade. I didn’t have any trouble, but I wouldn’t recommend this off-trail bushwhack unless you’re more experienced in this sort of hiking. I’ve mentioned the dense shrubbery a couple of times. I’d recommend this hike all year long, but winter would probably provide better views from the rock overhang and relative safety of the marked trail.
After we viewed the falls and snapped pics, the spur trail has several shallow cave-like outcroppings that make a good place to eat lunch, plus you have a decent view of the falls. Take in its peaceful sounds to add to the experience. After lunch, we also did a little bouldering here as well.
Before we started up the trail, we met up with another hiker, the only other person we saw on the trail that day. He was a volunteer who helped keep the trail cleared and managed. We thanked him for what he does in keeping area trails in good hiking condition. He was surprised to know we were from out of town and had came to visit Miuka Falls, which he described as one that’s largely only known to the locals. After chatting about our hiking experiences for a bit, we went our separate ways. To get back to the parking area, we simply retraced our steps. The trail volunteer suggested we could’ve also hiked this trek as a shuttle, meaning leaving one car at the upper trailhead, and another at the lower trailhead. He mentioned there was another hidden waterfall further down the trail. We didn’t check that one out, but will next time.
See you on the trail!
Roger Upton, Carolina Trekker
Roger Upton is a native of the upstate of South Carolina. He has a lifelong love of nature and of hiking. He has section hiked most of the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail, and has hiked in the Rocky Mountains, Tetons, Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands of South Dakota, and more.