Loving the outdoors is about more than just enjoying our forests and waterways. It means being responsible stewards of the lands we love, and putting our money where our conscience is. We’re excited to be partnering with United by Blue – an awesome brand that cleans up a pound of trash from our waterways, for every item sold. The best part? Not only are their clothes well made and environmentally responsible – they’re also available at incredible prices. This week, you can snag them at 50% off. Check out our favorite styles below, and stop by either Frugal Backpacker location to shop these and many more stylish finds.

Martel Wool Vest

Was: $158  Now: $79

Garretson Relaxed Plaid

Was: $78 Now: $39

Nicholson Reversible Shirt Jack

Was: $138 Now: $69

Banff Colorblock Shirt

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Dolphins swim by a great white egret on Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head is the town that it is today largely due to one man’s vision. Charles Fraser developed Sea Pines Plantation on the island’s south end under strict guidelines that were meant to allow development without sacrificing what made the island beautiful—its sprawling maritime forest, wetlands, and majestic live oaks.

Fraser had a keen sense for conservation, and the success of Sea Pines was a model for much of the other development on the island. The town has strict rules about development; this is why you will never see any neon or backlit signs, buildings above a certain height, or any building colors that you couldn’t find in nature. While this can make navigating the island a bit harder for those who are from out of town, it keeps the sense of being on a small, quiet island alive—a plus for residents and visitors alike.

Due to the incredible stewardship shown in the development of Hilton Head, it's not unusual to catch glimpses of Great Blue Herons and pelicans soaring over parking lots, to see alligators basking next to bike paths along Highway 278, or even to witness White-tailed Deer will jetting in front of your car unexpectedly (this is a very real problem, keep your eyes peeled!). Wildlife is ingrained into daily life on Hilton Head Island, and even in the most mundane settings your chances for an encounter are high throughout the year. But there are some places on, and around, the island that are especially good for spotting wildlife.

1. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve

An alligator rests in a rice field turned marsh
An alligator rests in a rice field turned marsh

The Island Packet

Situated in the heart of Sea Pines plantation is a roughly 600-acre plot of land that is protected from development and is maintained as a wildlife refuge. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve has forests filled with old pines, lakes, and even a wildflower field; but it is the swamps and marshes that bring the wildlife.

Much of the preserve is covered by wetlands that used to be used for rice cultivation long before the island became the booming resort town that it is today. These rice fields are now overgrown and look more like marsh than field. They serve as a multi-layered ecosystem that provides habitat for small mammals, insects of all order, and bird life as well. White-tailed deer frequent these marshes to feed, and birds of prey like ospreys and marsh hawks soar above them looking for their next meal. In the swamps and lakes on the preserve you’ll encounter alligators, long-legged wading birds like egrets, and you’ll also see mullet as they launch themselves out of the water and land with a splash.

2. Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

It is hard to talk about wildlife viewing without mentioning Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge . Anywhere you go on the large island and you are guaranteed to run into wildlife. Alligators, ospreys, pelicans, deer, raccoons, and so much more can be found here. The island is even home to velvet ants—large ants covered with red “fur”—that cannot be found anywhere else in the area (look but don’t touch, these guys pack a powerful bite).

Wildlife is ubiquitous here, but one of the best places on the island to see it is Ibis Pond—here you have a chance to see all of the critters listed above in one spot. Ibis Pond is a large pond filled with tall grasses and duckweed, submerged trees, and small islands. There is a grassy trail that circumnavigates the pond providing endless vistas teeming with life. The islands in the pond serve as rookeries for Ibis, hence the name. Rookeries are breeding grounds for birds; the islands are perfect for raising young birds in a safe and secluded setting. You will see large flocks of ibis coming to and from the pond, enough that you can hear their wings beating overhead. Smaller birds like redwing blackbirds flit in and out of the grasses chasing insects, while herons and egrets stalk the shores in search of small fish.

The pond is thriving with life, and there is no better place to sit still, watch, and listen. Get there right as dusk approaches: the pond is close to the parking lot so it is a great spot to watch the sun set and the burst of wildlife activity that comes with it. Just remember to bring your bug spray!

3. Mitchellville Beach

A ghost crab patrols the beach
A ghost crab patrols the beach

Kevin Rimlinger

Mitchellville Beach is one of Hilton Head’s most natural beaches. While it is not great for lying out and relaxing, there is no better spot to see some of Hilton Head’s coastal wildlife. The sandy portions of the beach give way to large mud flats at low tide that are home to clams, oysters, blue crabs, fiddler crabs, ghost crabs, and much more. You will find starfish and sand dollars here in droves. Pick them up and marvel, but leave them on the beach—it is actually illegal to remove these species from the beach. This expanse is bordered on either side by tidal creeks, as the tides flow in and out of these waterways they bring a lot of fish and shrimp with them. This makes Mitchellville Beach a great place to spot dolphins, as they’ll often hang around the mouths of these creeks on outgoing tides to trap fish as they float out to sea.

All types of shore birds hang can be found here too—black skimmers, gulls, herons, and egrets are all familiar sites. There is also a bald eagle that frequents the beach and feeds on the fish and crabs in the shallow water. This beach overlooks Port Royal Sound, which is home to a number of shark species, and sometimes you’ll see their fins break the surface. It is also a great place to find shark teeth as it is less combed than others.

This beach has been the site of many of my personal favorite wildlife sightings, including a large hammerhead swimming near the surface, a pilot whale making its way down the shore, and a large manta ray flying out of the water. Don’t miss out!

Written by Zach Bjur for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Joyce Harkins

Wild flower field in Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Hilton Head Island has always been a great place to take a family vacation. The island’s beaches are calm and warm, and the quiet nights are great for catching up with loved ones. However, finding family friendly activities beyond time at the beach can be a bit trickier. With the challenge of many different ages and fitness levels within a family, finding that outdoor activity that suits everyone's needs can be tough, but not impossible.

Here are three great hikes on Hilton Head that the whole family will love:

1. Pinckney Island

Scenic Pinckney Island
Scenic Pinckney Island

Zach Bjur

When it comes to hiking on Hilton Head Island, Pinckney Island is a no-brainer. Part of a beautiful 4,053 acre wild life refuge located directly adjacent to Hilton Head, the island offers scenic views, diverse wildlife, and a rich history. It is a treasured retreat for both locals and tourists alike as it offers unparalleled access to the Lowcountry’s natural wonders. There are over 14 miles of trails on the island, but you can tailor the hike to your needs and go as far as makes sense. It's only a short walk from the parking area before you have expansive views of Lowcountry marshland all around you. With wide and flat gravel covered trails, the terrain is easy going and accessible making it great for everyone in the family, young and old.

2. Audubon Newhall Preserve

A quiet pond in the Audubon Newhall Preserve
A quiet pond in the Audubon Newhall Preserve

Zach Bjur

The Audubon Newhall Preserve is the perfect place for a scenic walk through Hilton Head’s natural beauty. It's not a long hike, but it's a good one. The preserve is centrally located and has plenty of parking. The trails are narrow and they snake through the trees in a way that truly makes you feel off the beaten path. Throughout the preserve you will find small placards giving the common and scientific name for local plant life making it a great place for young outdoor enthusiasts to whet their appetite, and learn about the Hilton Head ecosystem in the process. If you have family members who would rather relax while everyone else hikes, they can rest their bones on one of the benches situated around a beautiful pond. If you’re looking for an easy family outing outdoors, this is your ticket.

3. Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Wild flower field in Sea Pines Forest Preserve
Wild flower field in Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Zach Bjur

The Sea Pines Forest Preserve occupies a 605-acre plot of land located within the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island. The preserve boasts four lakes, rice paddies teeming with wildlife, wild flower fields, and ancient Native American shell rings. The preserve’s well-maintained trails are situated in pristine Lowcountry forests and make it one of the best places to hike on the island—well worth the $6 entry fee.

Sea Pines is a family friendly resort and in many ways the Forest Preserve reflects that. The option to drive in to the forest preserve also allows those who may not be able to endure a long hike to immerse themselves in the outdoors all the same. There are a few paved bike paths through the forest preserve but the majority of the land is undeveloped with only foot trails running through it. You are guaranteed to not be disturbed by any wheeled traffic as you explore the rice fields and forests. Once you’ve had your outdoor fix,  you can bring the family to Harbor Town or South Beach Marina for great eats and entertainment.

Written by Zach Bjur for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Zach Bjur

There are few paddle trips quite like the Edisto River

Many South Carolinians can tell you about the Edisto River. And most are able to point it out on a map. But very few can claim they’ve paddled any of the 250 mile brackish river that winds across the state, and even fewer can tell you how it feels to sleep in a treehouse on the river’s edge. Yes, it is a childhood dream come true…

Tucked away on a 150-acre private wildlife refuge, the Edisto River Treehouses stand high in the treetops on the riverbanks overlooking the quiet, winding Edisto River. Nestled into a forest of Cypress and Live Oak trees, the three treehouses blend perfectly with the natural surroundings, yet are fully equipped with essentials for a perfect night’s stay in the woods. Each one comes with a grilling deck, an outhouse nearby, and interconnecting trails over streams. This paddling adventure down the Edisto is the perfect group trip, peaceful getaway, or family excursion.

As peaceful as it gets on the blackwater Edisto River
As peaceful as it gets on the blackwater Edisto River

Conley Crimmins

The unguided overnight (usually a Saturday and Sunday paddle) begins at Carolina Heritage Outfitters in Canadys, SC, where the staff provides you with a map and a canoe then shuttles you about 30 minutes north to the load in spot.

From there, it’s just you, your canoe partner, and your river skills until you reach the treehouses about 4 hours downriver. Whether you’re an experienced paddler or a first-timer in a canoe, the river has the power to calm both mind and body and leave you awe-struck by the surrounding natural beauty. The Edisto has many twists and turns that reveal pristine sandy beaches perfect for a picnic lunch and a swim—many of which you’ll enjoy if you’re traveling in the heat of the summer!

Around 3.5 hours into the paddle, you’ll cross under a set of power lines used as a point of reference by the outfitters, and about 20 minutes later, the first treehouse appears hovering over the river’s edge. Approaching this primitive little cabin evokes what can only be described as a giddy, childlike excitement. A few more anticipatory paddle strokes later and you arrive at your very own treehouse on the water, seemingly worlds away from everything. 

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

Conley Crimmins

Once you’ve pulled up your canoe and unloaded your gear, you’ll probably have enough daylight hours left to explore the island—by foot or by float. Since it is an island (and often a swamp when the river level is high), the bugs and reptiles are there. Repellents will help keep the pesky mosquitos at bay, but be on the lookout for snakes when walking the trails. You're in their territory after all. The treehouses come stocked with plenty of citronella candles and tiki torches, so there's no need to pack a ton from home.

The next ten hours of your trip are by far the best: grilling out on the deck, lighting the pre-laid fire in the fire pit and roasting marshmallows, listening to the variety of bird calls, laying in the hammock near the water’s edge, and enjoying a great night’s rest in the cabin loft. In the morning, you’re only required to be out by 11AM, so the morning is yours to enjoy the tranquility of the treehouses before another day of paddling.

This has got to be one of the best porches in South Carolina—and that's saying something!
This has got to be one of the best porches in South Carolina—and that's saying something!

Conley Crimmins

The return trip home is simple and a great float coming in at just under 4 hours (not including stops off to swim). Day two of paddling can feel longer than the first, but with a good lunch and a few stops to jump in the water, the paddle home is really enjoyable. When you pass under I-95, you’ll have a little less than an hour before arriving at the outfitters. Once you’re there, the clean up is simple. Just pull in the canoe, store your paddles and life vests, toss your trash, and head home.

So when is the best time to go? We’d argue any time, really, but if you were looking to avoid possibly bad weather and a high river, aim for the middle of the summer. Once the season opens, spots book up quickly, so definitely try to plan a couple months in advance. It is possible that your trip could get cancelled due to inclement weather, but Carolina Heritage Outfitters makes sure to reschedule you immediately. The Edisto River treehouse experience an awesome time for all involved and is one you’ll be telling stories about for months to come!

Carolina Heritage Outfitters
Hwy 15 in Canadys, SC

Written by Conley Crimmins for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by mogollon_1

The views from the Harbour Town Lighthouse in Hilton Head—one of the island’s most iconic attractions—are incredible. Sweeping salt marshes, maritime forests, and expanses of dark blue water can be seen for miles, depending which direction you look, and if you look to the southwest, just across Calibogue Sound, you’ll see a small unassuming island not too far from Hilton Head shores.

At first glance, you may think it’s uninhabited but a closer look reveals the occasional house dotting the shore.

The island is called Daufuskie. And it is without a doubt one of the most intriguing islands along the entire South Carolina coast. With thousands of years of history, tales of spirits, and an isolationist mentality, Daufuskie is full of magic and intrigue. It exists on the fringes of a paradox, as it's been the center of quite a bit of attention—books have been written, movies filmed, and a rock star even built a private retreat on the island—and yet it's also relatively unheard of.

History museum one way, rum distillery the other—only on Daufuskie
History museum one way, rum distillery the other—only on Daufuskie

Jake Wheeler

Accessible only by boat, Daufuskie houses a population of about 200-500 permanent residents, depending on who you ask. Other than two private, upscale golfing resorts, the island is largely undeveloped. The land that is not within resort boundaries is spotted here and there with the homes of residents but is mostly dominated by thick maritime forest.

The homes here come in all shapes in sizes—from trailers to mansions, you can find everything in between. There is even an old school bus that was converted to a home that has only recently been abandoned. There are very few cars on the island. Golf carts, dirt bikes, and bicycles are the preferred modes of transportation. A police car takes the ferry over every day around noon for lunch and a quick patrol before heading back to the mainland.

Daufuskie is a place where time moves slower, and everyone is just a little bit freer from the pitfalls of modern society.

As soon as you step foot on the island, you’ll feel its mystery hanging thick in the air. It’s an ambience that was hard-earned over thousands of years, as people and their stories shaped the island and its identity. Daufuskie has remained isolated due to a strong willed desire to stay aloof, physically and culturally, and to remain an island in the truest sense of the word.

Yemasse Soldiers storm Bloody Point in a painting by Lee Baskerville
Yemasse Soldiers storm Bloody Point in a painting by Lee Baskerville

Bloody Point Resort

There have been people living on Daufuskie from thousands of years ago till modern day, meaning there are artifacts from nearly every time period imaginable.

Roughly 9,000 years ago, the island was home to Native American tribes like the Yemassee. They thrived in the area. The first incursion by Europeans occurred in 1521 when Spain claimed the coast spanning from St. Augustine to Charleston (Charles Towne at the time). This had little effect on the natives of Daufuskie until the other Europeans decided to settle in the area. This prompted the Spanish to enlist the service of the native Yemassee warriors in their fight against both the Scottish and the English, which paved the way to the natives’ inevitable downfall.

In the early 1700’s the southernmost tip of Daufuskie Island, “Bloody Point,” earned its name. Daufuskie natives under the direction of the Spanish stormed early European settlements on Daufuskie. The raids turned into massacres as native weaponry went up against European fire power. It is said that these Yemassee are some of the many spirits that still wander the island, keeping watch and lamenting the loss of their home. Over the course of two years these raids diminished and weakened the Yemassee and their influence and control over Daufuskie and the surrounding areas waned.

As the Revolutionary War began, Daufuskie was an island of plantations, cotton being one of the most coveted crops. The island went through the war relatively unscathed, and its identity was largely agricultural until Union soldiers occupied the island during the Civil War.

After the war and after the Emancipation Proclamation, Daufuskie was home to a large population of freed slaves who used to work the island’s plantations. These were the founders of the Gullah language and culture. Gullah is a blend of southern English and native African dialects. It is a rhythmic patois that has survived over hundreds of years and is still spoken by some on Daufuskie today. The Gullah culture pervades Daufuskie, you’ll notice many homes on the island have their door and window frames painted a pleasant shade of light blue. This color is known as “heaven blue” and is meant to keep the haints (evil spirits) from entering your home.

Daufuskie stayed quiet after the Civil War. Cotton production slowed, and locals turned to oystering and other trades to keep themselves afloat. Electricity didn’t reach the island until the 1950’s, and telephones came a timely twenty years after that. Jobs were scarce, the island was quiet and still. Many moved from the island to survive during these years, and the population consequently slumped.

Yet there were still some who couldn’t leave the island’s embrace. In the 1980’s a group investors discovered the island and saw its potential as a resort. Haig Point and Melrose Plantation are the results of that discovery. They are both large private resorts with beautiful golf courses and homes.

The rest of the island remains predominantly undeveloped.

Modern day exploration on Daufuskie Island
Modern day exploration on Daufuskie Island

Ry Glover

It is this untainted tract of sea island that keeps Daufuskie’s identity alive. Deep forests, empty beaches, and trails to nowhere dominate this side of the island. Looking in to the forest you will get unexpected shivers as the silent but eternally present history of Daufuskie washes over you. You may even come to appreciate the need for protection against haints as night falls and the isolation of the island descends upon you in a thrilling and visceral way. Daufuskie is wild and it is beautiful.

The best Daufuskie experience is often times the unplanned experience. Catch the ferry over, bring your bike, or just walk, and explore the island. Maybe even aim for a long and strenuous 10-mile paddle to reach the island. Revel in your own curiosity and see where you end up. Locals are mostly friendly, if you run into anyone at all. As long as you stay off of private property, the island is yours to roam. Just be respectful of the history and the legacy of one of South Carolina's most intriguing and undeveloped islands.

Written by Zach Bjur for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Daufuskie Island Foundation


Every year brings certain milestones to the Carolina hiker’s calendar. The emergence of spider lilies at Landsford Canal, the first snow on Grandfather Mountain, and, of course, the multi-hued spectacle of autumn leaves that blanket both Carolinas. But late spring is the season of the rhododendron. Throughout late May and June (low elevations bloom first), the quintessential Carolina shrub bursts with brilliant color, decorating trails and covering hilly bluffs with their huge blooms.

While several types of rhododendron exist, including azaleas, three are very often responsible for electrifying the views from Carolina trails. The Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) is found in the highest elevations of the Carolinas. These are often what you see covering patches of highland balds. While their blooms can show pink or white, their most famous hue is a soft purple or bright raspberry.

In lower elevations, the Rosebay ( Rhododendron Maximum ) often create huge tunnels or walls along shaded mountain trails. As an evergreen, the large, waxy leaves of the Rosebay add a welcome green complement to otherwise brown winter hikes. At lower elevations, Rosebay blooms tend toward white but in higher, sunnier spots their petals are a soft pink.

For sheer brilliance, the blooms of the aptly named flame azalea (Rhododendron Calendulaceum) have few rivals. The fiery red or orange flowers of this large shrub are often found adjacent to Catawba rhododendrons in high mountain meadows, creating an otherworldly exhibit of multicolor flora.

But as you trek to find these beautiful flowers, keep in mind that the rhododendron can be a dangerous beauty. Many varieties contain a poisonous substance known as grayanotoxin, which is especially concentrated in the leaves and can cause such nasty symptoms as nausea, muscle weakness, impaired vision, and serious heart issues. And honey made from its flowers is sometimes known as "mad honey” for the hallucinations that it can cause (small quantities are sometimes ingested for this purpose). According to some historical accounts, armies centuries ago even used it as a weapon of war against their enemies, since it rendered them virtually defenseless.

So it should go without saying for hikers on the rhododendron trail: Look, but don't touch, and certainly don't taste, these resplendent blooms.

Rhododendrons in the South: Where to Find Them

From mountain tops to backyards, the rhododendron is a familiar sight across the Carolinas (and in some neighboring states, too); finding them is not a difficult task. But for either sheer numbers of plants or the stunning backdrops that frame their beautiful blooms, these rhododendron hangouts are among the best places to catch an eyeful of these showy shrubs.

Elk Knob State Park, NC

With soil that is generally inhospitable to Catawba and Rosebay rhododendron, flame azaleas take center stage at Elk Knob State Park . It’s one of the newest state parks in the North Carolina system, with just a few trails available, and only one to the 5,520-foot summit of Elk Knob. The mostly moderate (there are a few steep sections), four-mile round-trip hike to the top makes this one of the most accessible azalea viewing locations on the list. The remote feel and amazing views from Elk Knob offer a fantastic effort-to-reward ratio.

Stone Mountain State Park, NC

The soft purple blooms add vibrant color to Stone Mountain State Park
The soft purple blooms add vibrant color to Stone Mountain State Park

North Carolina State Parks

Made famous by the 600-foot granite dome that erupts from the rolling countryside surrounding it, Stone Mountain State Park is also home to a sizable community of hearty rhododendron. Many can easily be spotted along the 18-mile trail system.

A popular and rewarding hike at SMSP is the 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail. The near constant uphill at the beginning of the loop leads to expansive views from the sheer rock face of the park’s namesake mountain. Further on, the trail leads to a 200-foot waterfall and more rhododendron viewing opportunities.

Gregory Bald, TN

Each June the large grassy meadow that caps Gregory Bald in the Smoky Mountain National Park ignites with thousands of fiery azalea blooms. A relatively tough 5.5-mile hike (one way) leads from near the Cades Cove Visitor Center in the western part of the park to the edge of Gregory Bald. Views of Cades Cove to the north form a stunning backdrop to the brilliant bushes.

Although the 11-mile round-trip walk is certainly attainable as a day trip, an overnight stay at backcountry site number 13 offers a whole different experience. The high vantage point provides an eagle-eye view of valleys painted in deep crimson as the sun sinks low on the horizon, making Gregory Bald one of the most dramatic dinner spots in the Smokies.

Keeowee Toxaway State Park, SC

Keeowee Toxaway State Park is one of those oft-overlooked gems of the Carolinas. Built along the shores of Lake Keowee, the small park offers access to its crystal waters. Inland, two dozen campsites are tucked in among towering tree cover, creating the perfect shade for spring camping. These same woods harbor a substantial collection of rhododendron. Two trails lead through the forest and offer up-close views: The 1.3-mile Natural Bridge Trail and the 4.4-mile Raven Rock Trail.

One of the greatest features of Keowee Toxaway SP is its proximity to a number of other parks. About a 20-minute drive from the shores of Keowee, Table Rock State Park exhibits two types of Rhododendron. Rosebay show in June near the back side of the park road and rhododendron minus, with its shorter leaves and pinkish/lavender blossoms, blooms in May along the Carrick Creek Trail.

Craggy Gardens, NC

By far, Craggy Gardens is the most easily accessible spot on this list. The trailhead for the 1.4-mile Craggy Trail is less than 30 minutes’ drive from Asheville, NC. This high-altitude panoramic powerhouse showcases huge thickets of Catawba rhododendron, whose bright blooms contrast with the exposed gray rock of the Craggy Mountains.

As you might imagine, this beautiful spot is quite popular. For a more intimate viewing, try making it out just after sunrise. Not only will the crowds be thinned, but the golden tones of early morning are the stuff of photographers' dreams.

Roan Mountain NC, TN

Rhododendron inRoan Mountain, Pisgah National Forest.
Rhododendron inRoan Mountain, Pisgah National Forest.

Brian Greer

The famous rolling balds of the Roan Mountain Highlands are home to one of the greatest Rhod-shows on earth. Topping out at well over 5,000 feet, these wide open meadows offer the perfect nexus of unfettered sun and high altitude, which allows Catawba rhododendrons to show off their finest foliage in a deep raspberry hue.

The easiest way to lay eyes on this spectacle is by touring the natural rhododendron gardens. There’s a small fee to enter, but inside you’ll find a short path that places visitors among huge stands of the towering shrub and offers tremendous views from an observation deck.

Another option requires a five-mile roundtrip hike up and over three contiguous balds: Grassy Ridge, Round, and Jane. The view from these rounded peaks is tremendous. Throughout June, you’ll spot photographers hauling gear from the parking lot at Carvers Gap to the top of the balds, capturing the stunning display of rhododendrons that surround each one.

Finally, if you’re willing to put in the work, the 14-mile stretch of Appalachian Trail between Carvers Gap and highway 19E traverses several other high altitude balds, ducks under alpine forests, and burrows through tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel. This ultimate Roan experience requires a car drop and is a good challenge for even healthy hikers, but is often considered among the most iconic walks in the country.

While in the area, why not join in the flower-centric festivities? Held continuously for more than six decades, the Rhododendron Festival at Roan Mountain celebrates the yearly bloom in proper highland fashion. All the best local crafts, mountain music, historic demonstrations, and fair food are presented each June for a perfect ending to a Roan exploration.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by NC State Parks


For many adventures, camping is merely an economic convenience – a place to crash near centers of activity without the cost of hotel rooms. At Devils Fork State Park, located at the southern tip of Lake Jocassee, camping is a worthy activity in and of itself. Paddle the pristine waters of Lake Jocassee right from your campsite and explore extensive trail networks a short drive from the park.

What Makes It Great

Tent campers can set up on any reservable spot in the park. But for the real Jocassee experience, choose one of the lakeside, walk-in, tent only sites (marked with a “T” on the reservation webpage). A couple steps off these tree covered, 12’x12’ tent pads and the sky opens up for unobstructed views of crystal clear waters and a stunning sunsets. If you can get it, site T013 is in perfect position for a swaying hammock overlooking the lake.

The “B” sites at the park are boat in only. Pack up a kayak or canoe and head over to the stretch of primitive campsites a short paddle away. Or bring some friends and rent one of the 15 villas managed by the state park. Located on or near the banks, the two or three-bedroom cabins have a separate boat launch from the rest of the park.

After a relaxing breakfast it’s time to get out and explore. The 7,500 acre, 300 foot deep Lake Jocasee is a great place to start. Known for its clear waters – Jocasse is a popular lake for scuba instruction – the lake makes for a beautiful day of paddling. Waterfalls escape dense forests, dramatically tumbling over high, rocky banks into the lake below. Hawks and Osprey soar overhead, searching for a trout to snag for lunch.

Just about 25 minutes away, the trails at Table Rock State Park offer a great workout and some ridiculous views of the South Carolina Mountains. The 3.5 mile walk up to the top of Table Rock, a 2000 feet incline from trailhead to summit, will leave you breathless, but so will the sweeping vista Ceasers Head and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.

Who is Going to Love It

The multi-sport opportunities and a myriad of amazing camping opportunities bring every level of adventurer to Devils Fork. Even those who find camping a little too in-tents (sorry) will love the relative luxury of the villas. The campground is great for a weekend family home or launch pad for hardcore adventurers. 

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Reservations are required and the best spots fill up quickly so book well in advance of your trip. The best sites, those along the water, require a toting your gear down, and eventually, back up a short hill. The addition of a small hand-truck will save some sore backs. The park has bathrooms, showers, and a small shop. Alcohol is prohibited at Devils Fork and rangers may confiscate your best Boone’s Farm if they see it so plan accordingly.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Rob Glover

A short time after turning west on South Carolina Highway 11, the field of vision changes. Pleasant rolling farmlands of the western Carolina piedmont—green and brown waves of corn, wheat, and stands of peach trees–run head long into an abrupt wall of rugged peaks looming in the hazy distance. If the Blue Ridge is a rolling sea of mountains, the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment, or “Blue Wall”, is where its waves crash against the piedmont shore.

Heavy rains—this area sees more rainfall than almost everywhere in the U.S. save the Pacific Northwest—and sudden loss of elevation creates the perfect incubator for some of the most dramatic waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains. At the heart of this boundary between mountain and foothill is the Mountain Bridge Natural Area .

Its location, a group of mountains tucked between two watersheds, gives the area its name. Within its borders are two state parks—Caesars Head to the west and Jones Gap to the east. Although each park has its own entrance and ranger’s office, trails from both intermingle creating a 10,000 acre opportunity for hiking and camping within the dramatic escarpment.

The focal point for most visitors to the area is Raven Cliff Falls. At over 400 feet, Raven Cliff is the highest falls in the state of South Carolina. Unfortunately, the powerful forces that make the falls such a draw for hikers also wreaked havoc on some trails surrounding it. Flood damage has closed several paths in this end of the park, eliminating access to a popular overlook bridge and limiting access to the falls—now accessible only via an out and back on the Gum Gap Trail. There is currently no ETA for repair of the other trails.

Even with this limitation, there are plenty of fantastic highlights to explore in the area. Here are 3 hikes that make the 2-hour drive from Charlotte worthwhile.

A carpet of fern decorate the trails at MBWA
A carpet of fern decorate the trails at MBWA

Rob Glover

1. Five mile loop from Caesars Head Visitor Center

Why hike it: Beginning and ending in fairy tale-like groves of dense hardwoods, the trail cuts through a thick carpet of bright green and sun dappled fern. The loop includes several opportunities to soak tired feet in the Saluda River and, of course, multiple waterfalls of varying sizes.

The hike: Beginning at the hiker parking lot, just beyond the ranger station, start on trail #3, take a left on 5, and finish on trail 2. Yes they have names, but they are numbered on the map so easier to follow this way. Note that trail 2, the Tom Miller Trail, is 0.7 miles straight up so save some strength for the end.

Rocks around Rainbow Falls are the perfect Al Fresco lunch spot
Rocks around Rainbow Falls are the perfect Al Fresco lunch spot

Rob Glover

2. Six mile out and back on the Jones Gap Trail

Why hike it: This trail sees a heavy load of foot traffic, for good reason. The wide and, relatively, gently graded trail follows close to the river—providing an almost instant payoff in serene swimming holes.

The hike: Beginning on the Jones Gap side of the MBWA, follow trail #1. At the one mile mark take a sharp right onto a more steep and rocky side trail leading to Rainbow Falls. A perfect spot for lunch complete with waterfall-generated natural air conditioning.

Join back up to the main trail and continue for another mile, reaching Jones Gap Falls. Once you’ve had your fill of relaxing by the falls, head back the way you came on trail #1.

Tumbling more than 100 feet, the powerful impact of water at Falls Creek Falls create a welcome cooling mist
Tumbling more than 100 feet, the powerful impact of water at Falls Creek Falls create a welcome cooling mist

Rob Glover

3. Two and a half mile out and back to Falls Creek Falls

Why hike it: The Falls Creek Falls Trail, #31 on your map, requires some of the greatest effort per mile in the area. And then it provides one of the greatest payoffs. Standing at the rocky base of Falls Creek Falls, feeling the cast-off mist generated by a river plunging more than 100 feet, offers an unusual sense of peaceful exhilaration that’s difficult to match.

The hike: The falls can be reached from longer trails in the park, but the most direct way is to drive to the Falls Creek Falls trailhead. On your way out of Jones Gap State park, about a mile or so from the parking lot, turn left onto Duckworth Road. Follow the signs to Palmetto Bible Camp. The trailhead is shortly past the camp.

The trail is marked with a kiosk. Give yourself about twice the amount of time it takes you to complete a typical 2.5 mile hike as the rugged terrain and steep climb will slow even the most experienced hiker.


Large, backcountry campsites dot several trails in the two state parks. All are able to be booked by reservation and require at least a little hiking to reach. One of the best is site 13 along the Jones Gap Trail. Its proximity to the Saluda means an afternoon of cooling off in chilly mountain water and a fantastic night’s sleep filled with the rushing sounds of a rocky river.

The ease of access to so many great sites—some less than a mile from the trailheads—offers the perfect opportunity for a first time backpacking trip or just a mobile home base from which to explore any of the roughly 50 miles of trail in the park.

Post Hike Pub and Grub

Surprising to many is the close proximity of one of Carolina’s premier mountain towns. Brevard, just 12 miles north of Caesars Head on U.S. 276, is home to an eclectic group of restaurants, shops, and a couple great breweries.

Located right downtown, Brevard Brewing Company offers a simple and refreshing menu of ales and pilsners. A little outside of downtown, Oskar Blues creates a wide range of standards and creative brews.

Achieving that rare mix of well-crafted meals in a beautifully restored historic space that is welcoming to a slightly grubby hiker, The Square Root is a perfect stop on the way home from Caesars Head. The challenge is to not cut your hike short knowing you’ll soon be filling up on cedar plank salmon, a half-pound Angus burger, or bacon wrapped filet. Or all three, we’re not here to judge.

Other Beta

  • The parking lot at Jones Gap state park fills up often, and is controlled by the rangers. It’s not uncommon to be held up for 20 or 30 minutes at the gate until a spot becomes available. The chance of this happening are 10-fold if someone in your car really needs to use the bathroom. During popular summer months, get there early or start at Caesars Head.
  • Speaking of bathrooms, the restrooms at Jones Gap are a quarter mile walk from the parking lot. Making a pit stop before you get to the park is a great strategy.
  • Both parks require a fee of $2.00 pp and a completed day hiker registration form. Pay stations and forms are available at most trailheads and parking areas.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Rob Glover

Jones Gap is one of South Carolina’s most celebrated state parks. The park is situated near the North Carolina- South Carolina border and the Middle Saluda River and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Jones Gap is the perfect place for a long weekend trip, as it offers plenty of trails, streams, and rocks to conquer. If it’s been a while since you’ve escaped the city, this is your chance to get out and enjoy some of the best of the Appalachian foothills.

Gorgeous Waterfalls 

Jones Gap is home to Falls Creek Falls, Rainbow Falls, Jones Gap Falls, and Silver Steps Falls. Needless to say if you enjoy waterfalls, this is the place to come. Rainbow Falls in particular is an amazing sight to see. At 100 feet tall, you can hear the water rushing off of the cliff on Cox Camp Creek almost a mile away. If you plan your weekend right, you can easily visit all four and get to spend your day swimming in creeks and laying in the sun. The Middle section of the Saluda River also runs through the state park, and contains some of the state’s best trout fishing. This is a big destination for fishermen in the surrounding area, yet the river remains uncrowded and easily accessible.

Solid Bouldering 

Although Jones Gap isn’t necessarily considered a climbing destination, there are some problems to be found within the park, the most notable routes can be found a little ways down the Standington Mountain trail. The park’s limited amount of climbing routes is both a blessing and a curse. There may not be a multitude of problems, but you can almost count on having the established routes all to yourself. This will make for a great day hike during your trip, and who knows, you may discover the best bouldering problem in the park, so don’t forget your climbing shoes.

Great Hiking & Camping 

Jones Gap is full of awesome day hikes. There are a total of 8 different trails within the park, ranging from the 0.9 mile John Sloan trail to the 5.4-mile Jones Gap Falls trail. Each trail has its unique characteristics, whether it be a waterfall, vista, or shade-covered creek. It doesn’t get much better than cooling off in a freezing cold creek, and then ‘lizard-ing’ on a rock in the sun. Camping is also available within the park provided you get a permit from the ranger’s station. Information regarding reservations, permits, maps, and fishing licenses can be found at the Jones Gap webpage of the South Carolina State Parks site. Pack up your swimming, hiking, fishing, and climbing gear, and hit this outstanding destination as soon as possible.

Written by Logan Waddell for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Matthew Blouir

The Palmetto Trail spans 472 miles across the entire state of South Carolina starting in the town of Oconee, and ending at the Atlantic Ocean just East of Charleston, SC. Most people don’t have 5 months to conquer the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails, but don’t be discouraged; the Palmetto Trail presents you with a beautifully challenging trail that will not take the majority of a year to complete. As a matter of fact, most thru-hikers complete the trail in under 2 months, the perfect length for a summer backpacking trip. Here are some tips from our experienced RootsRated staff that will help you along the way:

1. Do Your Homework

The more literature about the trail you can get your hands on, the better. These books or pamphlets will have important information that will come in handy while you’re on the trail. Familiarize yourself with a map of the trail and area, and you will be a lot more at ease making decisions when the time comes. The Thru-Hiker’s Manual for the Palmetto Trail of South Carolina  is an excellent read to prepare you for the PT.

2. Pack Smart

Go lightweight, and be much happier on those long days. The less clothing the better, and the clothing you do choose to bring should be breathable and quick drying like wool or Patagonia’s Capilene. You’re going to smell bad, its just part of it, but you will find that getting a little dirty as opposed to the extra weight of unnecessary gear is a good call. Protecting your feet is very important as well. Never settle for the pair of hiking boots you aren’t completely comfortable with. Find the right pair, break them in, and you will be one happy camper. Trail runners are probably better than full-on boots for the non-technical trails of South Carolina, because they’re less cumbersome. The expert staff at Frugal Backpacker can help you get fit in the perfect pair.

3. Comfortable Sleeping System

Without a good night’s sleep before hiking 15-20 miles the next day, you’re going to struggle a little bit. Find a lightweight, yet comfortable sleeping system that ensures you sleep like the actual log next to you on the trail. An insulated pad/sleeping bag/bivy sack combo, or a hammock with a rainguard are both super comfortable and lightweight options that our RootsRated staffers swear by- especially the hammock, as it gets more air circulation during those hot southern nights.

4. Food & Water

Food is different for everyone depending on what tastes good to you, but most thru-hikers will tell you to pack easy meals that will help keep you going throughout the day. A good example for breakfast would be oatmeal, or a granola/protein powder mix you can pour water over- fast and efficient. Do a light lunch that won’t leave you feeling too full for the second half of the day, and treat yourself to a cooked meal for dinner. Dehydrate some of your favorite foods while in-town resupplying. This makes a delicious meal super lightweight and all you have to do is add water to enjoy it. A good water filtration system is important as well. Iodine tablets are light and easy to use, but ingest too much and your body will start to feel the consequences. Consider a Sawyer Filter .

5. Resupplying

The Palmetto Trail winds through many small towns and even large cities, making it very easy to resupply your food. It’s tempting to stop at every single opportunity and head to town, but try not to defeat the purpose of getting out in the woods and separating yourself from everyday life while you have the chance. The more weight you shed off your gear and clothing, the more food you can carry, making it easy for you to charge through those sleepy towns and get after it on the trail. The less time you spend eating meals in town, the better that burger from Poes is going to taste at the end of the trail.

6. Have a Good Time

You are thru-hiking because it’s what you love to do, and the Palmetto Trail is one of the most beautiful trails in our nation. Don’t get caught up in meeting your mileage quota for the day. This is your chance to pay attention and be grateful for your surroundings, sleep under the massive live oaks, and lay in a cold spring or two. Bring a Frisbee or a ball if you don’t mind the extra weight, and have fun with your days. Once you reach the lowcountry, you’ll have a great time dodging alligators and counting mosquitos, I don’t know about you, but that sounds awesome to me.

These tips will facilitate your experience on the Palmetto Trail, and ensure that your trip through South Carolina’s mountain tops, forests, swamps and marsh will be one you’ll remember for a lifetime.


Written by Logan Waddell for RootsRated.