In the far northwest corner of South Carolina, rolling foothills suddenly give way to the 2,000-foot (610 meter ) rise of the Appalachian Mountains known as the Blue Ridge Escarpment, or, as the locals call it, the “big blue wall.” Sitting high atop this ridge is Caesars Head State Park, a rugged mountain wilderness that is treasured by locals but virtually unknown outside the state. In the 19th century, farmers would take their families to this lofty perch for summer picnics. Then, as now, the main attraction was the craggy granite outcrop that offers 200-degree views along the dramatic rise of the mountains. Early settlers thought the outcrop resembled the profile of a Roman emperor, hence the name. On a clear day, the vista can extend 60 miles (97 kilometers) across the foothills far below. Caesars Head is part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, which offers more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) of excellent mountain hiking trails. The most popular is the moderately strenuous 4-mile (6.4 kilometer) round-trip hike to Raven Cliff Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the United States. A more demanding 8.6-mile (14 kilometer) loop takes hikers across a suspension bridge spanning the top of the falls to an overlook that offers the best view of the roaring, watery tumult.
Chapel on the Rock
A short drive from Caesars Head leads into North Carolina for a mile (1.6 km) and then back into South Carolina, through the grounds of the lovely Greenville Y.M.C.A. camp, to the cliff-top chapel known in a magnificently understated way as Pretty Place. This open-sided little church rests on a solid rock outcropping that juts out from the mountainside 2,000 ft (610 m) above the forested valleys below. Not surprisingly, it is a popular place for weddings and is often booked on summer weekends. But midweek you may have It all to yourself, especially at dawn, when the east-facing chapel provides a ringside seat for a glorious mountain sunrise.
When to Go. Low humidity in spring and fall often permits the best views. From mid-September through late October, Caesars Head is a great place for watching the annual southward migration of thousands of red-tailed, cooper’s, sharp-shinned, and other hawks.
How to Find It. The park headquarters is about 35 miles (56 km) northwest of Greenville, SC, on U.S. 276.
Planning. Greenville is a small city with a busy little airport and is gaining a reputation across the southeastern U.S. for its charming inns and quality restaurants.