Saturday, January 26, 2013

Trail Running in Upstate South Carolina

Have you recently moved to Greenville?  Visiting Spartanburg on business?  Staying at Anderson while visiting family?  If so, and you want to know about trail running in Upstate, South Carolina, then this post is for you.  I hope it provides some useful information to visitors and residents alike.  I’ll first address where the trails are, then races, then some miscellaneous stuff.

Where to Run- In Town

In Greenville, the premier trail running location is Paris Mountain State Park.  With about 20 miles of trails ranging from easy to very technical winding about the mountain, it is only a few miles from downtown.  It’s a splendid gem that is a joy to visit and quickly causes you to forget you're still in-town.  Mountain bikes aren’t allowed on Saturdays, and the park is open until 9 pm on Tuesdays in the winter, so those are the days I use it the most- you’ll usually find me there on Tuesdays starting about 5:30, if you want to join us.  Greenville Track Club also has an informal group that meets there for a run every Saturday morning at 8:30 am.  There are a few other miles of trails at Conestee Park and at Cleveland Park, but Paris Mountain is the definite crown jewel.

In the Anderson/Clemson area, the best trail running I’ve found is the Issaqueenah Trail system.  There are miles and miles of trails packed into a relatively small area, primarily sweet singletrack.  You can find maps online- one is here, though even this is still missing some trails.  Whether running along Keowee River, ducking holly branches, or going up and down the endless hills, there is plenty here to keep you busy for years.

Spartanburg’s best trails can be found at Croft State Park.  There’s many miles of official and unofficial trails circling the lake, though my favorite area is the no-horses-allowed Southside Mountain Bike park just across the bridge.  It’s less hilly than Paris Mountain and Issaqueenah and has some real cruiser trails.

Where to Run- Outside Town

As good as the aformentioned parks are, an hour or so of driving opens up a whole new world of truly outstanding running trails

The Palmetto trail winds off-and-on through the Foothills and Blue Ridge Escarpment- I enjoy running west from Landrum towards Hogback Mtn, though only in winter as this gets overgrown in summer.  A nice mix of steep climbs and runnable trails.

Picture 002

Mountain Bridge Natural area contains Jones Gap and Caesars Head State Parks with dozens of miles of trails, generally moderate (Jones Gap trail) to very difficult (Hospital Rock, Pinnacle Pass, Naturaland).  There are some very picturesque waterfalls, so bring your camera.  Be aware parking can fill quickly at both these parks.


Continuing west, Table Rock State Park contains some of the best views in the state from both Table Rock and Bald Knob overlooks.  On clear days, these provide unobstructed views looking towards Greenville.  It also has some of the biggest climbs in the state. 


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Table Rock is the start of perhaps the finest trail in the state, the 77 mile Foothills Trail. Popular for week-long backpacking trips, there is also a good trail running group and listserv based on this trail.  Climbing from Table Rock over Pinnacle Mountain and Sassafras Mountain (the highest point in SC), the well-marked FHT passes numerous waterfalls, including Whitewater Falls, the one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, and has some impressive suspension bridges and thousands of wooden steps.  The 35 mile Laurel Valley section from Rocky Bottom to Whitewater Falls has no road crossings and is some of the most remote trail in the South East.  It winds north of Lake Jocassee, then follows the Chattooga River (where Deliverance was filmed) before finishing in Oconee State Park.  The trail is difficult, with most runners taking more time than on a 100 mile race.  My favorite section is to park at Rocky Bottom trailhead and then run either towards Laurel Valley to the Heartbreak Bench (24 miles and 5200 ft climbing round trip) or run east up Sassafras, sometimes all the way to Table Rock and back (28 miles, 7600 ft climbing).  Just watch out for industrial-strength spider webs in the summer and carry plenty of water.



Toxaway River sign

FHT track

Venturing across the border into North Carolina, Dupont State Forest is my single favorite trail running location near Greenville.  It has over 100 miles of trail and has some of the best known waterfalls in the South.  Don’t skip Dupont.  Asheville and Pisgah also have innumerable miles of trails, though plenty has been written on those elsewhere.


I’ve noticed that the races in Upstate SC seem to change frequently.  One year, there are Xterra races in Paris Mountain or Table Rock, or Go Run Trails race at Jones Gap, the next year they are gone.  A little internet searching will reveal what races are on queue for this year.  I’ll still highlight a few, though.

Croft State Park hosts a trail marathon in July, a half marathon in November, and a 24 hr run in December.

In Greenville, Greenville Track Club hosts a number of fun races at Paris Mountain, right now a 12k, 8k, and 16k spread throughout the year.  Half Moon Outfitters also hosts a race at Conestee and a night race at Paris Mountain that are known for lots of swag for entrants and winners.

For ultramarathoners, South Carolina seems to have a much smaller selection than nearby North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, or Virginia.  But, there are still some high-quality races.  Terri Hayes hosts several ultras that have great reputations and challenging terrain.  She doesn’t even have set entry fees, just asking for voluntary donations to offset her expenses.  Clyde Sinclair also hosts Laurel Valley 35 mile (or 31 or 40 miles, depending who you ask), a no-nonsense race run in the middle of August that provides no aid stations but still fills up every year (17 and counting).  There are countless stories/fables about this well-beloved race, and a few of them might even be true.  Dan Hartley also puts on Harbison 50k in Columbia on some nice, fairly flat singletrack.  But, like I said earlier, most of the ultrarunners venture out of state for most of their races.

Other Info

Greenville seems to have more running stores per capita than anyplace I’ve ever seen, though always changing.  Right now, there is Fleet Feet, The Run In, Greenville Running Company, On On Tri, plus stores like REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Half Moon Outfitters, and many others.  In other words, if you need shoes or gu, you’re in luck.

The Greenville Track Club is a fine organization that hosts many races and has weekly training groups.  And, if for some reason, you want to run someplace other than trails, try out the Swamp Rabbit trail in Greenville.

I hope this post provides some useful information to Upstate SC residents and visitors alike.  If you see any errors, have additions, or just want to ask a question, please leave a comment.  Otherwise, enjoy the trails.


  1. Thanks for a few more ideas on where to run!

  2. No prob. Let me know of any I missed.

  3. Thank you for this great information! I will be in Spartanburg next week for a conference and am hoping to get out early for a run. If I have enough time to get to Croft and back (looks like you can't get in before 7 am?), I'll go there, but otherwise will stay in town to run on the Hub City connector greenway.

    1. Steph, you canh get into the Southside Mtn bike area of Croft at all hours. It's on the SW side on Groce Rd. Google it. Hope you enjoy it.

  4. Hello Jonathan! Thanks for the post! I'm getting reading to move from Chattanooga to Greenville and hope to continue running hills, which seems to be 10 times more effective and challenging than running flats. All research out there points to the Paris Mountain hills as catering to hikers & bikers, but nothing about running. Is the surface of the trails smooth enough for running, or is it an ankle-breaker? Do you have any problems with bikers running you off of the trails? Chattanooga segregates running from biking trails to avoid this. Can't wait to check out this mountain!

    1. Paul- Welcome to Greenville. Paris Mountain very much caters to runners. I run there 2-3 times a month after work (it is open till 9 pm on Tuesday nights in the winter) and see lots of other runners. On Saturdays, the park is only open to foot traffic, so runners abound. There are also lots of races there- I can think of 6 different trail races there throughout the year, ranging from 5k's to 50 miles. There are a few trails that are a bit more technical but everything is runnable. Bikers and runners here are almost always respectful, each yielding to the others. I can't say you'll never run into a jerk, but I see bikers all the time and we get along well. I had to bring a map to know where I was the first few times, but then you quickly figure out the layout. You'll enjoy it. Let me know if you need more details, too.

  5. John - thanks for the low down on running. That's great to hear. Looking forward to living and running in your lovely Greenville!

  6. Thanks for the info. Pinnacle to Table Rock is one of my favorites. Paris Mt is definitely worth mentioning but I found the trail maps a little confusing. Got a nice little scar from up there:)

  7. Great info. Thanks for that. I will be in town for a conference downtown at the Hyatt Regency. I have half a day from noon on to go for a long run. I would like to do this at the park. Is there bus service to the park I can catch at the Hyatt?

  8. David,
    I don't think there is bus service that goes to Paris Mountain, if that's the park you're referring to. Your best bet would probably be to take an Uber, honestly- not sure how much that would cost, probably $10 each way. Plus park entrance is $5. You could have a fun afternoon of running, though.

    If that's too much money and you're ok with paved, the Swamp Rabbit trail goes right through downtown and is 20 miles long.