Lee Falls, in NW South Carolina was once called the most scenic waterfall in Oconee County. I have seen quite a few waterfalls in this very large county. I am not certain that it was the most scenic, but it sure was very nice. It’s a very nice 1.5 mile one way hike that is not too bad….as long as you make the left turn. I did not, which made my hike much more interesting than it needed to be. The first challenge finding the the trailhead.
Finding Lee Falls means finding SC Highway 11, in the Walhalla vicinity. From Walhalla the turn off is about 8 or 9 miles north of town. For myself and many visitors from North Carolina, we use different routes like US 25, US 178, US 276, or even NC 281 / SC 130 to find our way to SC Highway 11. There is a lot to do along this highway as it passes right by Table Rock State Park, but for now we are heading west along Hwy 11 looking for Cheohee Valley Road. This will be just past the communities of Salem and Tamassee. Once here, it will be a right turn if heading south, and a left turn if heading north from Walhalla. Follow Cheohee Valley Road for 1 1/2 miles or so, and make a left turn onto Tamassee Knob Rd. In 1/2 mile take a right on Jumping Branch Road. Follow this for 1 1/2 miles and make a right onto Government Road 715A. …..This is where it can get tricky. Before 715A, you will pass 715…which is also a dirt road. I took this first, drove about 1/2 mile and crossed the creek but did not find the parking area. I turned around, back to Jumping Branch and went to the next dirt road.
The only way to know that this second dirt road is truly 715A is the “A” that remains on the broken carsonite sign. Turn left here and follow the dirt road for 1/2 mile, and the parking area is on the right just before a bridge over Tamassee Creek.
The trail starts just beyond the gate. It will be a single narrow path through 4 consecutive wide open grassy fields. There will be a crossing of Tamassee Creek after the 1st field and 3rd field. These may be wet crossings depending on your skills. The fields however were simply gorgeous. I was here on a bright, sunny, day in early May. The grass, knee high on both sides of me filled the air with a sweet smell that only grass can make. Mix the wild clover in, and the scents were intoxicating….. I saw some fields similar to this on my way to Sid’s Falls in January and was told they were wildlife fields. I guess that is what these were for, although I was not blessed to see any wildlife on this day.
On the 4th and final field, I passed the only other hikers I saw on this day. At the end of this field the trail enters the woods. The creek is on your left here and the trail initially heads away from the creek . It is here where I made my critical error that turned this 3.0 mile moderate hike into a 4.2 strenuous one. As the trail winds into the woods, after 1/4 or so, there is a fork. At this fork, one trail turns left here and one goes straight. The trail to Lee Falls is the one that goes left….but I went straight. The trail came back to what I thought was Tamassee Creek. But what happened while I was on the section of trail away from the creek, another tributary stream worked its way into the picture. The trail I was now followed this smaller stream up the right side. It was a clear trail marked with fresh red flagging tape in many spots. I thought I was on the right path for sure. It kept getting steeper and steeper, until soon, I was holding on to trees and rocks to get up the steepest sections. I took a break and checked my phone. I was now 1.8 miles past the trailhead or 0.3 miles past where Lee Falls should have been.
After actual reaching a waterfall which I knew wasn’t Lee Falls, I stopped and pulled the phone out. I had instructions saved from 2 websites and read over them closely.
I now knew for certain that I was heading up the wrong creek. Lee Falls is on the creek that turns back going down in the photo above. I had just walked 0.7 miles up a steep mountain, the wrong direction. I collected myself and started back down. My plan was first to backtrack to the fork and see where I missed the turn. I found it. It was very easy to miss. Once there I stopped to rest for about 15-20 minutes. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to head back up a climb like I had just experienced. That wrong creek and subsequent climb took a lot of energy. I thought long and hard about just heading back to the car and riding on to the next waterfall. I pushed forward though and to my pleasant surprise, found this way was not nearly as steep. There are more creek crossings though. Once the trail does begin to climb though, it is actually on a large island created as the stream splits. Once off the island, the trail heads up the left side and the up and over some large boulders. This is the steepest section on this trail. Lee Falls is just past the boulders.
Lee Falls was gorgeous ! Twin drops at the top followed by smaller, scenic, cascades below. The waterfall seemed to really create a nice breeze in the gorge as well. Now that I know what to look for, my next trip here will be much easier. I do wonder though what the purpose of the other trail is. I read that the Foothills Trail is up on top of the mountain and there is no official way to get down to Lee Falls. My theory is that this trail may be a way for Foothills Trail hikers to safely get down to see Lee Falls. Or, I also saw that Highway 107 was also up there on top of the mountain. My trek almost got there. I turned around, but the red flagging trail kept going. Maybe it is an alternate route to Lee Falls from Highway 107. If any one knows, please let me know. I am very curious. Here is a short video to see the beautiful Lee Falls flowing!