A long and very strenuous hike to the top of South Carolinas tallest waterfall where you cross over it via a suspension bridge.
Located deep inside Caesars Head State Park is the impressive 400+ waterfall – Raven Cliff Falls. It is the tallest waterfall in South Carolina and also one of the more difficult waterfalls to reach. While you can get good, but distant, views of the falls from the 4 1/2 mile overlook trail, if you want to get up close and personal with this beauty you will need to hike the almost 9 mile loop trail. This is an extremely strenuous hike that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The trail is long, very steep in some sections, and has some significant elevation changes both up at down. It also borrows pieces from four different trails including the appropriately named Dismal Trail. Yet, for the experienced hiker, this is a must do hike that rewards you with a crossing over the upper section of the falls via a suspension bridge.
Caesars Head State Park is located off US Highway 276 in Cleveland South Carolina. The trailhead to Raven Cliff Falls is located 1 mile past the Caesars Head Visitor Center at 8155 Geer Highway. It is a beautiful drive to Caesars Head whether you approach from the North or the South via easily traveled Carolina mountain roads. Take your time and the hour drive from Greenville South Carolina or Asheville North Carolina will seem like nothing. The parking lot for the trailhead is well marked but has limited parking available. There is an overflow lot further down the road if needed.
Caesars Head State Park is a very popular spot and, specifically, the Raven Cliff Falls trail. It can be somewhat crowded at times with the majority of the hikers going to the overlook. Once you get off the main trail, it will be far less crowded. Note that there is a park fee for hiking this trail which, at the time of this episode, was $2 per person over 15 years young. There are fee stations at the parking lot and trailhead.
The hike starts out just across the street from the main parking lot. Initially the trail is very wide and nicely maintained. There is plenty of signage throughout the entire hike; even the very remote areas. The trails are also well blazed. Initially you will hike the red blazed Raven Cliff Falls trail before encountering the loop section of the hike. You could hike either way but we recommend a clockwise approach tackling the more difficult Dismal and Naturaland Trust Trails early leaving the easier Gum Gap trail for the end. This is how we will describe the hike in this episode.
Continue on the Raven Cliff Falls Trail and at about 1.5 miles you will encounter the blue blazed Gum Gap trail which will be the return part of the loop. Continue on the Raven Cliff Falls Trail, which bears left, and after another 2/5’s of a mile you will encounter the purple blazed Dismal Trail. This is where you will break from the Raven Cliff Falls trail and begin the descent down to the creek below. If you want to get a view of the falls before heading down, the overlook is only 3/10’s of a mile further down the Raven Cliff Falls Trail.
The Dismal Trail wastes no time heading down the mountain. It will descend almost 1,200 feet in about 1 1/2 miles via a number of switchbacks. Heading down through the Dismal Forest is actually quite beautiful and not too bad of a hike. As you reach the bottom near Matthews Creek, the Dismal Trail ends and you intersect the pink blazed Naturaland Trail. There is a nice map here of the trail systems you can reference if needed.
From the Naturaland Trail, you will go right and parallel Matthews Creek upstream for a bit to a bridged crossing. After the bridge, it is going to be all uphill for awhile. This is the most difficult section of the hike as you ascend about 1,000 feet up a very steep section of the trail.
About half-way to the falls you will encounter a section called The Cathedral which is a beautiful 150ft cliff. The trail follows across the base of The Cathedral which can be muddy and wet at times from some minor water flows over the rock face.
Past The Cathedral the intensity of the trail picks up and the ascent hastens up the mountain. There will be several switchbacks and three wooden ladders that need to be overcome. As you labor your way up the mountain the roar of Raven Cliff Falls will also build in intensity.
Eventually you pop out at the highlight of the hike, the suspension bridge that spans the very top section of Raven Cliff Falls. It provides an interesting perspective of the falls and is a great spot to take a well deserved breather.
Raven Cliff Falls is big and has a few sections. From the bridge you are directly above the top section which flows into a long cascade across the rocky mountain before the larger plunge that is more visible from overlook. It is a very impressive waterfall and an amazing hike to a very remote and beautiful section of South Carolina.
When you are ready to continue the loop, with the most difficult sections of the trail now behind you, continue on the pink blazed Naturaland Trail as it follows Matthews Creek further uphill. This section is still uphill but it isn’t as intense as the section before the bridge.
The Naturaland Trail will end when it intersects the Blue Blazed Gum Gap Trail when you will head right. There is also another map of the trails here if you need to reference it.
The Gum Gap Trail is wide and very nice without too much elevation change. It is an easy walk through the woods after the Dismal and Naturaland Trails. Continue on this trail and when you reach a fork, take the right trail and continue back to the Raven Cliff Falls Trail completing the loop section of the hike.
From here you go left and follow the red blazed Raven Falls trail back to the parking area.