A historic rest stop with waterfalls, a short hiking trail, and an intersting history.
On the Southern edge of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, literally just off South Carolina’s Highway 11 or the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, is the roadside park known as Wildcat Wayside. It is a small park, only about 60 acres, but it contains 3 waterfalls, a cascade, a short 8/10’s of a mile loop trail, and some interesting history you can learn about from informative signboards. The lowest waterfall is viewable from the road making it a very accessible and enjoyable location for everyone.
Originally referred to as Greenville Wayside Park when it was built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Wildcat Wayside was an experimental area established by the National Park System to serve as “convenient short-time stopping places for the motoring public”. There were six such wayside parks established in South Carolina. Greenville Wayside Park was turned over to the state in the early 1940’s and has since become known as Wildcat Wayside named after the creek that flows through the middle of the park.
Wildcat Wayside is located on Highway 11 between the turnoffs to Jones Gap State Park and Caesars Head State Park. You can’t miss it as you drive by on Highway 11 as there are usually a good bit of people there and there is always a vendor selling boiled peanuts in the parking area. There is also a big sign on the hill to the left of the creek. The parking area for Wildcat Wayside is long but this area is very popular so it can become crowded on hot summer days when people wade in the pool at the base of the lower waterfall. It is also literally on the highway so slow down and be careful as you approach and look for a parking spot. There are no restroom facilities on site.
While it may not look like much from the road, Wildcat Wayside hides a few interesting gems in the forest that are definitely worth checking out. Immediately you can view the lower Wildcat Branch Falls which is level with the road and located at the far right side of the parking area, just to the right of the park sign. It is a beautiful 20-30 foot waterfall that flows into a large yet shallow crystal clear pool. With paths leading down to the pool at the base of the falls, it is a very inviting area that makes you want to kick your shoes off and dip your feet in the cool mountain water. For many people, this is enough and they are content to hang out at the lower falls. However there is a short trail that leads to additional waterfalls and areas of interest.
If you want to hike the short loop trail, take the stairs on the left that lead to the middle falls which is directly above the lower falls. This short 8-10 foot waterfall, in our opinion, is the beauty of the group. It too has a large shallow pool at the base where the trail crosses over Wildcat Branch before heading up an additional set of stairs on the right side of the creek. There is also a signboard with a map and information about the park that you can checkout before following the yellow blazed trail further up the hill.
The trail levels out for some time after the stairs and leads to an old chimney and foundation along with an informative signboard that explains the concept of the Wayside Parks. This area used to be a picnic shelter for motorists.
The trail continues to the right of the foundation where fairly quickly you encounter another signboard and the loop part of the trail. Head up the stairs to the right where you will wander through the forest for a time and forget how close you are to the busy Highway 11 which is less than a 1/2 a mile from where you are trekking now. The walk is pleasant and the trail is well maintained and marked. As you reach the top part of the trail you will encounter a small cascade that may only be a trickle of water during dry periods.
Continuing on the trail you will soon reach upper Wildcat Branch Falls which is a 100+ ft cascade that flows down the exposed granite wall. This can be very impressive during periods of high water flow but will be significantly reduced during dryer periods. Either way, the short hike and beautiful scenery are always nice to enjoy.
When you have finished enjoying the upper falls, continue on the trail as it parallels the creek back to the start of the loop. Head right when you complete the loop, to enjoy the lower falls once more as you walk safely back to the parking area. Stop and get yourself some boiled peanuts for the drive home and be safe as you pull away from the parking area.