Historic Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11 is more than a journey—it’s a destination
With strains of the Marshall Tucker Band’s Take the Highway stuck in your head, take the Spartanburg band’s advice and get off the Interstate for the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway, the meandering 112-mile highway that was once used by English and French fur traders and, of course, the Cherokees. The Blue Ridge Mountains act as a Hollywood backdrop along the Upcountry’s two-line roadway that runs along State Highway 11 through scenic spots such as Table Rock State Park, Lake Keowee, Campbell’s Covered Bridge, and the Poinsett Bridge, to name only a few.
From the northwest corner of South Carolina near the Georgia border to Gaffney at the North Carolina state line, bring your camera, pack a picnic, and get ready to tour your own backyard like you may have never before. To say it lives up to its glorious history and gleaming future as “scenic” is like saying the Blue Ridge are just “nice hills.” Landmarks (such as Oconee Station, a frontier outpost from the 1700s, and Hagood Mill from 1845) preserve the historical and cultural influence of what once was truly the Cherokee nation, the area’s first settlers for thousands of years.
So, start your engine and hit a few of our favorite spots along this ribbon of road in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge, and find your own revelatory adventure.
Aunt Sue’s Country Corner If a stop at a rustic, old-fashioned ice cream parlor seems to be the ticket on your Sunday drive, be sure to cool your heels at Aunt Sue’s Country Corner, a Scenic Highway spot that looks like something Jed Clampett might have invested in. Built to look like a few ramshackle cabins with hand-painted signs (the bathrooms are indicated by white, painted arrows that say “Outhouse”), with no less than sweet tea served in mason jars, fried catfish, and chicken-fried steak. This family-run establishment attracts visitors from all over the world, especially “from Denmark and China, and cyclists from Canada,” says owner Jimmy Bikas, who, after 13 years, is selling Aunt Sue’s to keep a promise to his youngest son that they hike the Appalachian Trail. Table Rock State Park, just two miles east of Aunt Sue’s, offers a great training ground for lofty goals like that, or to walk off some of that candied praline or butter pecan ice cream.
Aunt Sue’s Country Corner
107-A Country Creek Dr, Pickens. (864) 878-4366
Table Rock State Park It’s only a short 30-mile drive from Greenville, but you’ll feel far and away at Table Rock State Park. The 80-mile Foothills trail through the winding wilds will surely give your staycation this summer an adventure of your choosing. Rent a canoe or paddleboat to cruise the two lakes at this 3,083-acre state park that was built in the 1930s. There are cabins to rent (14 in all) or plenty of campsites for tents or RVs, or plan an all-day hike for a picnic at one of the finest tables in the Upstate—the summit. Check southcarolinaparks.com/tablerock for hours and park fees.
Table Rock State Park
158 E Ellison Ln, Pickens
Poinsett Bridge Oh, the Poinsett Bridge with its proud, Gothic stone arch. The hush of the lush, green wilderness and the trickle of Little Gap Creek beneath it bolster the (almost eerie) experience of imagining what likely were Civil War soldiers who walked where you are standing, appreciating the picturesque setting. The bridge—the oldest in South Carolina—as the stone marker sitting nearby explains, was built in 1820 connecting Greenville to Asheville on the original State Road. The moss-covered stones peaking at a 15-foot arch are an impressive monument to Charleston native and United States ambassador Joel R. Poinsett, the bridge’s namesake.
Callahan Mountain Rd, Travelers Rest
Campbell’s Covered Bridge From the wilds of the Poinsett Bridge, head east about 10 miles toward Gowensville to Campbell’s Covered Bridge, built by Charles Irwin Willis in 1909 on land owned by Alexander Lafayette Campbell, for whom the bridge is named. Campbell owned and operated a corn gristmill downstream of the Beaverdam Creek, which flows underneath the 35-foot-long and 12-foot-wide barnyard-red bridge—the only remaining covered bridge in the entire state that, thankfully, was restored in 1964, closed to vehicular traffic in 1984, and restored again in 1990.
Campbell’s Covered Bridge
1214 Pleasant Hill Rd, Landrum
Cowpens National Battlefield A critical turning point in the American Revolutionary War happened just down the stretch past Chesnee into Cowpens in Cherokee County at the Cowpens National Battlefield, where Colonel Daniel Morgan and his overmatched troops went on to defeat the British on January 17, 1781. Just to walk the 3-mile loop road and the field gives you pause. A momentous victory that turned the tide in such a decisive battle is worth the drive, the time, and the reflection—a history lesson outside of the classroom good for the student in all of us. And, hey, instead of a gold star, a chocolate milkshake afterward at the Bantam Chef Chesnee (18 South Alabama Ave) in Chesnee is incentive enough.
Cowpens National Battlefield
4001 Chesnee Hwy, Gaffney
Strawberry Hill U.S.A. Strawberry Hill U.S.A. is a family tradition since 1946, and the Cooley family knows that Southern simplicity speaks for itself—the more than 1,000 acres of fruit says volumes. The homemade, fresh-churned ice cream is made with the blackberries and peaches, and, of course, strawberries from the largest strawberry farm in South Carolina. After checking out the open-air market offerings (fresh preserves, honey, cobblers) at the Shed on Cooley Farm, stroll over to the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and café—complete with a player piano. More than just a produce stand, tours of the farm are given from April until “when school ends.” A visit to this Hill is as American as . . . strawberry pie.
Strawberry Hill U.S.A.
3097 Highway 11, West Chesnee. (864) 461-7225
By Jac Chebatoris originally published on May 29, 2012 by Town Greenville