Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve contains one main trail running for 2.75 miles from the parking area on Oak Grove Road over Squirrel Mountain to the South Pacolet River. The Preserve is well known for its wildflowers, a reputation that is well-deserved. The trail itself is generally wide and well-maintained although you may encounter a few wet spots.
From the intersection of SC 11 and SC 14 in Gowansville, take SC west for 4.5 miles and turn right onto Oak Grove Road. After 1 mile, you will see a blue sign on the right for the parking area, which is on your left.
There is a large kiosk and a barricade at the end of the parking area. There is another barricade right when you enter the parking area but this is the end of a road you will encounter later on your hike.
Past the kiosk you begin a shallow ascent through a young pine thicket. Pine needles not only carpet the forest floor, they made a nice cushion for the trail. You will soon exit the thicket and be walking alongside a tributary of Green Creek. For the next 3/4s of a mile or so, you will be on a level creek bottom furnished with a couple of footbridges across smaller tributaries.
At about the 1 mile mark, you encounter your first set of stairs, signaling the start of your climb up Squirrel Mountain. It also is the start of a zone of dense wildflowers, particularly trillium. During the next mile, you will be climbing more than 300 vertical feet to the top of Squirrel Mountain; however, the trail is never really steep. You will find another set of steps just before you reach the ridge line at the top of the mountain. As you approach the ridge, you will notice a goodly number of blowdowns in the area, a sign of the significant winds that come across the ridge line and adversely impact the trees. “Leaners” and trees which will soon be across the trail are also evident.
At the crest of the ridge, you will come to an intersection of trails. The trail to the left is actually the road you saw at the trailhead. The trail to the right ends in a short distance, so you will want to continue on straight ahead and start your descent to the South Pacolet River about 3/4s of a mile further down the trail.
As you descend, you will be looking straight across the valley to Chestnut Ridge. Looming above the ridge will be Hogback Mountain, topped with WSPA-TV’s transmission tower. It doesn’t take long on the trail before you begin to hear water sounds from the river below.
This descent, also more than 300 feet, is steeper than the ascent from the other side. As you work your way down this side of the mountain, you will find more steps close to the river bottom itself. Past those steps, the river quickly appears on your right along with some huge boulders. You drop off the mountain into an open area beside the river.
Just a few feet upstream, you will see a set of rocks stretching across the river and an obvious trail on the other side. Rock hop over and the trail heads off left for a short distance then switches back to the right and takes you up to a road bed where you find an identification sign for the Preserve. This sign marks the end of the trail.