Who doesn’t love a good a sunset? Luckily for us, the Upstate has several fantastic opportunities to catch it – ranging in a variety of adventures from handicap accessible overlooks to strenuous hikes scrambling over massive boulder fields! Below are five known (and not-so-known) sunset spots in Greenville/Pickens counties, along with some tips on when to best visit them!
So, “What goes into the making of a ‘good’ sunset?”
That seemingly simple question has a complicated answer, and ultimately what a “good” sunset comprises of is subjective to its viewer. Like a snowflake, each sunset is unique and different each time! We all have preferences, and I like my sunset with specific clouds lightly formed for added character and color potential.
While a clear sky stretching horizon to horizon is optimal for scouting expansive views, it usually produces a short lived and less-than-impressive sunset. Color is produced via light refraction and the measured angle of that refraction highlights which specific color we perceive in that moment – that’s why the sunrise/set changes color so quickly because the movement of the sun near the horizon creates a constant change of angular refraction.
As you can see, with clear skies you’ll still get the golden yellow and orange hues, but it won’t last long as it stretches to deeper shades of blue/indigo. Softly formed clouds can give the light something to refract off and add the colorful flare most seek out in a sunset. I found that cirrus, cirrostratus, and altocumulus formations have produced some of my favorite moments. Even whisking cumulus clouds or a haze down in the valley can add a remarkable touch, as long as they aren’t too dense and blocking out the sun.
I have seen a lot of people shy away from a sunset adventure because of the threat of clouds. Although the apprehension is understandable (I’ve had too many sunrises and sunsets thwarted from being socked in by clouds), I still always lean towards the side of adventure and say take the chance! Some of my favorite sunsets have occurred during cloudy evenings. Even going after a light rain or drizzle can be promising from all the added moisture in the air! You just never know what you’ll get with the mountainous weather of the Upstate!
If you want to see the fire red tones, like pictured above, you’ll have to stay past sunset for about 10-15 minutes. A lot of people leave before this point and potentially miss a phenomenal part of it – or, inversely, those red tones may never happen at all! As I just said, you never truly know what you’ll get and will have to take chances! Various weather patterns offers endless opportunities to make even the most frequented spots feel new!
And so, without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite Upstate South Carolina destinations to soak in the setting sun – in no particular order!
Caesar’s Head State Park
Caesar’s Head State Park may be the most visited and well known overlook in the Upstate! This iconic outcropping is handicapped accessible, offers options for trails both short and long to waterfalls/various areas of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and is neatly packaged together with a very informative visitor’s center. For some, the best part is that the overlook is only a couple hundred feet from the parking lot – making this an excellent spot for anyone of any abilities or age – or as a quick stop if you have time constraints. I usually pop in whenever I’m passing by, and I’ve collected quite an array of fantastic images from there. In fact, this article’s cover photo was taken here!
The overlook rests upon the Blue Ridge Escarpment, giving an expansive view towards Table Rock, the reservoir, Pinnacle Mountain, Glassy Mountain, Paris Mountain, and even downtown Greenville! It faces sunset year round but is opened during limited hours that vary by season. Don’t worry though, there isn’t a season where the overlook doesn’t have operating hours during sunset times.
Caesar’s Head State Park is located on Highway 276, just south of the North Carolina border in Greenville County. Loaded with tons of history, more information can be found here:
8155 Geer HWY
Cleveland, SC 29635
Not only does Sassafras hold the title for tallest mountain in SC, but it also lies directly on top of the border of North and South Carolina- making it possible to stand in two states at once! The Foothills Trail passes through here which has become a popular access point for backpackers and day hikers alike!
Along with the newly added Observation Tower on the summit, completed in April 2019, there’s also an observation deck a little more ground level right at the parking lot. During the winter months, the sun sets dead center at the deck and provides a little better coverage from the typically windy mountaintop. However you can’t get a clear line of sight of the sunset from there during the summer, and before the observation tower was completed, nor were you able to from the summit. Fortunately, a lot of love was put into that tower and it now provides a really clear view of sunset year round! Not only that, it is also handicapped accessible with a short 3-5 minute walk from the parking lot! While on the top, the black line signifies the state boundaries – that’s where you’ll want to bust out your camera for your “in two states at one time” photo! Looking north, you’ll see the Pisgah National Forest – with landmarks like Mt. Pisgah – in NC. Looking south, you’ll see Lake Jocassee in SC.
Sassafras is at the very top (and the end) of F. Van Clayton Memorial Highway located off of US-178 W – in Sunset, Pickens County, SC. It remains open year round and is managed by the SCDNR. More information can be found here:
1399 F. Van Clayton Memorial Highway
Sunset, SC 29685
Jumping Off Rock Overlook
Jumping Off Rock is hands down my favorite overlook in SC! I feel like you get everything all in one here – a beautiful lake guarded by sentient mountains that faces sunset year round! The overlook is spacious, captivating, only a couple hundred feet from the parking, and open year round – making it accessible for just about anyone. I’ve said it before, and I’ll always say it again, you can never get a bad photo from here.
But there’s always a catch, right? The “hassle” of reaching here is driving the long 9.6 miles down a dirt road that takes a solid 45 minutes alone. Though vastly rewarding, this spot may take a couple hours to reach depending on where you’re coming from.
Jumping Off Rock Overlook is on Duke Energy Property, managed by the SCDNR. It is located 9.6 miles down Horsepasture Road in Pickens County, SC. This is also a popular access point for the Foothills Trail, as well as the Eastatoe Gorges. It is important you enter this road from the eastern access, located off US-178 W. Sometimes map apps will try to take you through the west side of Horsepasture, which brings you to The Cliffs – a gated community that you won’t be allowed through. The condition of the road is questionable at times, but they have done an amazing job cleaning it up! I still would recommend bringing a vehicle with 4WD/AWD though. There’s a green gate at the overlook that remains locked, unless it’s hunting season. Make sure to park before the gate and to not block it!
Below is more information through the SCDNR on Jumping Off Rock can be found here:
9.6 miles West on Horsepasture Road, off US-178 W
Pickens, SC 29671
Glassy Mountain Heritage Preserve
Glassy Mountain, located in Pickens County, is a local favorite – as made obvious with the excessive graffiti on the balds. I strongly urge anyone that visits to please refrain from adding to the mess, it’s just not cute.
Aside from that, this is a pretty amazing place. It is one of only a few piedmont monadnocks in South Carolina and harbors several rare plant species. You’re rewarded with an exceptional view above the foothills looking towards the Blue Ridge Escarpment, Table Rock, and more! There is a short, but steep, 5-10 min trail to the main overlook and open bald. That same trail splits off more eastward and takes you around the mountain, making it a tranquil but quick loop if you’re looking to stretch the legs some more!
Glassy Mountain Heritage Preserve is located at the end of S. Glassy Mountain Church Rd in Pickens, with an old fire watch tower at the parking. It is managed by the SCDNR and you can find more information below:
662 S Glassy Mountain Church Rd, Pickens, SC 29671
Big Rock Mountain
For my hardcore enthusiasts, this one is for you. Big Rock, located in the Nine Times Forest, is an uniquely rugged mountain with impressive boulder fields and pinnacles. If you’re looking for a day hike filled with rock scrambling, open views, and baffling formations then I recommend bumping this South Carolina rarity to the top of your list.
Big Rock is a popular climbing spot and the land is surrounded by private property. I encourage people to be respectful of this while playing and scrambling around up there. You’ll also find several spur trails built by climbers that snake all around the mountain. It can be a little confusing with the many splits but the network makes sense. From the parking, the trail heads in one direction towards Big Rock. The first split you encounter shortly up the trail goes left or continues straight to the rock face. Both will take you to the mountain, and eventually connect through other spur trails, but the left split is a more direct route to the true summit. However the view at the summit is obscured by forestry. I recommend staying straight at the split, away from the private property, heading towards the rock faces and exploring around that area.
The views from Big Rock doesn’t directly face the sunset during summer – it is more to the right of the landscape but still view-able. However during winter you won’t be able to see it directly at all – but the valley views usually do a fine job capturing the color and making it worthwhile. For a more involved adventure in a lesser known area, this is a perfect spot for explorations and a sunset to top it all off with!
The Carolina Climbers Coalition worked with the Naturaland Trust to secure the property and open it to the public year round. Below are the directions to the parking and more information:
225 Big Rock Lake Road, Pickens, SC 29671