Mountain Cat Falls, a 55ft waterfall in the Jocassee Gorges Wildlife Management Area of South Carolina, is a true gem of the Upstate! It features a full grotto behind the vertical drop, a sinkhole at its base, and some impressive boulder piles that make for fun scrambling!
*Thank you to those who updated me about the parking and recent construction. The red gate has been removed and many aspects of the road has been improved on as the DNR prepares to log all the White Pine to the left of the logging road going in. As of January 2020, this has not started yet.*
The hike is an out-and-back style hike totaling 3.5 miles round trip. It casually follows a decommissioned logging road for the majority of the way, making it a fairly easy and relatively quick excursion. The last 100 yards is off-trail from the logging road itself, but it’s very moderate as far as bushwhacks go.
The trail head for Mountain Cat Falls starts directly off of Moorefield Memorial Highway, also known as US-178, in Pickens County SC. You can access US-178 from US-11 in SC (5.7 miles south of the trail head) or from US-64 in NC (11.5 miles north of the trail head). The exact GPS is (35* 1.7827′ N, -82* 47.8841′ W), and the logging road is known as Poplar Hollow Road. The old road has a red gate at its junction with US-178 and occurs at a bend on the highway. Parking is limited – maybe 3 cars max. The only time I’ve seen vehicles there have been from hunters during hunting season.
While the decommissioned logging road, Poplar Hollow, is not on Google Maps,
here is a Google Maps Pin for the trail head on US-178.
Follow the old logging road and head up the hill, beyond the red gate. On my most recent visit, it appeared that the road had been repaired a little bit and someone had clearly driven on it for quite a ways. I’m not sure what that means or if the SCDNR has plans to develop the area further.
You’ll be on the old road for 1.5 miles before bearing off, but encounter 4 splits with other old logging grades along the way. The goal is to stay on the “main” logging road and not veer off of it until it’s time to bushwhack over to the falls.
Around 875ft into the hike, you’ll pass a house on your right and the first split with an older logging road – stay straight. The second split is ~0.4 miles in, stay straight with the main logging road there. The third split is ~0.7 miles into the hike, stay to the right and take the lower road. The fourth split is 0.8 miles into the hike, bear right to stay on the main logging road. At 1.3 miles, you’ll pass a cleared field on your left. This was new to me on my most recent trip, so again, I’m not sure what kind of develop is happening in there, but it’s also the area I’ve seen hunters the most during season.
When you begin to see car-sized boulders popping up on your left, you know you’re close. At ~1.5 miles in you’ll want to bear left off the trail, specifically at (35* 1.9256′ N, -82* 47.1920′ W). Here another logging road intersects the main one and heads towards the falls. But this one is faint and small shrubs have over grown the entrance. Head due east, about 400ft towards the tributary that comes off the southwestern flank of Roundtop Mountain. In winter, you can make out the falls through the trees if you look closely.
Right before reaching the falls, the landscape drastically changes from the leisure meandering of the logging road to some pretty rugged boulders. Proceed forward beyond the one pictured above to reach the base of the waterfall.
Mountain Cat Falls spills over a beautiful, moss-covered boulder. The vertical drop has a neat grotto behind it, as well. It’s almost as if the boulder split off and cracked at the bottom of the waterfall. If you go behind here, watch your step as there is a very delicate community of spray moss!
The base of Mountain Cat Falls features a neat sinkhole. The water pools there, seeps under ground, and slides back out beyond the boulders 20 yards downstream. When you’re standing on the “cracked” boulder at the base, there is an uprooted tree in the “crack” where you can see/hear the water running beneath the ground. It is quite fascinating!
On river right, there is a precariously stacked pile of boulders that you can scramble up on top of to reach an excellent winter view. On the way up, you can see the entirety of Mountain Cat Falls’ upper portions.
In the photo below, the view at the top of the boulder pile looks out towards Lake Jocassee with Mountain Cat Falls in the bottom corner and Rich Mountain in the distance. This is best seen in winter, as the view gets obscured when everything is in bloom.
To return to the trail head, retrace your steps and follow the “main” logging road (Poplar Hollow) all the way back to US-178.
Mountain Cat Falls is a beautiful waterfall and deserves to be treated with respect, especially the moss communities surrounding the falls. Enjoy with care!