Thursday, August 8, 2019

Lake Whelchel Trail

When we set out at the beginning of last month to explore the newly opened Lake Whelchel Trail, part of the Carolina Thread Trail, I was not aware of its historical significance. Turns out, not only was it a lovely place to hike, but a timely visit given its proximity to Independence Day.
Located in Gaffney, SC, Lake Whelchel Trail is about an hour from uptown Charlotte. The 6.7-mile loop is part of the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional network of connected greenways, trails and blueways in North and South Carolina.
It's also a stretch of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, a 330-mile route spanning Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina that commemorates the path used by the patriot militia during the Revolutionary War. The trail traces the campaign to search for British Major Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist forces. The militia passed through the Lake Whelchel area on October 6, 1780, then successfully defeated Ferguson at nearby Kings Mountain the very next day. This battle was considered by Thomas Jefferson to be the turning point of the American Revolution.
We've been to the Kings Mountain National Military Park (and I highly recommend a visit!) and were blown away by the importance of this location in Charlotte's backyard. Walking the trail at Lake Whelchel lends another level of significance to what took place in our area. Especially in the context of the July 4 holiday.
The natural-surface Lake Whelchel trail begins in a spacious gravel parking lot. (Note: There are no restroom facilities, so plan accordingly.) The trailhead is beside an information kiosk with a map. To hop on the loop, follow the half-mile spur trail down to the lake.
At the lake, you can go left or right. Both choices will bring you back to your starting point about 7 miles later. We chose to take a right, knowing we'd be doing a several-mile out-and-back.
The gently rolling trail is heavily shaded and beautiful, offering glimpses of the lake through dense growth. We crossed a handful of small wooden bridges over flood-prone areas, and one large bridge over the branch of a creek.

At just under 2 miles, we reached another large bridge, where we decided to turn back, but only after exploring the creek bed below.
Though we prefer loops (they are more exciting!), we found the journey to be pleasant in both directions, with lots of opportunities for spotting wildlife and critters throughout the hike.
If you want a quiet, pleasant hike in the woods relatively close to home, Lake Whelchel is a lovely option. And even better if you're moved by its historical significance.
How to get there:
The Lake Whelchel trailhead is located at 198 Concord Road, Gaffney, SC 29341.
Don't forget to pack:
  • Water: There are no restroom facilities, so consider packing a refill in the car.
  • Snacks: Keep your energy up, especially if you plan to hike the whole trail.
  • Bug spray: Horse flies and mosquitoes are prevalent, but manageable.
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: The trail is heavily shaded, but sun protection is always a good idea.


  1. So I did the entire Lake Whelchel trail yesterday (it's right about 7.9 miles); at around the 3 mile mark (and a short section earlier), you will be outside in the blazing sun with not hint of shade anywhere for about a mile until you cross the Lake Whelchel dam. I went clockwise around the lake, and I found that the NORTHERN side is much more standard "forest" and the southern side is more humidity/larger leaf/lower greenery forest. I preferred the northern side. I also found that after around the 5.6 mile mark until the end, on the south side, it gets kinds boring. If I were to go again, I'd hike the north end to the dam, and thru around and go back on the north side.

  2. This is really helpful as we still have not done the entire loop. Good to know and we will keep your recommendations in mind next time we visit. Thank you!