Friday, May 1, 2020

Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve

I would argue any hike is rewarding in its own ways. But fun features and surprising discoveries can make an outing all the more gratifying. Which is why I recommend Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve. Here, you’ll find an impressive expanse of balds that give this area its name. But keep going and there’s lots more to make it worth a visit.

Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve is located in Lancaster, SC, a little over an hour from uptown. The drive there is pleasant, winding through open farmland. You’ll find the trailhead at the far end of a gravel parking lot. The trail begins on a service road just beyond the gate. A short, half-mile walk along this road takes you directly to the preserve’s namesake rocks.

The crest of the rocks offers pretty views of the surrounding Piedmont. Dips and crevices in the rock’s surface fill with water after rain, creating miniature gardens of a variety of mosses, lichens and small plants. The one and only disappointment with this destination is the amount of graffiti folks have left behind.  

After a stop at the top of the rock, one could turn back and call it a day, but I recommend continuing the journey because there’s a lot more to discover. Here you have two options: The Forty Acre Rock Trail, a 1.7-mile loop (including the service road you started on), or the Forty Acre Rock and Beaver Pond Trail, which is 3.9 miles all together.

The trailhead from the rock is not obvious, but also not too difficult to find. Before you go, you might consider downloading the AllTrails app, which gives you a real-time location map as you hike to keep you on track. The trail is marked by white diamond blazes that read “Heritage Preserve Trail” in green lettering. Some of the markers are easier to find than others.

Following the Forty Acre Rock trail will take you down to the creek with several small wooden bridges and lots of places to play in the water. It also passes a waterfall. Taking a “social trail,” you can scramble to the top of the waterfall, but be careful not to slip on the wet rocks! In general, this moderate, natural-surface trail is gently rolling and easy to navigate. This is a fun option that kids will enjoy.

To add the Beaver Pond loop to your hike, follow the trail across the bridge where the creek bends and take an immediate right along its banks. This will lead to some of the richest areas of plant and wildlife species protected by the preserve. It is also probably our favorite part of the adventure.

As the name suggests, this trail takes you around a large beaver pond humming with life. Covered with a blanket of lily pads and teeming with lush growth all around, this area feels almost mystical. This section appears to be less popular (read: less crowded), which I tend to think adds to its appeal. There are several stunning overlooks and a fun boardwalk bridge at the far end of the loop. Like the Forty Acre Loop, this trail is moderate.

Take your time circling the pond, then retrace your steps up to the rock and down the service road back to the parking lot.

The Forty Acre Preserve is open during daylight hours. It is meant for hiking only; no bikes or motorized vehicles permitted. Keep in mind that there are no restroom facilities.

If you’re looking for a hike off the beaten path, consider this one. And go ahead and plan to enjoy the full experience by taking the long loop. It’s rewarding on a number of levels.

How to get there:
The Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve parking is located at 2207 Conservancy Rd., Kershaw, SC, 29067.

Don’t forget to take:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Hiking boots would be nice to have, but not necessary. If you or your kids want to rock-hop in the creek, consider water shoes.
  • Water and snacks: Bring enough water for during and after your hike; there are no facilities for refills.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses: While the trails are mostly shaded, the rocky bald is wide open.
  • Bug spray: Especially during warmer months.

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