You think you’re tough? You think you’ve acclimated to the sauna-esque climate of the Deep South? Test that belief by taking a little hike during midsummer at Fant’s Grove, South Carolina’s most well known experimental forest.
Originally marginal farm land, the forest known as Fant’s Grove is now the Experimental Forest for Clemson University. Along with several research farms nestled among the pines and oaks the forest itself also acts as an outdoor lab for forestry and ecology work. For those into history a number of ruins are present in the forest, some of which are visited on this trip. The only real snag is the overwhelming southern heat and humidity, which will get you even if the yellow jackets don’t.
Is it goat approved? Dunno. They do everything else, so as long as you don’t go play with the cows and sheep with a goat in tow, they probably won’t care. The horse back riders in the forest are generally the really serious trail riders, and their horses find a goat amusing rather than terrifying.
How you get there: Google “Fant’s Grove Trail Map” which has a grey box with GPS coordinates for the parking areas on it.
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 8.5 miles round trip, including the out and back to the point on the lake.
Best season to do this hike: Winter or cooler weather. You want to avoid the yellow jackets, and the sweltering summer humidity unless you’re a South Carolina native who is used to putting up with it. During the school year it is also a popular location for students/classes and this will increase the traffic while clogging the parking areas with forestry student pickups. You can identify these by the number of bucks and ducks unlimited stickers on the windows, as well as a preponderance of camo, which is considered a primary color akin to red, blue, and yellow in the south.
Trails to Take
I went with the red and grey trails, which make a loop from the parking lot just before the church, (Fant’s Grove Road Trailhead), down to Big Oaks Parking Lot and back. The route is something like B6 -> B7 -> B9 -> B10 -> B11 -> B12 -> B24 ->B25 -> B27. The “B” numbers are posted on standard metal park service trail markers, but be prepared to find numbers that aren’t on the map. However, the numbers go in order, so if you find a B26, odds are if you walk past it you will eventually find B27. In general though, expect to be lost, (see BEWARE section). Every one who hasn’t ridden there for thirty years gets lost, that’s part of the fun. They even have an orienteering challenge that is hosted in the forest each year cause everyone gets turned around.
The trail heads out from the parking lot, which is a pull in area for horse trailers and a smaller pull in up top for cars/trucks. If you are parking down in the pull through, park hard on the side of the road so that horse trailers can pass without taking out your rear view mirrors.
When you leave the parking area you want to head to your left. There will be up to 3 trails presented to you that all look to be blazed red. Take the left most. You will know you have the right one if you pass an old pump house. This takes you past the church, then across the road. Be careful crossing the road because cars go about 60 mph down through here. When you cross the road, almost immediately, you will see a historical sign for the old school house. The ruins are scattered among the bamboo grove. Further down hill about twenty feet off trail to your left is a sign indicating the original spring that provided water for the school.
The trail winds out through the woods, eventually dumping you out on Rocky Ford Road. You can go left to continue on the red loop, or go right to go down the road. About 1.5 miles from the trail intersection Rocky Ford Road will leave you on a point of land jutting out into the lake. If you walk down to the lakeshore, you will be looking right across at one of Google’s little jokes – the Redneck Yacht Club Cove.
The neck of the point is also a great place to stop and water goats or play in the water. There are several cut offs of the main part of Rock Ford Road, but the one you want to get down to the neck/cove is the 3rd cut off, which goes very sharply to your left and slightly down hill, while the main road becomes overgrown with lespediza.
The Rocky Ford Road is an out and back, after which you continue on the red trail, which eventually joins up with the blue trail just before dumping you in the Big Oaks Trailhead parking lot. During the school year when classes are being held this parking lot is usually packed with forestry majors out for classes – which is why I recommend parking up at the Fant’s Grove Trailhead or elsewhere.
To continue, cross the road and walk along the edge of the experimental agricultural plots. Walk along the backside of the plots, and then the trail goes into the woods. At this point it is blazed yellow – the purpose and position of the yellow trail is anyone’s guess, like most of Fant’s Grove. You’ll see those yellow blazes pop up occasionally. The red trail will cross right across the yellow trail and you want to go left once you find it.
At the next intersection, go right, (yellow blaze is to your left and a small red arrow does point right to help you figure it out). Then follow the trail back to where you left the truck and you’re done.
- Be prepared to be lost. No complete map of Fant’s Grove’s many trails, roads, and bush hogged cuts exists. Bring a compass or a friend with a good sense of direction.Ask anyone who looks like a cowboy out of a 1970s western sitcom for directions. They’ve probably been riding the place for years and will know what’s what.
- Don’t park at the Big Oaks Parking area during a week day when Clemson is in session. Students may block you in when out for labs.
- Leave space when parking for horse trailers to pass if you are at the Fant’s Grove Road Trailhead parking area. Alternatively, park in the uphill smaller lot with the ropes that is more meant for hikers.
- Be careful crossing the road…I used to drive like a maniac through the forest, and I’m not too surprised everyone else still does.
- Dove season means open season on shotgun shells in the experimental agricultural plots. Prepare not to be dead if you go during this period. Ditto for deer season.
- If you happen to pass the Swine Center and see a sprinkler running DO NOT go play in it! This is the overflow for the lagoon, (for those of a non agriculture persuasion a lagoon is a pond where they sediment out manure, similar to a human sewer system sedimentation system). Which means you aren’t dancing in the rain, you’re dancing in *&!^@.
- Watch for yellow jackets. And horses running away from them. This forest is bad for the little yellow menaces.
- Agricultural and experimental plots are present in the forest. Goat grazing may delay thesis and dissertation completion! Be kind to suffering graduate students!
In sum: The best moments of your life happen in college, (well, undergrad anyway). The least best moments happen at 1 pm in 100% humidity when you’re running from yellow jackets in the Clemson Experimental Forest.