OCONEE COUNTY — Part II of In Your Backyard, a series designed to highlight family friendly adventures throughout the Upstate, takes us up just past Walhalla to Stumphouse Tunnel Park.
The park consists of two main attractions, Stumphouse Tunnel and Issaqueena Falls, but picnic shelters, hiking trails and winding shallow steams make Stumphouse Tunnel Park a unique attraction for people of all ages.
The tunnel itself is a relic of antebellum engineering. Construction on Stumphouse began in 1852 with the idea of connecting Charleston, S.C., to Knoxville, Tenn. Eventually, the tunnel was to stretch all the way up to Cincinnati, Ohio, but with only 1,617 feet completed, the Civil War began and the money dried up.
History tells us that the Blue Ridge Railroad attempted a few times to jump-start work on the tunnel, but that none of their efforts ever came to fruition. The tunnel stands today as an oddity, a tourist attraction and a great place to explore (and to escape the heat) on a hot summer day.
If you have any claustrophobic tendencies, the tunnel probably isn’t the best idea — it’s dark, damp and makes you feel a bit like a spelunker. Stick to the center if you don’t want to get your feet wet because water tends to collect and stream near the sides.
Because the main light source is the entrance behind you, it’s also a good idea to bring a flashlight although an air shaft about at the midway point in the tunnel extends 60 feet up to the surface, drawing in some light as well as a consistently cool breeze.
Fun Fact: In 1951, Clemson University bought the tunnel and used it to cure bleu cheese.
If traipsing through Stumphouse doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea, at the other end of the park, Issaqueena Falls may be more to your liking. Several trails wind around and down the 200-foot waterfall, all set at a variety of skill levels.
The main (and designated) trail to view the falls leads directly from the parking lot to an observation platform via a wide and accommodating gravel path. It’s an easy walk, but blooming tree foliage obscures much of the view this time of year.
If you truly want to experience Issaqueena, you gotta hike. And climb. And slide a little.
The trail leading down to the base of the falls can be a little tricky at times. Big rocks, criss-crossing roots and steep embankments greet visitors. There’s also several forks with the paths carrying varying degrees of difficulty.
You’ll know roughly 20 feet down the trail whether the effort is for you because it doesn’t get any easier until you reach the bottom.
If you brave the trail and hike/climb/slide all the way down, you’ll be rewarded by the path opening up right at the base of the falls. As Issaqueena pours down around you, you can splash in the clear, cool, shallow waters at the base or sunbathe on the wide, flat boulders. It is truly a beautiful little oasis.
Stumphouse Tunnel Park is located just past Walhalla on S.C. 28 and is open every day from 10 a.m. to sunset. Admission is free, but there is a $2 parking fee.
Tip for the trip: There’s no fountains so make sure to bring water. An extra pair of shoes (or water shoes) isn’t a bad idea to bring along for little ones.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.