The Beautiful Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests, SC

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The Francis Marion and Sumter National Forest in northwestern South Carolina is a pristine outdoor paradise spanning over 370,000 acres. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a passionate angler, or simply seeking solace in the tranquility of nature, Sumter National Forest has something to offer for everyone.

For visitors, there are plenty of ways you can enjoy this pristine forest. Read on for more information about things to do and see in the Sumter National Forest, including details about trail types, attractions, top camping picks and more!

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About the Sumter National Forest

Sumter National Forest by FPV

The Francis Marion and Sumter National Forest is a vast conservation area and outdoor recreation destination located in western and central South Carolina. Managed by the United States Forest Service, it covers a total of 370,442 acres and has a wide variety of habitats that support numerous plant and animal species, including black bears, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and many species of birds, fish, and reptiles.

The forest also provides important habitat for several endangered species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, the Carolina northern flying squirrel, and the bog turtle.

The Ellicott Rock Wilderness is part of three different national forests, with over 2,800 acres of it being found within the Sumter National Forest. It is named after the Ellicott Rock, an 1811 survey marker on the Chattooga River that established the border between North Carolina and Georgia and ended a brief armed conflict between the two states called the Walton War. There are about 18 miles of different trails within the wilderness.

Also found within the Sumter National Forest is the Hellhole Bay Wilderness. It is a 2,125 acre area that the US Forest Service claims may “take its name from a large forest opening possibly formed by early wildfire behavior in the area.” I don’t believe it.

It goes on to say you can paddle there in shallow water in the wet months, but in the dry months it becomes a muddy trail filled with “unstable ground,” water moccasins, and wet undergrowth. Hmmm…you sure that’s not why it’s called Hellhole Bay? Still, that’s a very unique ecosystem that may be cool to check out while you’re there, but probably best to just take a picture and go on to other parts of the forest.

Visitor Center

Address: 5821 Highway 17 North, Awendaw, SC
Phone: 843-928-3368. TDD: 843-928-3833

The Sewee Visitor and Environmental Center is open from 9AM to 5PM Thursday through Saturday, but only when staff are available. The forest service urges you to call first, before coming, to be sure someone is there that day.

It offers a number of exhibits on the ecosystems found within the forest, information about recreation opportunities and other things within the forest, and an auditorium with an orientation film.

Outside, you can check out the Nebo Nature trail, which takes you past an exhibit of red wolves. There are also a few ponds and a nice little butterfly garden at the visitor center.

Nearby is the Sewee Shell Mound Interpretive Trail, located just a few minutes away from the visitor center. This shell mound was built close to 4,000 years ago and is one of the oldest shell mounds in North America.

Also nearby is the I’on Swamp Interpretive Trail and the Buck Hall Recreation Area.

Forest Districts

If you plan to visit the Sumter National Forest, be sure to download the US Forest Service App for an interactive map of the area.

The Sumter National Forest is divided into three ranger districts: the Enoree Ranger District, the Long Cane Ranger District, and the Andrew Pickens Ranger District. There is also the Francis Marion District in the Francis Marion National Forest.

Enoree Ranger District

20 Work Center Road, Whitmire, SC 29178
Phone: (803) 276-4810

The Enoree District covers over 170,000 acres in several counties including Newberry, Union, Chester, Laurens, and Fairfield. The district offers special programs such as youth dove hunts and hunts for individuals with mobility impairments.

It is located right on Highway 176 and is in Whitmire. It is located not far from I-26. Get off I-26 at the intersection of Highway 121. You can then ride Highway 121 right into Whitmire.

Long Cane Ranger District

810 Buncombe Street, Edgefield, SC 29824
Phone: (803) 637-5396

The Long Cane District is a part of the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina, covering over 119,000 acres in several counties including Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, McCormick, and Saluda. It is a recovering forest dominated by southern yellow pines, and there are rare basic Mesic cove communities along some creeks.

It is located in Edgefield. You can get there from taking Highway 20 to Highway 25. In Trenton, turn to stay on Highway 25 and you will run right into Edgefield and the entrance of the district.

Andrew Pickens Ranger District

112 Andrew Pickens Circle, Mountain Rest, South Carolina 29664
Phone: (864) 638-9568

The Andrew Pickens District is located in the extreme northwestern corner of South Carolina in Oconee County and covers over 85,000 acres. The district is characterized by its Blue Ridge Physiographic Province and is known for its bird conservation efforts and significant cultural areas, such as the Stumphouse Tunnel that is important for bats.

This district is located right on Highway 28. The easiest way to get to Highway 28 from most areas is to take Highway 123, which runs between Clemson, Seneca, and Westminster.

Francis Marion District

2967 Steed Creek Road, Huger, SC 29450
Phone: (843) 336-2200

The Francis Marion Ranger District is on the other side of the state, between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. It covers South Carolina’s coastal plain area, filled with both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

Popular Activities

There are a lot of different outdoor activities you can enjoy here. This includes hiking, camping, mountain biking, and boating.

Hiking

There are many hiking trails available to visitors in the Sumter National Forest in South Carolina. Some of the top-rated trails in the forest include: Yellow Branch Falls TrailRiley Moore FallsKing Creek Falls, and Fall Creek Falls.

The Forks Area Trail System, the most popular spot for mountain bikers, is also open for hiking.

Below are guides to some of these hikes as well as a comprehensive list of trails where you can see waterfalls.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, there are plenty of hiking options available in the Sumter National Forest.

Camping

The Sumter National Forest in South Carolina offers a range of camping options for visitors. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout all districts. No permit is required for dispersed camping in the Andrew Pickens District, but it is required for all other districts.

RV camping and non-dispersed facilities are also available in other areas, including the following sites:

  • Cherry Hill Recreation Area: The Cherry Hill campground has 29 campsites, showers, toilets, and a dump station.
  • Whetstone Horse Camp: Has a total of 18 sites with space for horse trailers. Each site has picnic tables, a fire ring, and a lantern post.
  • Brick House Campground: Has a total of 8 campsites. There are also numerous sites here for RVs.
  • Woods Ferry Recreation Area: Has a  total of 17 campsites. Hot showers are available here, and there are facilities for horses too.

You can download this information for the Brick House Campground from the Forest Service:

Mountain Biking

The Sumter National Forest offers nearly 100 miles of singletrack mountain bike trails across its three districts. 

The Long Cane Ranger District features six mountain bike trails, with the most popular being the Forks Area Trail System (FATS), which offers 34 miles of smooth, easy trails suitable for new riders and families.

The Long Cane Horse Trail is a 27-mile loop that offers bigger climbs and descents than other trails in the forest.

The Wine Turkey and Modoc Trails offer a quiet, backcountry feel and old-school flow. The Wine Turkey Trail is 12 miles, while the Modoc (Stevens Creek Trail) is a 5.5 mile out-and-back trail with surprisingly tricky creek crossings throughout the rolling terrain.

Boating and Tubing

There are opportunities for motor boats as well as canoes, kayaks, and other kinds of non-motorized boating activities.

Motor boats are allowed in the Enoree Ranger District in the following areas:

Kayaking and other non-motorized boating is allowed in all three districts in numerous different areas. Tubing is allowed on the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River. Boating season on this river runs from December to April.

The Buck Hall Boat Launch, within the Buck Hall Recreation Area, is also a very popular spot to put your vessel in the water.

Target Shooting

There are a number of rifle ranges within the forest: the Indian Creek Rifle Range, the Leeds Rifle Range, the Philson Crossroads Rifle Range, and the Fairforest Rifle Range.

All the ranges are ADA-accessible and have both 25 yard and 100 yard areas. It is open year-round, from dawn to dusk. Target shooters under 16 are free but must be accompanied by an adult.

Target shooting here is very affordable, at $5 per day or $50 for an annual pass. You can purchase passes in the Long Cane District, Enoree District, or at the Supervisor’s office.

Because it is a national forest, you must leave no trace – that means cleaning up the bullet casings, targets, litter, and anything else you brought into the range.

Horseback Riding

Horse riding is allowed in numerous parts of the forest. Many of the trails are specifically for horses too, like the Jericho Horse Trail, a 19-mile loop through longleaf pine forest and hardwoods. The Woods Ferry Horse Trail offers 26 miles of riding filled with poplars, maples, and sweet gum. It is great for easy-to-moderate riding.

Some of the most beautiful riding you’ll find, though, is on the Rocky Gap/Willis Knob Horse Trails. These trails have you crossing ridges as they take you down the beautiful Chattooga River and into Georgia. The Whetstone Horse Camp is the best place to stay if you’re planning on doing these trails.

The Bottom Line

The Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests offer beautiful trails, great scenery, and plenty of outdoor activities from biking to hiking to camping and more. The forest spans large swaths of northwestern South Carolina and numerous counties, giving you the opportunity to explore different ecosystems and even historical artifacts within its four different ranger districts.



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