5 mile out and back in Gorges State Park
Nothing beats cold-weather camping. Sitting beside a roaring fire, sipping hot cider and having deep conversations, then wrapping yourself in a thick sleeping bag for the night. I love to camp any time of the year, but a backpacking trip when it's cold outside feels extra right.
So when my buddy Simon told me he was moving to Utah in early December, it felt like the perfect time to try to get in one more backpacking trip.
Simon Fraser has become one of my closest friends in Charleston over the last couple of years. He's a stupidly talented videographer who lives life with no fear. He dropped out of college, wrote a book, drove around the country in an RV sharing it with students, got a job working for a startup, left to start a video production company, and is now moving to Utah to start all over. Oh, and he's only 25. We love to get into debates over politics and nerd out about entrepreneurship and growing a service business.
We only had one night, so I picked a strenuous loop I had done a few years ago with my sister. It's only 16 miles but has some serious elevation change and will kick your butt if you haven't been hiking much. At 10 o'clock the night before the hike we realized half of the trail was closed, so we called an audible. Instead of doing the full loop, we would hike in to some campsites along Lake Jocassee then hike back out the next morning.
The trip was perfect. The weather was cold, the hike got our heart rates up, but wasn't too hard at all. The campsites were gorgeous. Lake Jocassee is a crystal clear mountain lake, and we camped right at the mouth where the Toxaway River pours in. There was lots of time to explore, do some photography and just relax.
If you're looking for a short overnight trip, but want to get away from crowds and feel isolated, this is a fantastic little hike. Don't forget to jump in the lake before you leave, there's nothing like a dip when it's 40 degrees outside to make you feel alive!
- Duration: 2 days, 1 night
- Location: Gorges State Park, North Carolina
- Difficulty: easy
- Distance: 10 miles total (5 each way)
- Park website: https://www.ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park/home
- Map: https://files.nc.gov/ncparks/maps-and-brochures/GORG_MapPad_2017%20%282%29.pdf
Start at the Frozen Creek trailhead, where you can register to camp for free (just fill out a form and leave it in the box at the trailhead). Take off across the wooden footbridge and set off on the Auger Hole Trail.
Note: the Auger Hole Trail is closed passed the Auger Hole due to a massive landslide and likely won't re-open for a while. But it won't affect this shorter trip at all.
In .6 mile take the left fork and follow the Canebreak Trail with yellow blazes. The trail is wide and relatively easy hiking, though it is rocky for long stretches. You'll walk through beautiful pine forest until you get to Lake Jocassee, about 5 miles in. The only confusing spot is one sign as you get close to the lake where a private trail intersects with the Canebreak trail. Continue to follow the yellow blazes until you reach the Foothills trail and signs for campsites.
The campsites are across a small suspension bridge to your left. If you hit the larger 225-ft bridge you've gone too far. All of the campsites are beautiful, but if you hike past the main sites and go about a tenth of a mile down the other side of the Foothills trail marked by the white blazes there is a more secluded campsite on a bluff overlooking the lake. It's relatively easy to climb down the bluff and get to the lake for water, it would make a perfect swimming hole in the summer (or winter if you're crazy like us).
Set up camp and enjoy! Then pack up and hike out the next day.
- Rain fly
- Winter weight sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Mess kit (break this down)
- Fire starter
- Fire kit
- Pocket knife
- 2 pair pants (clothing includes what I wear on the hike)
- 2 Underwear
- 1 long underwear
- 1 gloves (if weather is cold enough)
- 2 Socks
- 2 Tshirts
- Puffy jacket
- Water filter
- 2 nalgenes
- Lunches/snacks: beef jerky, GORP (raisins, peanuts, M&Ms, pretzels), babble Gouda, apples
- Dinner: MREs - we went with chili mac
- Breakfast: oatmeal, tea/cider/coffee