Along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway--S.C. 11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, curves 130 miles through the heart of South Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountain foothills. It stretches in an arc from I-85 at Gaffney, near the North Carolina border, almost to the Georgia border at Lake Hartwell State Park, where it links up once more with I-85. The "scenic" in this highway's name is best justified at spring-blossom time or when autumn leaves are coloring, but it can't compare with the more dramatic Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia and North Carolina. Once, the highway was known as the Keowee Path or Cherokee Path. The highway offers access to 10 state parks and several historic sites. For information and a detailed route map, contact the South Carolina State Park System, 1205 Pendleton St., Columbia, SC 29201 (tel. 803/734-0159).
The route begins in Gaffney at the Peachoid, the town's water tower (painted to resemble a peach), at Exit 92 off I-85. After you turn onto the highway, you begin a journey through peach country. Peach orchards and stands line the road, selling peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other produce in season. Many of the stands have been in operation for a good number of years, including one that was started more than 30 years ago.
Soon after entering the highway, you come to Cowpens National Battlefield, 11 miles west of I-85 near the Highway 11/Highway 10 intersection, Chesnee (tel. 864/461-2828; www.nps.gov/cowp). On January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals and backwoods militia to a brilliant victory over a larger and better-equipped force of British regulars under the command of the much-hated dragoon, Banastre Tarleton. This crucial battle contributed to the eventual defeat of the British at Yorktown. The battle took place over an area of just 150 acres; today's park sprawls over 843 acres. In the park, a 3-mile loop takes you around the battlefield and its historical markers. The park also offers a 1 1/4-mile walking trail. In the visitor center are exhibits and memorabilia such as weapons and survival gear of the period. A 22-minute audiovisual program, Daybreak at the Cowpens, is presented every half-hour, at a cost of $1. The park and visitor center are open daily from 9am to 5pm, except for major holidays.
Detours off the route lead to various points of interest. The last covered bridge in South Carolina is Campbell's Bridge, built in 1909. To reach it, head 4 miles down Route 14 at Gowensville; then go west half a mile on Route 414. The oldest bridge in the state is believed to be the Poinsett Bridge, built in 1820. The stone-arched structure crosses the Middle Saluda River where it overlooks the clear, running water and kudzu-covered countryside. To reach this spot, take Route 25 north until you come to the signposted turnoff.
Other points of interest include Glassy Mountain, with its 1,000-foot sheer rock face; Symmes Chapel (better known as "Pretty Place"), atop Standing Stone Mountain and offering one of the most scenic overlooks; Raven Cliff Falls, where a wooden deck has been built to allow visitors to view a waterfall that plunges 800 feet into a gorge; Sassafras Mountain, the state's highest peak, at 3,548 feet; and Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, begun in the 1850s to link Charleston to the Midwest but abandoned at the onset of the Civil War. All these sites are signposted on the highway.