The Blue Wall Preserve is a 500-acre tract acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 1997. It is basically the drainage basin for what used to be two Landrum, SC reservoirs known as Twin Ponds. Topographically, the basin is truly that, a bowl-shaped valley shaped by Hogback Mountain, Vaughn’s Gap, and Rocky Spur.
Section 2 of the Blue Wall Passage of The Palmetto Trail passes through the Preserve on its way up and over Vaughn’s Gap. About 3 miles of the trail, markers 11 through 14 are within the Preserve. This is a “hiking only” zone with no bikes, horses, camping, fires, fishing etc. There are 2 hikes here. One is straight through to the Gap, one way about 3 miles. The other is a balloon hike with a loop around the upper pond. Total round trip distance for this balloon hike is just over 3 miles. The area has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. Birds, significant plants, and aquatic live are abundant here.
To catch The Palmetto Trail from the trailhead in the Preserve (about mile marker 10.75), start in Gowansville at the intersection of SC 11 and SC 14 then take 14 north for 2 miles to Belue Mill Road. Left on Belue Mill Road for 1.5 miles to Jamison Mill Road. Left on Jamison Mill for ¾ of a mile to Oak Grove Road. Left on Oak Grove for ¼ mile to Lake Road. Right on Lake for 1.2 miles to Lakeshore Road. Left on Lakeshore for 0.4 miles to Dug Hill Road. Left on Dug Hill for 0.2 miles to Pennell Road. Left on Pennell and take an immediate left into the parking area.
From the parking area, walk around the gate and down the paved road for 0.2 miles to the crossing over Vaughn Creek. Just past the deteriorated bridge is the original parking area and the Blue Wall Preserve sign. The condition of the bridge explains why the parking has been moved back up the paved road.
Pennell Road, unpaved from this point on, serves as the trail for more than a mile as it is a maintenance road for servicing the two reservoir ponds.
Just past the Blue Wall sign is a decorative stone gate followed by an information kiosk. It has some good maps of the Preserve along with other information.
Your next landmark is a fork in the road with a gate on the left side of the fork. Go around this gate and proceed up the trail. In less than a half mile you’ll encounter the first pond with the extraordinary view the Preserve is famous for. There is an information board here, too, describing the mountain features in front of you along with their heights (Hogback Mountain, Vaughn’s Gap, Rocky Spur). While the trail does fork with a trail across the dam, it dead ends shortly so follow the trail to the right of the pond.
In another 0.4 miles, you’ll be at the 2nd pond and another fork in the trail. This point is the start/end of the loop around the pond. Turn left and cross the dam. At the spillway, the road becomes a trail as it turns to the right and begins the 2 mile climb to Vaughn’s Gap. The slope averages about 15% with the final quarter mile at 26%.
Just as this section of the trail begins, you’ll see the loop trail shoot off to the right. There is a trail marker for The Palmetto Trail. The loop trail head is just to the right of the marker. The loop actually seems to be longer than it needs to be but it has to avoid the swampy backwaters of the creek feeding the pond on that side. You will see significant beaver activity all around the pond but especially on the back side of the loop. Also keep an eye out for wildflowers.
As the loop reaches the other stream feeding the pond, it will follow upstream for a short distance before presenting you with Vaughn’s Cascade, a very pretty 25 foot tall waterfall. You’ll then cross a small concrete bridge and be less than 100 yards from closing the loop back at the pond. Return down the road to the parking area.
(Note: Unless you are interested in the beaver activity, you may wish to skip the upper side of the loop and take the right fork at the dam for the short walk up to Vaughn’s Cascade.)