Tucked away at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, not far from Clemson, lies the quiet city of Walhalla. This unassuming town, however, is action packed with more adventure and cuisine than we could squeeze into a three-day weekend girls’ getaway!
Where to Stay
Lofts Over Main — For our first two nights in Walhalla, we checked into the historic 1890s shopkeepers’ loft downtown. This charming Airbnb studio apartment is equipped with a full kitchen and an open spacious floor plan with mountain rustic decor. Meghan and Jared Ketterman fully renovated the space, creatively maintaining both vintage elements like the exposed old brick and beautiful old hardwood floors as well as adding modern touches, like a sliding barn door to the bathroom that hosts a shower made from ribbed roofing metal.
A welcome bag greeted us with a thermos, postcards, small towel, and a dry bag in addition to some informative pamphlets about area activities. A bay window looks out over Main Street, beckoning for the adventure to begin!
The Bolt Farm Majestic Treehouse — We spent our last night in Walhalla at one of the most memorable places I have ever been. The Majestic Treehouse is just that … a magical getaway up in the treetops, reminiscent of childhood fantasies. Built by father and son Larry and Seth Bolt, the treehouse has an enclosed bedroom with a wall of vintage windows looking out through the woods as well as an open, tiered section connected by a swinging bridge. The bedroom is full of small clever details everywhere, including a drawer of chocolates, a trunk of games, and a record player, and has an elegant yet casual shabby-chic decor with a beautiful vintage queen bed. While a half bath is included inside, the shower is located outdoors and gives a beautiful natural view while also maintaining privacy. A plush swing — more bed than bench — sits below deck through a trap door just outside the bedroom.
Our stay was further enhanced with the upgraded “VIP Experience,” which included a bottle of wine, a DIY pizza kit, campfire materials for the fire pit, an “ultimate s’mores supply kit” (which included Reece’s cups), as well as two Bolt Farm coffee mugs and a scented Charleston Candle Co. candle. We sipped wine and cooked the pizza in the outdoor oven on the second-tier eating area, where everything blended in with the trees; even the stools were tree trunk sections. After a truly delicious pizza, with soft, doughy crust, we climbed the ladder to the top tier and lay on the lounge chairs, looking up at the stars through the leaves as we finished our wine before descending down to light the fire and make s’mores.
What to Do
What not to do would be a much better question in this area! This slice of South Carolina is the outdoor adventure junkie’s dream come true.
Hiking — The Cherokee word Oconee means “land beside the water,” and Oconee County could easily be renamed the land of a thousand waterfalls. They are everywhere, and most hiking trails lead to a stunning view of one. Upon arriving Friday afternoon, we first visited Issaqueena Falls, which is easily accessible by a short trail and is just a few minutes outside of Walhalla. This 200-foot cascade is breathtaking and is also rich in historic lore. The trail shares a parking lot with the Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel, the remains of an attempt in the 1850s to link the Charleston port to the Midwest by rail. This vast, gaping mountain hole is open to explorers at least 75 yards in, quite far enough to awaken the imagination. Literally across the highway is a trailhead to Yellow Branch Falls, a scenic 1.5-mile hike each way through beautiful forest, across several small mountain streams, and ending in the 50-foot falls. The hiking trail options in this area are seemingly endless.
Whitewater Rafting — One of the first rivers in the United States to be designated “Wild and Scenic,” meaning no development is allowed within a quarter mile of the banks, the Chattooga River offers lazy Class 2 rapids to roaring Class 5 rapids. We elected for the wilder rapids of section 4 with Wildwater Rafting and thoroughly enjoyed our trip down the river, complete with stops to jump off high rocks into deep pools and even to swim through an underwater hole in a rock. Towards the end of the expedition, we pulled off for a picnic lunch on a sandy beach.
Zipline Canopy Tour — After our morning’s water adventures, we returned to the Wildwater Chattooga Ridge Adventure Center for an afternoon of ziplining like Tarzan through the trees. This was my first experience on a zipline course, and it was such an unexpected and exhilarating thrill! We zipped and flew along the 11 ziplines, including two over a small lake and one particularly long run of 1,200 feet. I would have done it over and over again for hours if I could!
Lake Jocassee Waterfall Tour — Probably South Carolina’s best kept secret, this jewel of a lake boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in the eastern United States as well as the second highest rainfall in the continental United States, giving it some of the greatest biodiversity in the world. Brooks Wade, who owns Jocassee Lake Tours with his wife, Kay, took us out on his pontoon boat for a private cruise that showed us why National Geographic listed it as one of the world’s 50 Last Great Places. The lake water is a clear tropical blue and, due to its middle elevation, is pleasantly cool without the cold bite of mountain water. Largely protected from development, the lake shoreline features 90 miles of uninterrupted wilderness. We had more fun riding around in the boat, swimming, and viewing the various falls. We were even able to swim through and behind one and jump off some rocks. I can’t wait to go back.
Fly Fishing — We spent one morning wading in the pools of an upper stretch of the Chattooga River with experienced fly-fishing guide Karl Ekberg. The serenity of fly-fishing on a mountain stream is unparalleled, and as an added bonus, we even caught a few!
Sunset at Chattooga Belle Farm — This working farm can arguably claim the most beautiful mountain view in the state. Watching the sunset is a popular local pastime as the owners leave the gates open for evening saunters. Beforehand, we went to the distillery for a spirit tasting, all crafted with their own produce.
Stumphouse Mountain Bike Park — This 442-acre bike park, which opened in May 2018 with the first few miles of recreational trails, will continue expanding in phases to reach 20 miles. I am no mountain biker so I did not experience this firsthand, but it is an impressive project and promises to be a popular destination for thrill-seekers on wheels.
Where to Eat & Drink
West & Co. Taproom — Located right below the Lofts Over Main on the back street, West & Co. was our first stop after arriving on Friday. They offered a wide selection of craft beer, and I enjoyed a citrusy hard cider that tasted deliciously like Champagne. We sat outside under the umbrellas in the cool mountain breeze for a refreshing launch to our weekend.
Partners in Wine — After lunch one day, we stopped by for a popular wine slushy. I chose the sangria, which was delicious and refreshing, offering the ideal way to cool off from the afternoon heat.
Paesanos Italian — We dined here on Friday evening, and everything from the menu to the ambiance was impressive. We sat outside and enjoyed cocktails before diving into their extensive menu. We shared several appetizers: the wild mushrooms sauteed in Marsala reduction topped with provolone, a caprese salad, and shrimp cocktail. I then enjoyed their lobster tail entree and the perfectly moist chocolate tower layer cake for dessert … with a side of salted caramel ice cream. It was a superb meal!
Humble Pie Pizza — This hole in the wall local pizza joint is a popular destination for the rafting guides at the end of a day’s “work” on the river, and so we followed suit. The delicious pizza in a fun atmosphere was the perfect way to cap off the day’s activities.
3 Amigos Mexican Grill — We stopped here for lunch and enjoyed some of the best Mexican I have ever had. They made the guacamole to order on a cart beside the table, and the shrimp fajitas were plump and savory. Everything was so fresh and well-balanced.
We did not have the time to try the many other enticing dining options due to our densely packed activity schedule, but not to worry — I’ll go next time!