North by Northwest

Cool off at Issaqueena Falls.

While the beach grabs a lot of headlines, our Northwest Corner pleases many as a destination, especially when flatter lands bake and sizzle. Not quite 3 hours and 135 miles will take you from 535 feet above sea level to over 1,000 feet and much cooler air, not to mention spectacular views. Strike out for the mountains. Here are six other reasons to drive northwest.

The Cove Forest

Nowhere else in the United States will you find as much tree and plant diversity as you will in a Southern mountain cove forest. Green and serene, South Carolina’s bowl-shaped valleys are damp and rich with nutrients. The resultant profusion of plants supports birds, amphibians and mammals. There’s no need to go to the tropics. Drive to the mountains above Walhalla to see green tropical splendor.

Sunshine in a Jar

The beehive — among the world’s most efficient factories — converts alpine nectar to honey. Along Highway 11, bees make honey from sourwood blossoms, blackberry vines, trees and flowers. Stop by a roadside stand along the Cherokee Scenic Foothills Highway and get a jar of mountain sunshine.

Ram Cat Alley, Seneca

Make the scene Thursday evenings at Ram Cat Alley, a place whose identity began with the cats congregating at the 1908 Fred Hopkins Meat Market. So many cats frequented the alley someone said, “You couldn’t ram another cat into the alley.” Mid-1990’s revitalization took an alleyway of pool halls, bars and meat markets and turned it into a pedestrian-popular place of boutique shops and restaurants. On Thursdays, restaurants and the city set up tables for “Jazz on the Alley.” Dine out in the mountain air and enjoy mountain music that’s a bit sophisticated.

Majestic Falls

Make the hike to Cove Falls. It’s a challenging journey but well worth it. You’ll find other falls, too, such as beautiful Issaqueena Falls just below Stumphouse Mountain. Other great falls are to be seen, such as Raven Cliff Falls near Caesars Head and Whitewater Falls where the North Carolina-South Carolina state line pass between the upper and lower falls. Upper Whitewater Falls, near Cashiers, N.C., drops over 411 feet, making it the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains. Lower Whitewater Falls, located just across the line in South Carolina, drops another 400 feet.

The Foothills Trail

For the hardy, hiking is great in the Northwest Corner. Along the Blue Ridge Escarpment trails take hikers back to simpler times when pioneers made their way through mountain forests. Then as now distant views of horizons provided a barometer of how the trails thread through terrain, high enough to be moistened by cloud vapors.

South Carolina’s Rooftop

Want to go even higher? Atop Sassafras Mountain — Carolina’s rooftop — you can look over a rippling green land and smoky blue hills. As night draws nigh, wine, yellow, orange and cinnamon hues prevail until shadows reign supreme. (Note: Pinnacle Mountain, the highest mountain within South Carolina, is in Table Rock State Park).

A trip to the Northwest Corner is sure to take more than a day. Plan an overnight stay. From rustic lodges, to state parks and bed and breakfasts, you’ll find beautiful accommodations. Take a good pair of binoculars, maps and sturdy walking shoes and beat the heat in the green, rolling Northwest Corner.

If You Go …

• www.upcountrysc.com

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]