Are you looking for a nice +20 or 30 mile section of trail to take you through shaded woods and rolling meadows to see nature while you hike or backpack? Possibly a secluded camp overnight? Then these two sections of the Palmetto Trail are not for you.
The Eutaw Springs Passage is a 21.3 mile section and the Santee Passage is a 12.7 mile section of the Palmetto Trail bridging the end of the Lake Moultrie Passage to the south and the Lake Marion Passage to the north. I selected both of these sections to explore and hike with Radar as part of our Palmetto Challenge mileage. Boy was I surprised.
Often when trails overlap roads out of necessity, the trails will run parallel with roads. Sometime the trails will be just off the road in the woods, occasionally using a short section of asphalt as a bridge or to link the actual hiking trail. So when I looked at the maps for these areas, I didn’t think anything of the route following along the roads. However, in this case the roads are the trail. Make no mistake here, there is no hiking “trail.” You will be walking along the roadway. For miles. There are short sections of wooded hiking trails used to link the miles of roads these routes claims to be. Out of the 34 miles these two sections make up, there is only like about 5 miles of what most people would call actual hiking trails. There is a statement included on the back of the Eutaw Springs map which states:
“Much of this trail uses rural highways and dirt roads. You should prepare for possibility of unleashed dogs and wear bright clothing (and reflectors) to warn drivers. The spur trail is occasionally wet and muddy”
I can honestly say, it’s an understated but accurate statement. I drove from the start of the Eutaw Springs Passage to mile 7 before I could find where any of the “trail” left the road for a walk in the woods. The trail section from mile 7 to 9 is a wooded trail. Radar and I hiked this in and back, enjoying a light trail side lunch. At mile 9 the wooded trail yields again to more paved road. Once we got back to the car, we drove most of the remaining route trying to identify any remaining wooded trails. Absolutely much of the roadway travels through rural neighborhoods and communities on the southwest side of Lake Marion. To call some of the houses, trailers, and buildings along this section of trail “rustic” might be a bit too generous. It looks like from mile 10.5 to 12.2 is another wooded trail section joining roads. Fedcon Road (miles 12.5 to 17) is a deceiving dirt road which was impassable somewhere around mile 15 due to really heavy deep mud ruts. There was a pick-up truck with an older guy and his hound dog, traveling ahead of us, which ended high-centered and stuck. I tried to help push him out but we ended up turning around in my car and taking him and his pup back to his home so he could get a wrecker to extract his truck from the mud.
I would not recommend hiking any of this section in the summer as you will be out on the open road and under the sun 90% of the time. And I wouldn’t hike if it’s rained recently. While most of the roads will be fine, any actual hiking trail will likely be wet and or muddy. The Rocks Pond camp ground (about a mile down campground road from mile 13) is mostly RV sites but likely has some tent sites as well. The other camp site on the trail (about mile 18.5) we didn’t make due to helping out the stuck truck, but looks like it’s on the only other section of wooded trail. We explored the Santee Passage section and it’s virtually all roadway with no designated camping.
The one really cool place to visit is in Eutaw Springs. Located just past a turn in the trail/road is the American Revolutionary War era Eutaw Springs Battlefield. This was one of the last major engagement of the war in the Carolina’s, both sides claimed victory. We forget sometimes, how old our country is and the sacrifices our forefathers made to create a new nation. Definitely worth stopping, walking, and reading the self guided interpretive signs around the battleground.
Favorite Time of year: Maybe the Spring and fall (low bug time) for camping when its cool and dry.
Things to Know: You will be traveling on public roads most of these two trail sections. Pick a day with good cloud cover and use a good sunscreen.
Camping: RV and tent camping is available at Rocks Pond Campground, trail side primitive camping around mile 18.5 on the Eutaw Springs Section. There is no designated camping in the Santee Passage Section.
Pet friendly: There are no known restrictions on the trail but I would keep on leash while on the roadways. Watch for unleashed local dogs.
Getting There: The Eutaw Springs Section starts at the Diversion Canal, about an hours drive from the Charleston area. Good luck.