We recommend the Bad Creek Trail for multiple reasons and we suggest this hike and exploration to the entire family. However, before considering this hike, please keep in mind if you have small children or physically challenged folks that the last 3 miles are downhill on the way in, but a steady uphill 3-mile hike on the way out. Take the Bad Creek Trail into the Ellicott Wilderness and down to the Chattooga River and Gorge. This area covers over 9,000 acres covering parts of N.C., S.C. and GA. Spring/Summer is the best time for this hike and this river offers great trout fishing, swimming and wading. So, you may want to pack some fishing equipment with you, as well as some river shoes, picnic lunch and towels/change of clothes. To access and see both the Ellicott & Commissioner's Rocks you will need to hike all of 3 miles down to the Chattooga River. There is also a fantastic backcountry campsite at the river's edge that makes a great place for approx. 3 smaller tents to camp out at.
As you start out, the hike is a relatively easy stroll through the forest for approx. 2.3 miles and then you start to head down to the Chattooga River via multiple switchbacks that are fairly easy to navigate. At 2.3 miles you will see an intersecting trail "Sloan Bridge Trail", avoid this trail. I should also mention that several trees (small and large) have fallen across the trail. You will have to either hurdle them or dunk under them. I did this with relative ease, but they could pose a problem for folks with disabilities. Once you've made it down to the river you'll find an excellent backcountry campsite. There is a fire pit, plenty of space for multiple tents and some nice logs to sit on. I plan on coming back here to do some camping, hiking and fishing.
The Chattooga is a great Wild Trout stream with Brown and Rainbow Trout dominating the fish population. You have a nice chance at hooking a large Brown in this river, if you're patient enough. I would also like to mention the numerous wildflowers we saw along the trail and especially on the ridgelines. It was mid-April when I was last on this trail and the flowers were just starting to pop up and out of the forest floor.
Just to the left of the campsite and ahead of you the trail continues down the river. You'll see a brown sign pointing down river for "Ellicotts's Rock." Follow this trail/arrow for approx. 5 minutes to a yellow sign pointing down the river bank. There you will find Ellicott's origial carvings "N G", for North Carolina-Georgia. This may take a little exploring. Andrew Ellicott surveyed this area back in the early 1800's and carved the "N G" in 1811 to originally mark where NC and GA met in order to settle a dispute between the two states on where the border should be. He ended up finding that the border should be several miles South of where the Georgians claimed it was. Considering Ellicott was hired by the State of Georgia to complete the surveying, they didn't receive this information with open arms, and in turn denied Ellicott his pay. In 1813, just two years after Ellicott's findings, commissioners from NC and SC came together to find the boundary of their two states. The words "LAT (for Latitude) 35, AD 1813 & NC + SC" can be found approx. 15 feet down river on the same side carved into another rock, "Commissioner's Rock." Be aware of the water levels when venturing out to seek these historic landmarks. The Chattooga River can rise fairly quick and if the water is high, finding one or both of these rocks can become difficult. Having said that, they shouldn't be hard to find in the dryer summer season. This trail is not only beautiful and adventurous, but it holds a lot of historic value to our area. This hike and exploration should be considered a "day trip."
Keep in mind you are in a "Wilderness Area" and you should be aware of some of the regulations before entering. An information kiosk awaits you at the trailhead, so take a few moments to review the suggestions it gives but most importantly, have fun!
From Cashiers, NC or SC
From the main intersection of U.S. Hwy 64 and N.C. Hwy 107 in Cashiers, N.C. head South on N.C. 107 towards S.C. Travel 7 miles to "Bull Pen Road" on your right (or left coming from SC as you near Cashiers). Take this part pavement/part gravel road for 2.7 miles until you see an off-white sign reading "Ellicott Rock Wilderness" on your left. This is the trailhead for "Bad Creek Trail" and one of two entrances to the Ellicott Wilderness Area in NC. You will need to pass this sign and travel 0.1 mile (just crossing "Fowler Creek" & sign) to a dirt/grass Forest Road (Gated and closed) on the immediate right over the creek. Park here and backtrack along Bull Pen Road to where you saw the "Ellicott Rock Wilderness" sign. Start your hike here.
From Highlands, NC
From downtown Highlands, take Main Street East out of town (past Mountain Fresh Grocery on your right) to Horse Cove Road (Main Street turns into Horse Cove Road). Travel 4.5 miles to a fork in the road. To your left will be "Whiteside Cove Road" and to your right will be "Bull Pen Road." Take the right and onto the gravel "Bull Pen Road" for 5.7 miles as you twist and turn your way down to the Chattooga River Gorge, Chattooga River, "Iron Bridge" and eventually the second trailhead for Ellicott Wilderness Area where Bad Creek Trail begins. ** Note, you'll pass the first entrance to Ellicott Rock Wilderness at 1.8 miles from the start of Bull Pen Road, keep driving and avoid this.