Poinsett State Park Hike Route Map

Poinsett State Park

The “Mountains of the Midlands”…that’s the self-appointed nickname given to the wrinkled landscape contained within Poinsett State Park. More formally known as the High Hills of Santee, this region of South Carolina marks the transition zone between the relatively high and rolling “midlands” and the flat, swampy coastal plain stretching east towards the Atlantic. As a result of Poinsett lying across this transition zone it contains a diversity of plant life which you might not otherwise expect across a relatively small 1,000-acres of property. Want to see mountain laurel, as those which grow to the north along the Blue Ridge? Poinsett has them. Want to find a water tupelo of the coastal swamps? Poinsett has those too. Although I think using the term “mountains” is a bit hyperbolic, there is an impressive amount of relief here as well…at least by regional standards. The hilltops here barely break the 200-foot mark but they’re enough to give you a decent workout should you decide to explore the parks 26+ miles of trail. On top of all this there’s a bit of cultural history to be had as well. There’s the ruins of a pre-Revolutionary water mill, through which tumbles a manmade-yet-scenic cascade, and there’s numerous stone structures, built by the CCC, for the newly christened state park back in the 1930’s. Almost every way you come at it Poinsett is full of variety. So, when I was invited down to interview for a ranger position there, I didn’t pass up the opportunity to explore a bit as well. I didn’t get the job…but I did get the chance to explore a place that may have otherwise slipped through my radar. That’s a win by any standard in my book.

If someone dropped a plate of spaghetti on a map of Poinsett State Park and then traced the noodles, the result probably wouldn’t appear all that different than the ACTUAL trail map of the park. The 26-miles of path wind through the property seemingly without regard to terrain or any logical design whatsoever. I consider myself somewhat of an expert when it comes to route-planning but even I had to pause and focus to make sense of where I would be headed. My best advice is don’t wander out into Poinsett State Park unless you’ve BROUGHT A MAP. Even if you follow the route explained in this album, you’ll still want to keep a map at hand as junctions can be (and frequently are) confusing. The starting point is at the end of the park road where a large parking area sits adjacent to the visitor center and a large open picnic area. The visitor center sits on the shore of 100-acre Old Levi Mill Pond, which dates back to the time of the mill whose ruins you can see at its northwest corner (along with the aforementioned cascade). As it turns out, the old mill site is adjacent to the path you’ll head out on, named the Coquina Trail.

The Coquina Trail starts out by following the crest of the earthen dam which creates Old Levi Mill Pond. After circling around to the south side of the pond you’ll really need to start paying attention to your map. You want to stay on the Coquina Trail for the first 8/10-mile, which can be achieved by simply bearing left at every junction over that stretch. The trail stays atop the hills to the south of the pond generally, with only brief glimpses seen through the trees during the winter. When you reach it, bear right on the Hilltop Trail which climbs higher up the hillside. You’ll soon pass a first junction with the Lo Knot Trail and then quickly reach a second, which you’ll now bear right onto. Go a few dozen feet and then bear left on the Hi Knot Trail. Confused? BRING A MAP!  The Hi Knot Trail now heads due south, running the boundary line of the park along the lip of the surprisingly deep ravine containing Hart Creek. Just before dropping into the ravine to cross the creek you’ll pass an old cabin which looks straight out of a horror film…complete with the name of “Skinner’s Shed”. After crossing Hart Creek bear left on the Lo Knot Trail which heads north, follow it for ¾-mile, rejoin the Hi Knot Trail for a short time, switch back sharply onto the Bowline Trail, which drops you steeply back into the valley along Shank’s Creek just east of the mill pond. Congratulations…if you managed to stay on track this far you should be good the rest of the way…that is, you guessed it, if you’ve brought a map.

Making a right at the bottom of the Bowline Trail you’ll now be on the Laurel Trail, which heads east alongside Shank’s Creek for the next half-mile. When you spot a boardwalk crossing the creek, make a side trip down, it’s a pretty spot. The Laurel Trail ends at the park road, which you’ll now cross and pick up the Splice Trail heading back west. The Splice Trail sticks within earshot of the road much of its length as it winds through shallow drainages under cover of tall pines. It crosses the cabin access road at 2/10-mile, the campground road at ¾-mile, and arrives back at the visitor center area at just over the mile mark. If you want you can end your hike here, making for a respectable 4+ mile walk. Or, if you’re like me and you’re still thoroughly enjoying yourself, bear right onto a gravel drive for a quarter-mile where you’ll pick up the Scout Loop Trail for two more miles of enjoyable walking. I hiked the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, getting the required climb out of the way first which made the rest of it a piece of cake. The so-called Overlook Shelter is located at the top of the climb, but unfortunately the trees have grown up since the structure was built so little of what was once an amazing view can still be seen. Carefully following orange blazes the trail soon passes by the park group camp as it turns north on a level grade. You’ll pass no less than five junctions in the next half-mile, as a pair of the parks bike trails crisscross the Scout Loop again and again. As the loop turns back to the south you’ll pass the long-distance Palmetto Trail (which crosses the entire state) after which the trail remains flat all the way back to the visitor center alongside the most swamp-like terrain of the entire hike. Such is the diversity of this area.

That’s it…that’s the grand tour of Poinsett State Park. Even though a bit dreary when I went, the amazing variety of the park wasn’t lost on me. I wouldn’t have guessed such a fascinating and unique landscape existed in this part of South Carolina had I not had this opportunity to visit. That said, let’s get walking shall we? It’s my great pleasure to invite you along with me now as I explore the fabulous Poinsett State Park…as always, I hope you ENJOY!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 33.805025, -80.547881

Route Type:  Double Loop          Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  7.30 )

Hike Length:  6.5 miles                Hike Duration:  2:45

Trailhead Temp:  55'F                 Trail Traffic:  1-5 people

Min. Elevation:  80'                      Max. Elevation:  220'

Total Vertical Gain:  400'            Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  62'

Trails Used (blaze color):  Bowline (pink), Coquina (green), High Knot (black), Hilltop (orange), Laurel (purple),   Low Knot (black), Scout (orange), Splice (blue)


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