Stumphouse Tunnel & Isaqueena Falls
On our trip to Chau Ram County Park, we also explored the Stumphouse Tunnel and Isaqueena Falls. The tunnel and falls are located in a part of Sumter National Park near Walhalla, South Carolina in Oconee County. There is a $2 fee to enter the park, which you can leave in a drop box at the entrance. Once you’ve entered the park, you will find a parking lot with picnic areas. To the left is the way for Stumphouse Tunnel or off to the right you will cross a small bridge onto the Isaqueena Falls.
We started with Stumphouse Tunnel! We walked up a short, inclined, dirt road to reach the mouth of the tunnel. I was expecting a tunnel, and it was a tunnel, but for some reason I was surprised by it! Maybe because it sort of blends into the vegetation, or maybe I was picturing it being larger, I don’t know, but I was fascinating for sure.
The Stumphouse Tunnel was started in 1853 by the Blue Ridge Railroad, to connect Anderson, SC to Knoxville, TN via railroad through Stumphouse Mountain , but because funds ran out and the Civil War started, the tunnel was never completed. Irish miners had to use hand drills, hammers, chisels, and black powder to cut through the blue granite.
As we entered, the temperature immediately dropped, which was a welcome escape from the humid heat outside. The kids were a little nervous about the dark, but I whipped out my iPhone flashlight and we started laughing at our silly echoes.
I don’t watch scary movies anymore, but all of the weird, creepy storylines from watching them in high school started coming back to me! Luckily, none of them involved a tunnel! Eeekk!
The tunnel is 17 feet wide and 25 feet tall, and 1,617 feet of tunnel was completed. You can walk through half of it before you come to a locked gate. The gate was placed there to prevent injury from falling rocks that have been coming down through the air shaft cut from the top of the tunnel to the surface for ventilation. We learned that because of this air shaft, a nice cool breeze is constantly flowing through the tunnel and it creates condensation. The walls and edges of the floor were wet, and puddles were throughout the tunnel. With the darkness it was hard to see the standing water and quite the surprise when our feet were suddenly in a puddle!
But we reached the “end” and touched the gate (scary movies were totally getting me here!), then turned around to walk back. Oh, and Bubs and Troy are soaked because they fell into the river while at Chau Ram County Park before we came here. Boys.
Interesting fact: because of the condensation from the ventilation through the air shaft and breeze, Clemson University discovered in 1951 that the tunnel was a perfect spot with perfect conditions to cure Bleu Cheese! The South’s first!! Clemson bought the tunnel, and still owns it, but they have since duplicated the conditions and no longer use the tunnel for cheese making. I kept thinking of my dad. He loves Bleu Cheese!!
It was a fun adventure and something different than we’ve ever done before. The kids liked it, even if they were more excited to leave it, and kept talking about the tunnel long after we left. And, although the tunnel was never finished, it is an amazing reminder and monument to the hard work and efforts of pre-Civil War engineering!
After the tunnel, we went back to the picnic area, ate our picnic lunch, then took the Isaqueena Trail to reach Isaqueena Falls. We crossed a small bridge at the beginning, looped around a corner to a lookout area about 200-300 feet down the graveled path, then decided to continue down the dirt trail to get a closer look. The hike was super short but the trail descends steeply in places, over rocks, tree roots, and fallen branches. Bubs was great and clambered down easily, but Little Miss needed to be carried by dad.
When we reached the bottom we were greeted by a beautiful waterfall!! This is seriously one of my favorite waterfalls I’ve ever been to! Everything was so green, and the falls were just stunning falling over the ledges and rocks.
This 200 foot falls was named after an Indian maiden, Isaqueena, who after warning the white settlers of an attack by another tribe, was chased by the attackers. While being chased she appeared to have jumped off the top of the falls to her death, but really jumped down to hide behind some of the falls and tricked them to escape. I love stories/history like this! And, I’m sure if you had the right shoes you could climb up to find her hiding spot!
Bubs is the explorer and climber! He was all over the place. If I had thought about it, we would have brought swim suits. There were some perfect spots for wading and playing in the water.
Leaving the falls and coming back up the dirt path was the hardest part of the day. Little Miss had to be carried and climbing over branches, rocks, and roots was more difficult, but we all made it! It was a really fun outing exploring this small part of Sumter National Park. If you are ever in the Northwest part of SC and need a short, easy, family friendly hike I highly recommend this one!
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