We’d like to clue you in to one of our favorite mountain sights that you’re unlikely to find on a map.
Near Cleveland, South Carolina (see interactive map below) you’ll find YMCA Camp Greenville within the bounds of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.
The camp occupies 1,600 mountain acres at 3,200 feet, and has hiking trails and a spectacular waterfall. What makes it especially worth a visit, though, is Fred W. Symmes Chapel.
The chapel was originally built by Fred Symmes in 1941. The open air structure sits on a cliff overlooking the mountains.
Last time we were there it was just after sunrise on an April morning, and all the valleys below us were filled with morning fog. Only the tops of the ridges were visible and the entire vista was a monochromatic gray.
As the sun peeked up above the horizon the ridges began to show their actual green color and the fog slowly lifted. Valleys were exposed as the fog dissipated, and the blue-green ridges rolled off to the east as far as the eye could see.
About 50 people were there by the time we left; some were YMCA campers, others were coming for an early morning church service. The large, simple wooden cross at the front of the chapel lent a sacred air to the view and the experience. The chapel was surrounded with vibrant azaleas, and spring wildflowers crowded the roadside as we drove down the hill and back to our campground in the Pisgah National Forest.
If you’re going, call first to be sure the chapel isn’t reserved for a wedding or some other event. Most fall weekends are booked because of the spectacular color display, but even then it’s possible to find a time to stop by. Sunrise is particularly spectacular, as the chapel faces east.
Nearby, the town of Brevard hosts a first-rate weekly farmers market and is full of fun and interesting shops, restaurants, and special events. There’s ample camping (mostly campgrounds) in the nearby national forests. U.S. 276 through the Pisgah Forest is named the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. It passes by a very good visitor center and a number of interesting sites, but we’ll save those for another report.
The mountains of the Carolinas are chockablock with things to do and see. Meet interesting people, hear mountain music, get to know the inspiring and sometimes sad stories of the lives lived here in the last century. Take your time and don’t miss a bit of it. Happy travels!