Picture a new rail trail that travels all the way from the rolling countryside of Upstate South Carolina, through historic and vibrant small towns, and into the spectacular mountain scenery of Western North Carolina. That’s the vision for a new rail trail along the route of the historic Saluda Grade Railroad.

And we are moving forward to make it happen! Conserving Carolina and our partners have made an offer to purchase the Saluda Grade rail corridor. Negotiations are ongoing. And once under contract we will still need to raise the money to buy the land. But we are excited about the opportunity to pursue this trail—a game changer for local economies, outdoor recreation, good health, and quality of life.

The 31-mile rail trail would begin in Inman, SC (north of Spartanburg) and pass through Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda before reaching Zirconia, NC (south of Hendersonville.) It would include approximately 16 miles in South Carolina and 15 miles in North Carolina. Along its route, the trail would feature scenic views, lively downtowns, historic landmarks, unique nature preserves, and gorgeous lakes and waterfalls.

Saluda Grade by waterfall in Saluda
Photo by Jim Kelly/Palmetto Trail.

 

The Saluda Grade Trail also offers potential connections to other trails, like the future Ecusta Trail and the growing Palmetto Trail. It could become a major link in a visionary network of regional trails and greenways that spans hundreds of miles. These connected trails would invite people out for everything from a relaxed stroll to an epic journey.

Like the popular Swamp Rabbit Trail or Virginia Creeper Trail, the Saluda Grade Trail would be an amazing win-win for our communities. It would invigorate local economies while enhancing quality of life. The trail would strengthen local businesses, celebrate our history, and connect people with the natural world.

Will you join the campaign for the Saluda Grade Trail?

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The most important thing for the success of the Saluda Grade Trail is active support from our community. Sign up for updates on this project, including opportunities for you to voice your support.

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How to Donate to the Saluda Grade Trail

A coalition of three nonprofits is spearheading the Saluda Grade Trail: Conserving Carolina, PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well, and Upstate Forever. You can make a donation to the trail through any of these nonprofit partners. Conserving Carolina is leading efforts in North Carolina, while PAL and Upstate Forever are leading efforts in South Carolina.

To donate through Conserving Carolina, go here. You can also send a check with “Saluda Grade” in the memo line or call us to make your donation.

DONATE TO THE SALUDA GRADE TRAIL

Map of the Saluda Grade Trail

Map of proposed Saluda Grade Trail

Saluda Grade FAQs

Want to learn more about the Saluda Grade Trail? Check out these FAQs to learn more about the vision for the trail, the process for making it happen, the history of the Saluda Grade, projected economic impacts, and more.

Benefits of the Saluda Grade Trail

Conserving Carolina is supporting this ambitious trail project because it would provide so many benefits to our communities. Here are some of the good things that would come from the Saluda Grade Trail:

Outdoor Recreation: More people would have a place to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature as they walk, run, bike, play, or visit. The trail would be convenient to homes and neighborhoods and accessible to people of all abilities. 

Better Health: When more people can access parks and trails, they get more exercise. That reduces widespread health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Outdoor exercise also relieves stress, lifts mood, and improves mental health. One study showed that every $1 spent on greenways leads to $3 in health care savings. 

Local Economies: Rail trails are economic drivers for rural communities. They bring customers to local businesses, attract tourists, and appeal to companies deciding where to locate. In 2011, a national study found that every $1 invested in land conservation (including parkland) returned $4 in economic value. 

Saluda Grade through Saluda downtown
Downtown Saluda. Photo by Jim Kelly-Palmetto Trail

 

Local History: The Saluda Grade rail line is a historic landmark, as the steepest standard gauge mainline railroad ever built in the United States. The railroad required inventive feats of engineering to climb the Blue Ridge Escarpment. (Note: if you’re worried that it will be too steep for most folks to use, much of the route is actually very moderate in grade.) And the route takes you to historic downtowns and other local landmarks.

Wildlife Habitat: The trail would provide a corridor for wildlife to travel. It would help connect natural areas like the Greenville Watershed, Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve, Green River Game Lands, Lake Summit, Norman Wilder Forest, Melrose Falls, and Pearsons Falls. Abundant wildlife will make the trail a great place for birding and enjoying nature.  

Clean, Active Transportation: With greenways like the Saluda Grade, people have transportation choices. Rail trails offer a safe way to bike or walk, so people can drive less. That means less traffic on our roads and better air quality.

Trail Connections: There’s exciting potential to eventually link the Saluda Grade Trail to other trail systems like the Ecusta Trail, Hellbender Trail, Palmetto Trail, City of Spartanburg trails, and more. This network of connected trails could span hundreds of miles, providing opportunities for everything from relaxed strolls to epic journeys.   

Property Values: The value of property along rail trails typically goes up anywhere from 5-20%.   

Quality of life: The overall effect of all these benefits is to raise our quality of life. When we have more economic opportunities, better health, pride of place, a sense of history, and more ways to connect with nature and each other, we’re simply happier.

Support the Trail

We need your support to make this exciting rail trail happen. Sign up for emails for updates on what’s happening and how you can get involved.

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Saluda Grade rail line through mountains
Saluda Grade through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Photo by Scott Park/Upstate Forever.