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The Devil’s Courthouse Trail from the Whiteside parking area affords majestic views of both Whiteside Mountain and the valley below it, with a little bit of opportunity for adventure along the way.
The first time I tried to find Devil’s Courthouse was with a couple friends on a windy, foggy, wintry-mix-y late winter morning. Only one of us actually read a description of the trail before the trip, and the fog was a wee bit disorienting, so we would stumble onward a few yards and ask each other if we thought we were going in the right direction.
Eventually we came to a rock outcropping with remnants of a campfire in the middle of it and asked no one in particular, “Is this it?” We bumbled further down the trail and suddenly emerged on a wet cliff overlooking the valley below (we assumed – we couldn’t really see it, and we didn’t want to send someone over the edge to find out how far up we were). A conclusive answer to our question of it-ness was never established, and we arrived back at the parking lot a little more confused than when we had set off a couple hours earlier.
What a difference a season makes! The trail we took started to the right of the bathrooms in the parking area and led almost directly to Devil’s Courthouse, circumventing Whiteside altogether. Gaps in the trees afforded small previews of the vista waiting for us at the top, but we were more enthralled with all the new life sprouting along the trail at our feet, exclaiming with joy and gratitude from one trillium to the next. This will be stunning when the mountain laurel and rhododendron are in bloom!
Shortly after starting down the trail, we were surprised by a small waterfall. Two large logs are flung across the stream below the falls, and my friend deemed them perfect for walking across. (I, however, am averse to walking across logs, and easily found a way across the stream below them.) Beyond the stream the trail forks, and we took the right fork up, up, up until it finally leveled out just as we were beginning to despair. Further along, our trail intersected with a side trail leading from the main Whiteside Loop, and we turned left to continue to our destination. We noisily emerged onto the cliff at the end of the trail and asked the two friendly hikers whose lunch we disturbed, “Is this it?”
They confirmed that it was! What joy! We stayed a while listening to the wind sing across the spaciousness and often found our backs turned to the Big View to inspect the hardy plants making their homes on the seeming edge of existence.
We were both on a tight time budget on this particular Saturday, which made the short trip to Devil’s Courthouse the perfect hike. On our way back to the trailhead we decided to continue straight on the Courthouse Trail back to the traditional Whiteside Loop to take in a few more views along the way. Both the Devil’s Courthouse and Whiteside Loop Trails can be found at the National Forest Service parking lot off of Whiteside Mountain Road, which is just under five miles from Cashiers (right after Rhodes Big View) and just under six miles from Highlands.