William Shakespeare never traveled to Greenville County, SC but his words ring true nonetheless. Whether you call it Pretty Place, the chapel on the cliff, Camp YMCA Greenville, or by its proper name Fred W. Symmes Chapel, it is one of the most picturesque sites in the Southeast.
It’s breathtaking at any time of day of any season, but once in your life you need to see it at sunrise in Autumn. My wife and I did this recently and, frankly, I’m not ready to cross it off my bucket list; I need to do this AGAIN!
Our day started with an alarm waking us much earlier than we were accustomed, but we had planned ahead so with a splash of water to the face we grabbed our gear, a tumbler of coffee, our cameras and headed up the mountain. From Greenville, take HWY 276 past Caesar’s Head to the NC/SC state line and make a right on Solomon Jones Rd/YMCA Camp Rd. Go about 5 miles. The road literally ends at the Chapel parking lot. (Location address is 100 YMCA Camp Rd, Cleveland, SC 29635) Obviously you need to be prepared for a winding road with lots of switchbacks along the way. (keep an eye on the facial color of fellow passengers with motion sickness!)
The morning we made our journey, there were signs posted at the turnoff from Hwy 276 saying the chapel was closed for a wedding that day. We assumed the cars in front of us had read the same sign but since they trekked on, so did we. And we practiced our wedding toast just in case we were called upon. Eventually we reached the YMCA camp and learned that everyone had to be gone from the chapel by 9am for a wedding to take place. This can change daily so beware; a weekday trip is less likely to interfere with a wedding schedule. And a weekday trip is also likely to have a much smaller crowd compared to the 150+ with which we shared the morning.
You will want to arrive a half hour before the published sunrise so you can enjoy the tranquility and then the glow of the horizon before the sun pops up. We thought we would be one of a dozen cars, but by the time we left there were two chartered buses and a parking lot full of cars. On our morning there was a mutually agreed upon hush in the crowd, only broken by the occasional loud laugh from a selfie-taking, hair-tossing, college co-ed. Until sunrise. Then it was mayhem. Okay, maybe not that bad but it did get loud. My advice is to not only get there early, but take a seat down front if you want unobstructed photographs. Practice saying “sit down” in a nice tone too.
Crowd noise and rudeness aside, it was inspiring to see such beauty as the golden sun first lit the horizon and then rose above the distant mountains, spreading its light upon a wooden cross and eventually across the valley floor.
Yeah, maybe this is a more-than-once-in-a-lifetime experience. Do it and tell me if you agree.
Dave is a native Texan but has lived with his family in South Carolina since 1998, both in the Low Country and now the Upstate. He grew up receiving photo compliments like “that must be a good camera you have” which is like telling a writer “that’s a good pen you have”. Lately he realizes it’s as much what you see and feel on the journey as it is what you capture. He caught the Instagram bug a couple years ago and loves to shoot images mostly using his iPhone. He recently founded instagram/@Discover_Carolinas on Instagram to highlight the beauty found across NC and SC using the work of amateur and professional photographers.