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The Cathedral Aisle Trail is part of a 65-mile network within Aiken's protected Hitchcock Woods. Open since September 1939, this lush forest path is among the nation's oldest rail-trails. Though it runs just 0.8 mile, the route is a must-see for its railroading past alone.
The South Carolina Railroad & Canal Company built the corridor in 1835 as part of its Hamburg-Charleston route. At the time, the 136-mile line was the world's longest and the domain of a steam locomotive named the Best Friend of Charleston. In the late 1800s, Lulie and Thomas Hitchcock purchased the land surrounding the then-abandoned tracks for a hunting preserve.
The Hitchcocks eventually set aside 1,200 acres for recreational purposes on condition the area never be sold to a private individual or firm. Today, through the support of donors and volunteers, the Hitchcock Foundation manages more than 2,000 acres of mature forest, ponds, streams and wetlands. At its heart is the Cathedral Aisle rail-trail.
Cyclists are barred from the trail network, though most bikes would bog down in the soft sand anyway. You will find meandering hikers, joggers and equestrians. You may even encounter a horse-drawn carriage on the Cathedral Aisle or connecting trails. Pick up a map at the trailhead information kiosk.
To reach the trailhead from Aiken, take US Highway 78/Richland Avenue west to Highway 118/Hitchcock Parkway. Head south on Hitchcock about 0.5 mile and turn left on Dibble Road. Follow Dibble just under 0.5 mile. Parking is available in a sandy lot on the right, opposite the power station.
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