Hiking in Gorges State Park

Overview

This state park may as well be called "Gorgeous" State Park due to its unique collection of waterfalls, rugged river gorges, sheer rock cliffs and one of the greatest concentrations of rare and unique plant and animal species in the eastern United States.

Upper Bearwallow Falls - one of many falls in the park, but one of the few open to visitors.

The park is located on the Blue Ridge Escarpment - in an area where elevations rises 2,000 feet in only four miles. Here, moisture is squeezed out of the atmosphere during a southerly wind flow, resulting in average rainfall in excess of 80 inches per year. This is enough rain to qualify the unique environment as a temperate rain forest. Water flowing from the park ends up in beautiful Lake Jocassee over the South Carolina state line, visible from various points within the park.

Hiking Trails

The trailhead for Rainbow Falls, and others on the Horsepasture River in Nantahala National Forest, is inside Gorges State Park.

Easy

There are two picnic shelters on the Loop Road. Park at either one to hike the Picnic Connector, Bearwallow Valley, and Bearwallow Falls trails. These trails lead through some nice forests, up to an overlook off the Blue Ridge Escarpment, and down to a view of a cascading waterfall (respectively). Hike all three after your picnic for a total distance of just under 2 miles. Even the kids will love them!

Moderate

From the picnic shelters above, go on around the loop road to the Rainbow Falls trailhead parking area. The Rainbow Falls trail leads out of the park onto National Forest lands, down to the Horsepasture River and to Rainbow Falls, for a hike of 3 miles round-trip. Hike another mile round-trip to see two more falls, including Turtleback and Drift Falls.

Rainbow Falls is a Best Hike on this site and highly recommended! Click here for more information on the Rainbow Falls hike.

Also along the Horsepasture River are Stairstep and Windy Falls (below Rainbow Falls), but these are much more difficult to reach.

Difficult

Accessible from the other side of the park, at the Frozen Creek access area, the Auger Hole trail is a long, multi-use trail (hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding) which leads down into one of the "gorges" for which the park is named. The Canebrake winds its way down to the Foothills Trail, a long-distance trail that lies in both North and South Carolina (and part of which passes through the park). It provides access to Lake Jocassee and some backcountry campsites.

Any other trails in the park are currently closed, pending completion of construction activities and implementation of the park's master plan.

This is only an overview of the hiking trails available. For details on each individual trail, visit the Grassy Ridge or Frozen Creek Trails pages, and for what we consider to be the Best Hikes in the park, see the Hikes page.

Amenities

Come enjoy a picnic in the new picnic shelter at Gorges State Park. Hiking trails start right here, so you don't have to drive to work off your lunch!

At this time, the Grassy Ridge access area on the West side of the park has been reopened, but some construction is still underway. When finished, this main access area will include the building of a permanent park headquarters, family campground, and a visitor center. Right now, a one-way, clockwise loop road winds around off the main entrance road. Located along it are a couple of nice, new picnic shelters which serve as trailhead access areas as well.

The separate Grassy Ridge trailhead parking area - at the tip of the loop - is open as well. It marks the beginning of the new Rainbow Falls trail, which leads to the Horsepasture River. Ample parking and an informational kiosk are available at this parking area, but there are no facilities there.

History

Welcome to Gorges State Park! Taken along the new entrance road in late May - with the mountain laurel in full bloom. A great time to visit!
Quoted from the State Park's official guide:
"On April 29, 1999, thanks to a unique partnership of industry, the environmental community and the state of North Carolina, 10,000 acres of the Jocassee Gorges in Transylvania County were placed in public ownership to be preserved for future generations of North Carolinians. The property was purchased by the state from Duke Energy Corporation, and the transaction created a 2,900-acre gameland managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and a 7,100-acre state park - North Carolina's newest state park and our first state park west of Asheville."

Places to Stay

Camping/Lodging

There is no developed camping within the park as of yet (this should be coming soon). However, backcountry campsites were available after a 5 mile hike at Ray Fisher Place (closed indefinitely due to construction and implementation of the park's Master Plan). Each had a picnic table, fire ring and lantern post as well as a pit toilet. It is unclear whether these campsites will reopen.

There are still a few primitive campsites open and available near the Southern border of the park (at Lake Jocassee) along the Foothills trail.

Lodging is available in the nearby towns of Brevard, Lake Toxaway, Sapphire Valley, Cashiers, and Highlands.

Directions

To the Frozen Creek Access (East Side - Map Point B)

From downtown Brevard, it is 9.8 miles on US Hwy. 64 West to Frozen Creek Road - turn left. From Highlands, it is 28.7 miles on US Hwy. 64 East - turn right. The parking are is on the right after 3 miles on Frozen Creek Road.

To the main Grassy Ridge Access (West Side - Map Point C)

From downtown Brevard, it is just over 18 miles on US 64 West to the intersection with NC Hwy 281 South - turn left. From Highlands, it's just over 20 miles on US 64 East, thru Cashiers, to NC 281 South - turn right. Go 0.9 miles South on NC 281 from US 64 to the park entrance road on the left. It's about a mile to the Rainbow Falls parking area straight ahead. Or take the loop road to a couple of other parking areas for the Bearwallow Falls area trails, which are now open and ready.

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