Rainbow Falls Trail

At A Glance

More Difficult

1.9 mi one-way

Difficulty Rating: 1.9
Steepness: Climbs Steeply
Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
Blaze Color: Red
Hikes That Use This Trail: Rainbow Falls


This trail really has two "trailheads", but it officially starts in Gorges State Park and access is controlled by the park, so it is included here. Travels from the Grassy Ridge parking area in Gorges State park, onto National Forest property, then down to the Horsepasture River above Stairway Falls. It then heads up the Horsepasture river to Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and ends at the private property boundary just below Drift Falls. The trail from the parking area down to the river is nicely graded, with a gravel/soil surface. There are not too many rocks or other obstacles on this section, which travels through a nice 2nd growth forest. After meeting with the river, the trail narrows and becomes much steeper and rougher up to the falls. The old steep, rocky, eroded side trail up to NC 281 is no longer open.

This trail is located in the Grassy Ridge Access area. For a list of all the trails in that area, see the Grassy Ridge Access trails list page.

All Photos from the Trail

Gallery Permalink


Map Information

Download GPS Data

Click on a route, trail, or point on the map and select the GPS Data tab to download its data.

Data Formats

KML (Google Earth)

KML is the main file type used by Google Earth. If you have Google Earth installed, clicking the KML link should open the trail or point directly in Google Earth for viewing. This is the native file format used by Google Earth, but many other map applications can use and understand KML as well, so if you're not sure which one to download, KML is a good bet.


The GPX format stands for GPS Exchange - a free, open, XML format for exchanging GPS and map data. GPX is compatible with Google Earth, many other mapping programs, and most GPS devices (such as Garmin). Load the file directly into your GPS to help find your way on your next trip!


GeoJSON is a newer, lightweight data exchange format which can be used to quickly share map data and may have a smaller size than KML or GPX. Many professional mapping and GIS applications support the GeoJSON format.

About the Map


Base Layers

Base layers provided by OpenStreetMap, the US Geological Survey, the US Forest Service, and NC OneMap. Base layer images are subject to the respective copyright policies of their owners. Base layers may not be available at all times due to system maintenance or outages.

WNCOutdoors Base Layer

The WNCOutdoors Base layer is provided by WNCOutdoors.info. It is licensed by Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

Trail and Marker Overlays

Trail layers and downloadable data are all original works created by WNCOutdoors with guidance from a variety of sources, including ensembles of our own GPS tracks, user contributed GPS tracks, official maps and GIS data from government agencies, and field observations. WNCOutdoors data is made freely available under the Open Database License - you are free to copy and use it for any purpose under the terms of that license (summary).


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  • Click a trail for more details and to download it individually.

Trail Segments

Trails are often made up of several connecting paths which may have different characteristics, allowed uses, and seasons. This trail is divided into multiple segments as follows:

Rainbow Falls - Parking to NF Boundary

  • Allowed Uses: Hiking
  • Length: 0.86 mi

Rainbow Falls - NF Boundary to Stairway Falls Spur

  • Allowed Uses: Hiking
  • Length: 0.21 mi

Rainbow Falls - Stairway Falls Spur to Rainbow Falls Overlook

  • Allowed Uses: Hiking
  • Length: 0.48 mi

Rainbow Falls - Rainbow Falls Overlook to Turtleback Falls

  • Allowed Uses: Hiking
  • Length: 0.16 mi

Rainbow Falls - Turtleback Falls to Drift Falls

  • Allowed Uses: Hiking
  • Length: 0.23 mi

Total Calculated Length: 1.94 mi

This value is derived from our underlying map data, and it may not match officially published information.



Average Rating: 5.0 (rated 1 times)

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James Plank said: Fantastic hike -- highly recommended!

Saturday, July 20 2013 7:10pm

Outdoor Adventure for Life said: Thanks for posting. This is a great hike. We did it recently and wrote up a review of it with pictures and video: http://outdooradventureforlife.com/174/gorges-state-park-nc-rainbow-falls

Sunday, November 13 2011 7:39pm
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