Monday, May 26, 2014

Jone Gap State Park - Rainbow Falls

RAINBOW FALLS at Jones Gap State Park

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept all over me - Psalm 42:7

We have learned that on every hike we should expect to be surprised by the majesty of nature and nature's God but majesty of Rainbow Falls is simply something I am ill equipped to describe in either word or photograph.....but I will try...

We learned of Jones Gap State Park through the Facebook postings of Mary Kay Zugelder, a nice lady we met on our New Year's Day hike to Hawksbill.....the park is a part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area and is nestled in the South Carolina Southern Appalachians just miles south of the Henderson County, North Carolina border. There are miles of trails but we chose to hike the squiggly red line shown on the map above....only 1.8 miles the sign says....yeah right!
Jones Gap State Park is a 3964 acre park. The Middle Saluda River runs through the park, and one of the many streams which feed the river serves as a constant companion to us as we hiked up the trail to Rainbow Falls. 

South Carolina has a nice safety feature.  Every hiker is encouraged to register at a kiosk at the trail head....and from this locale, we surveyed the many trails electing to take the Blue Blazed Jones Gap Trail to the Red Blazed Rainbow Falls Trail. By the sign we figured we would have a 5 mile round trip hike.  Along the way we encountered an interesting footbridge. The handrail proved more of a danger than a help!

Not far from the footbridge we crossed a another bridge newly built to replace a ford...and started the ascent up Rainbow Trail....
The rocky creek bed  trail soon became a smoother mountain trail and initially the steepness of the trail did not seem so difficult....As we crossed another picturesque bridge, we paused to rest at a split rock....believing we were a mile into a 2.5 mile trail up the mountain.

The split rock represents the start of a pretty tough ascent....some 1000 feet is gained from the trail head to Rainbow Falls and most of it occurs between this split rock and another split rock up the mountainside. We now know that the trail up to Rainbow falls can be divided into four segments which I think are about a half mile apart. The first split rock represents the completion of the first section. The trail up is steep and contains many switchbacks and steps and requires a degree of patience and perseverance but I can assure you the payoff is worth the effort. 

The park is very popular and there were many on the trail for Memorial Day weekend but because the trail is so long there was only occasional friendly interaction between those going up and those coming down.  Seen above is a couple whom we followed up the mountain. The second section of the trail ended as we heard the gentle roar of falls.  A small waterfall provided another nice spot to rest our dogs and catch our breath.
Leaving this picturesque spot we trudged up the most difficult part of the trail.  It was steep and for the first time the trail left the stream and wrapped around the side of the mountain allowing us to see neighboring peaks and appreciate just how far up we had climbed.
The trail was pretty narrow as it wrapped around the mountain. It was the sunny side of the mountain and the 73 degree day suddenly got a little warm. Near the steepest part of the trail, we encountered a small rock bridge where we paused.  A man coming down the mountain encouraged us saying we were almost to the falls and the view was as pretty as the climb was hard. Not far up the trail we encountered the second split rock which marked the end of the steep climb.  

At the split rock, there is a faux falls which runs down the side of a smooth rock face of the mountain.  I think after a strong rain, these falls may be very active.  Leaving the split rock is a steep set of steps....thankfully the last we would encounter.   The last leg of the climb was less steep.  The trail was obviously winding back toward the stream and soon we heard the distant roar of falls. We emerged from a tree lined trail into a cove and saw for the first time Rainbow Falls....we were amazed at the sight!  The falls plunge off the side of a large rock cliff at least 8 to 10 stories in height and the water cascades down the mountain forming many smaller but equally impressive waterfalls.
The sight of the falls renewed my energy and like a little boy let loose to play in the creek, I left my hiking companion and scampered to the base of the falls.  At the base of the falls there is a small pool where a number of families were gathered, many wading in the cool water.  
Getting to the base of the falls proved pretty easy. The cold water cascading off the side of the rock face changed the temperature.  It was easily ten degrees cooler.
The change in temperature also created conditions which stirred up a steady breeze which combined with the mist made it feel like you were catching spray off the ocean when sailing on a boat.  Really no picture can describe these falls.  It is like the falls are alive...the wind, the spray, the like they are breathing on you and enveloping you into its magic.
It is easy not to notice the beauty of the rock face.  The mountain was a solid wall of rock with a variety of color in the rock.  Being overcast we were not able to see the rainbow effect of the sun shining through the water but I am confident that the sight is amazing.

On the trails we meet some of the nicest people and a young couple asked the FBWG for a favor. "Will you take our picture in front of the falls?"   What can a self respecting FBWG do...of course I obliged.  Justin is from Indiana and seems to have been smitten by Jessica, a southern girl from Charlotte.  They met in Charleston and she asked me to encourage Justin to move to North Carolina....well I offered my best advice but truthfully I believe Jessica may have a bit more persuasive powers on this issue than I .....just sayin...but what can I that they are in my blog at least I have made them famous!
Leaving the falls was is a peaceful and invigorating place.  Gone is the memory of the hard climb and sore feet...and in its place is a peaceful feeling....truthfully in a place like this the rest of the world does not seem to exist.  This is why we hike.  The majesty of nature and nature's God reminds me of how small I am and how great He must be!

So how to I rate a trail like this....first it is a hard reminded us of the Flat Top mountain hike.  It is the longest 1.8 miles you can imagine....I really think it is at least 2.5 miles long...The view to effort ratio is hard to calculate....but I will say that for a view like Rainbow is much greatly appreciated for the effort to get to see it!  The trails are well marked and maintained...9.....the access is a three hour plus drive from the Triad but the Park is easy to find.....9.... the scenery going up to the Falls is a solid 8....but the Falls are every bit the equal of the view from the top of Hawksbill Mountain....10.....

This is a hike for every hiker's bucket list....Let's hope Justin moves south!


  1. It’s a really nice blog with beautiful images. You have given detailed information about the Rainbow Falls and the Jones Gap State Park where I also visited before my chinese tour bus. Visitors can find the unforgettable peace and repose of a deep mountain cove at Jones Gap State Park. Rainbow Falls is an amazing 100-foot freefall over a cliff face. It was possible to access the falls from Camp Greenville, but this is a very steep and dangerous route. So the main way to get to the falls is through Jones Gap State Park. I just want to say that it’s a “Great hidden treasure”.

    1. Thanks for following the blog....we desire to provide a great trail review as well as encourage others to take a hike....the blog also provides a virtual hike for those who are not able to hike....Rainbow Falls is indeed a magnificent example of the glory of God as exhibited through His handiwork in nature.....there is something of "unforgettable peace and repose" that occur as you sit at the base of these I said in the blog it is as if the falls are alive. FBWG