A mere 40 minute drive from Greenville you can enter a forested mountain cove and spend the day hiking, trout fishing or cooling off in one of the many cold streams. Book a campsite in advance and you can stay overnight, exploring the 11,000 acre wilderness at your leisure. The only catch is, spring and summer bring a ton of visitors, and as parking is limited you might encounter a queue to get in, as we did.
Jones Gap State Park is linked with Caesars Head State Park by a number of trails forming the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and also is an access point to the 76-mile Foothills Trail. Our destination was much less ambitious; the 50-foot Jones Gap Falls connecting a small tributary with the Middle Saluda River, only one mile in on the 5.3 mile (one way) Jones Gap State Park Trail.
Detailed hiking maps can be purchased at the Park Headquarters, but Jones Gap Falls are easily reached without a map. The trailhead is just past Park Headquarters, on the right after crossing the bridge. Blue blazes can be followed the one mile to a short spur trail that will take you to the falls, although about halfway there you will pass the trailhead to Rainbow Falls, a strenuous hike that totals about 5 miles roundtrip including the portion of Jones Gap Trail.
It will be several years before we take the kids on a hike any more challenging than the JGP. Lauris was a trooper, totaling 3 miles on foot before the day was out, but Mikus was in the backpack carrier, and not content to enjoy the ride. During his breaks from being a passenger he was intent on exploring the forest, mainly attempting to swim in the Saluda or measure the steepness of the mountainous terrain through rolling. Needless to say, he spent the majority of trail-time in the backpack, and he voiced his displeasure loudly and repeatedly until falling asleep an hour in.
And hiking with an almost-three-year-old? A slow affair. Short legs, you know. Frequent stops to pick up sticks and rocks, a tumble or two over roots, the “I don’t want to go any further” discussion 20 minutes in and of course the “why are there trees here? why do they grow in the forest? why are you walking so quickly? why are we hiking today?”
1. Bring plenty of goldfish/Cheerios/fruit snacks. They can be easily handed to sate a passenger riding in a backpack, as well as laid out Hansel & Gretel style to get a reluctant toddler to follow.
2. Take the estimated time required to hike the trail and triple it to account for short legs and frequent stops to explain the meaning of life to the almost-three-year-old.
3. Dream about the beautiful campsite located extremely close to the parking area, but do not book it. Because once you haul your gear and two kids to said campsite you will spend precisely 100% of your remaining daylight keeping the kids out of the creek, and the night hours trapped in a tent with two boys who will no doubt decide to stay awake to watch the sun rise. How do I know this, not having done this myself? Exactly.
4. Bring plenty of water. Because most of it will be used by the almost-three-year-old to demonstrate a waterfall to the one-year-old.
5. The mental snapshot of your son “fishing” with a stick at the foot of the falls, legs dangling over the water and megawatt smile on his face, will remain with you forever, and even prompt you to suggest a return excursion on the car ride home.