When looking to escape the hot, muggy summer days in Greenville we head for hikes up in the foothills. At just under an hour away, Table Rock and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area offer countless trails with everything from scenic vistas to waterfalls and swimming holes for those looking for a day’s excursion. Jones Gap State Park on the easternmost edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment is relatively underappreciated when compared to the other 7 State Parks hugging the North Carolina border, both due to the limited number of visitors allowed per day as well as the lure of attractions in neighboring parks such as the Caesars Head overlooks and Raven Cliff Falls. However, there is no shortage of fantastic hikes within Jones Gap, for families and more serious hikers alike.
I previously wrote about the Jones Gap Falls hike, which is around a 3 mile hike on the Jones Gap Trail more suited for our family of five (including the two with much shorter legs). After a stressful week with the three boys during which Roberts was out of town (thank goodness my mother was visiting!) I gave myself the day off; this is how it came to be that I was leaving the house solo for a morning hike to Rainbow Falls with a good friend, a rather strenuous 5 mile round trip hike I would not attempt with the entire entourage.
On weekends and holidays it is wise to get an early start if you’re headed to Jones Gap, as when the parking lot fills up the rangers close the park, letting in a car only when another leaves. Getting there in advance of the crowds might also make your time spent on the trail more enjoyable, if you like the whole “peace and quiet in the woods” thing. For me it was more the “no whining/lack of child on back” type of enjoyment, as I was only carrying supplies for myself; still, after departing from the parking lot we didn’t see another hiker until nearly at our destination.
To reach Rainbow Falls we parked in the main parking lot (closest to the Learning Center) and took Jones Gap Trail ¾ of a mile in to reach the Rainbow Falls trail. From there we turned north and followed the red blazes, crossing Cox Camp Creek several times as the trail wound north. From the intersection with Jones Gap Trail it is 1.6 miles to the waterfall, most of which is a rather steep climb up the ridge. About 2/3 of the way up, the trail cuts to the creek one last time; there the water flows over a giant boulder, the sliding rock a perfect spot for a few minutes reflection (or catching your breath!) before the arduous hike uphill.
Upon coming to an almost-vertical rock face the trail veers sharply to the west, bringing you back towards the creek. These are the Cleveland Cliffs, almost 200 feet tall at points. The stairs carved into the rock helped with the ascent.
And before we knew it we were there, the sound of the waterfall reaching us at the same time as the sight of the 100ft falls. A series of smaller cascades at the bottom offer plenty of large boulders for a picnic, or maybe just admiration of the natural beauty surrounding you.
Formerly Rainbow Falls were only accessible by a trail from Camp Greenville at the NC/SC border, the same area we visited not long ago to see Pretty Place. If you can believe it, the new trail (constructed in 2008) from Jones Gap State Park offers an easier hike, despite the 1200 foot change in elevation.The waterfall is located on YMCA Camp Greenville property.
Because of our early morning departure we had the falls almost to ourselves; it was on our descent that we started meeting a multitude of other hikers. It's also on the return trip that we could really enjoy the views, especially that of Little Pinnacle Mountain. The hike down passed quickly, and soon after emerging on the Middle Saluda we were already back at the trailhead – this definitely didn’t feel like a 5 mile hike, possibly because I had such good company?
|The Jones Gap Learning Center near the Jones Gap Trail trailhead|
It might be some time before we return to Jones Gap as all the other trails I would like to hike are not suitable for our five and three year olds. However several of the Jones Gap trails are on my Upstate to-hike list (including Rim of the Gap Trail connecting JG with Caesars Head) so hopefully it’s not too long until I make my way back up to this corner of the Upstate. Thank you to my lovely friend for the company and the ride - let's do it again sometime!