Gorges State Park & Waterfalls, North Carolina

Gorges State Park & Waterfalls, NC

Gorges State Park is home to the hiking trail to one of our favorite waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains, Rainbow Falls. It's also home to rugged river gorges, sheer rock walls and one of the greatest concentrations of rare and unique species in the eastern United States. An elevation that rises 2,000 feet in only four miles, combined with rainfall in excess of 80 inches per year, create a temperate rain forest. It's just 55 miles from Asheville, between Brevard and Cashiers.

The 7,100-square-foot, eco-built visitor center has a lounge equipped with a stone fireplace, interesting exhibits and gift shop. A nature center is packed with displays explaining the history and ecological uniqueness of the park. Enjoy the large balcony with a view. And check out eco-friendly features of the building like the 10,000-gallon rain barrel that captures the plentiful rainfall in the park for reuse. The center runs on passive solar and closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system. The park is considered “trash free”, visitors are encouraged to carry out their own trash.

This relatively new North Carolina state park opened in 2009 with paved roads, parking areas, trails, primitive campsites and two picnic shelters. A wheelchair-accessible overlook has views across Jocassee Gorge and the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is no admission fee.

Rainbow Falls, Gorges State Park

Hiking & Waterfalls
The hike to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls is by far the most popular in the park. The three-mile roundtrip hike takes you to the waterfalls located just outside the park in Pisgah National Forest. See our Rainbow Falls Guide & Turtleback Falls Guide for hike details, photos and video.

Gorges State Park

The 1.5-mile roundtrip Bearwallow Falls Trail takes you to an overlook with a limited view of the Falls. Follow blue triangle blazes.

Gorges State Park Overlook

The Bearwallow Valley Trail begins at the top of the picnic area by the information sign. This one-mile roundtrip trip takes you to one of the highest overlooks at the park. At 3,200 feet above sea level, you will enjoy views into South Carolina, including Lake Jocassee and Lake Keowee. Follow red triangle blazes.

Hiking Trails from Frozen Creek Access Area
On the other side of the park is a 24-hour access area with restrooms, picnic area and longer trails.

  • Anger Hole Trail is a strenuous 7.25 mile multipurpose trail the bisects the heart of the park and ends on the Foothills Trail. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders are allowed. Hikers will get their feet wet crossing two river fords. Blazed with orange squares.
  • Cane Brake Trail is a strenuous 5-mile trail that ends at Lake Jocassee and the Foothills Trail. The lake can be seen from the suspension bridge on the Foothills Trail. Camping is permitted at the Cane Brake campsites on Lake Jocassee. Blazed with yellow squares.
  • The Foothills Trail runs 6.7 miles through the park. This 76-mile runs through North and South Carolina along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. It goes by nearby Whitewater Falls.

Mountain biking and horseback riding
Horses and mountain bikes are currently permitted on the Auger Hole Trail from the Frozen Creek Access to Turkey Pen Gap on the western boundary of the park. Hiking is also allowed on the trail. The Frozen Creek Access in Rosman provides a picnic area and trailhead for this multipurpose trail. All visitors with horses must be able to provide proof of a negative equine infectious anemia (Coggins) test while visiting North Carolina State Parks.

Picnicking
Picnic tables in the forest make Gorges State Park a great spot for lunch or dinner after an exhilarating hike. Some of the picnic tables are wheelchair accessible. Gorges State Park is a carry-in / carry-out facility. Recycling containers are located throughout the park.

Camping
Six primitive campsites at Lake Jocassee have fire rings, picnic tables, lantern hooks, and pit toilets. Located at Grassy Ridge Access at the Ray Fisher Place, Hwy 281 South in Sapphire. Campsites are 2.7 miles down green trail from the parking area. Up to six people per campsite. Six more primitive campsites at Lake Jocassee have fire rings, picnic tables and lantern hooks. Located at Frozen Creek Access on Frozen Creek Road near Rosman, NC. Campsites are 5.5 miles down yellow trail from parking area. Up to six people per campsite. Year-round. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Directions
Gorges State Park is located in Transylvania County and joins the North Carolina/South Carolina state line. The park is approximately 55 miles southwest of Asheville (1.5 hours driving time). From Asheville, reach the park from I-26, taking exit 40 onto NC 280 and traveling west toward Brevard. Turn west on US 64 and travel toward Sapphire. To reach the Grassy Ridge Access (west side of the park), turn south on NC 281 in Sapphire; the western park entrance is .7 miles on the left. To reach the Frozen Creek Access (east side of the park), turn left onto Frozen Creek Road, which is approximately two miles past NC 178.

Nearby
Upper Whitewater Falls and Panthertown Valley with Schoolhouse Falls are nearby.

Park Hours
Open every day 7 AM until midnight. Visitor center is open 8-5 daily. Closed Christmas Day. Phone: 828-966-9099

Geology
Gorges State Park is located along the Blue Ridge Escarpment, an area where five streams carry water to the ocean from the divide between the Tennessee Valley drainage and the Atlantic drainage. The upper reaches of the escarpment mountain streams gradually descend, but near the state line the water plunges over waterfalls and rushes through steep-walled gorges. With such a rugged and contrasting topography contained within a small area, the park includes 21 of the 44 natural community types known in the mountain regions of North Carolina. Nearly 125 rare plant and animal species that occur in the mountain counties of North Carolina are found in the park, in addition to 12 endangered or threatened plant and animal species.

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