The weather kept out travels close to home this weekend. With the chance of rain and storms, we decided to drive over towards Sapphire, NC and check out Gorges State Park. While there, we took a chance and did the 3.1 mile hike to Rainbow Falls. I’m so glad we did. This fall is stunning!
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History of Gorges State Park
Nestled in the mountains midst waterfalls, rock walls, rare species and rugged river gorges, you’ll find Gorges State Park. This area, once flooded by the breaking of Lake Toxaway dam in 1916 was soon sold off by residents to Singer Sewing Machine Company for logging. After they had logged most of the land it was then sold to Duke Energy Corporation. By the late 1970s conservation studies began in the area. In 1982 almost 275 acres of land that is currently in the park was placed on the NC Registry of National Heritage Areas because of the numerous rare species found.
So when did it become a park?
In the late 1990s, Duke Energy determined that it no longer needed the large portions of the Gorges for future hydropower and offered the land for sale to natural resource agencies. That’s when the NC Division of Parks and Recreation stepped up to create, with the support of local citizens and the General Assembly, this amazing state park.
Gorges State Park
The main entrance of the park takes you to the 7,100 square-foot visitor center. The visitor center was built to national green building standards and features a visitor lounge equipped with a stone fireplace, museum-quality exhibits for all ages and a gift shop.
Our boys loved the exhibits. They loved having the opportunity to learn about the rich history and the ecological uniqueness that the park has to offer. Once they finished exploring inside, we headed outdoors. There you’ll find a large balcony with picnic tables and a beautiful view.
Before leaving the Visitor Center, be sure to grab a map of the area. Gorges State Park offers something for everyone. Back-country recreation includes hiking, backpack camping, mountain biking, horseback riding and even trout fishing. Since we were just planning on being there for the day, we were only able to do one trail. Rainbow Falls.
Hiking and Waterfalls
Gorges State Park offers approx 10 different trails. Since this was just a day trip for us, we weren’t able to check out all the trails. Trust me, the ones we missed are still on my list of hiking trails. Especially the Foothills trail.
During our recent visit, we hiked Rainbow Falls trail and it’s absolutely magnificent. On the trail, you’ll encounter rugged terrain, water crossing but it’s totally worth every bit of it. We took our time, stopping to enjoy the water that flows along the trail.
We weren’t sure how Luke would do on the trail since it was longer than others he’d been on, and a little more difficult. However, he did amazing and loved every minute of it. The water stops on the way made it enjoyable for the entire family. This is definitely a trail that our family would recommend, and one I would love to go back to during the fall season.
Mountain Biking and Horseback Riding
Auger Hole Trail is a multi-use trail that allows for horsebike riding, mountain biking and hiking. The Frozen Creek Access has a picnic area available at this trailhead.
If you love camping like we do, then you’re in luck. There are two different locations within the park when it comes to camping. First off is the Frozen Creek Access area. This site has six designated backpack sites along the Foothills Trail near the southern boundary of the park. They are free of charge and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. You’ll follow the square yellow markers on the Cane Brake Trail.
The second site is the Raymond Fisher Campground. This area has 8 primitive campsites with fire rings, picnic tables and lantern hooks. The sites are only available by reservation for around $10 a night. You access the sites by taking the 1.5 mile trail from the Grassy Ridge Parking lot. This is the same parking lot where Rainbow Falls hike begins. There is a pit toilet available and a small pond. We are definitely hoping to take advantage of the camping spots the next time we’re in the area.
There are several different picnic areas available at Gorges State Park. Some are wheelchair accessible. You’ll find covered picnic tables on the back side of the Visitor Center. Picnic Shelters are also available. We decided to grab a quick lunch at the Rainbow Falls trailhead. This was a wonderful location. Keep in mind that Gorges State Park is a carry-in/carry-out facility.Recycling containers are located throughout the park.
Things to know
• Gorges State Park was first opened in 2009. The area includes paved roads, parking area, primitive campsites, picnic shelters and parking area.
• There is a wheelchair-accessible overlook that offers views across Jocassee Gorge and the Blue Ridge Mountains
• No admission for visiting the park
• Be sure to stop by the visitor center upon arrive to find trail updates and a map.
• Gorges State Park is open daily from 7 AM to midnight. The visitor center hours are from 8am-5pm daily with the exception of Christmas Day.